Polls have closed, and Ukraine seems to have avoided the pitfall of large-scale election fraud, but observers say the results may be skewed anyway, and campaigns may do battle beyond the ballot box, in the courts.
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Bitter disputes over election results in Ukraine were widely seen Monday to be less severe than had been expected, but no less serious.
Competing claims of victory came from opposition groups and from parties loyal to President Leonid Kuchma, posing the possibility that political campaigns would run overtime into the post-election season, possibly to be settled in Ukraine’s courts.
With almost half the votes counted after Sunday’s parliamentary election, the government in the former-Soviet republic of 50 million people looked set for a jolt – either by popular scepticism about a victory by pro-Kuchma forces, or by a drawn-out fight over the polls’ fairness.
The top European observer monitoring the elections, Ambassador Michael Wygand of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), told DW-WORLD that Sunday’s poll was an improvement on the most recent election in 1998, yet he spoke of deep flaws.
Wygand said the OSCE, which had 380 monitors observing some 1500 polling stations around Ukraine, could report "illegal interference by electoral authorities in the electoral process," citing instances in which "public officials gave favours to some candidates over others." Part of this allegation related to local electoral commissions, run by party representatives and in some cases allegedly balanced unevenly.
A monument to Bogdan Khmalnitsky, leader of ancient Ukrainian cossaks and a national hero of the 16th century, is seen against the background of the golden domes of recently restored St. Michael's cathedral in downtown Kiev, Ukraine, Sunday, March 31, 2002, on the day of parliamentary elections.
He spoke of consequential and "serious misgivings about the motives of some of the candidates" but refused to elaborate, saying "we are trying to use diplomatic language."
He also reported "allegations of pressure on state employees" to vote for pro-government forces, likely a reference to the For United Ukraine party led by Volodymyr Lytvyn.
Meanwhile the campaign had been "marred" by the murder of a prominent parliamentary candidate, Mykola Shkriblyak, deputy governor of the Ivano-Frankovsk region, on Friday. Shkriblyak was reportely shot in the back in an apparent contract killing.
The murder raised new suspicions of foul play by officials in the country, where earlier in March the parliament called for a criminal investigation of alleged presidential links to the murder of a prominent journalist.
Yet a strong showing by opposition parties suggested that large-scale election fraud had not occurred as some observers had feared before Sunday’s polls.
With 46 percent of votes tallied, the reformist party of ex-premier Viktor Yushchenko, Our Ukraine, was the top vote-winner with 21.26 percent. The Communists trailed on Our Ukraine’s heels with 20.13 percent, only then followed by For United Ukraine with 14.34 percent.
The parties are competing for proportional representation in the 450-seat parliament, but because many the results from many single-mandate electoral districts were still uncounted late Monday the results were expected to change. Pro-government forces’ predictions of a victory hinged on an expectation that single-mandate districts would fall heavily in their favour.