Hundreds protest alleged Ukraine election fraud

 

Hundreds of Ukrainians protested alleged fraud in last month's parliamentary election and the opposition threatened to boycott the new parliament and call for a re-vote today.

Western observers deemed the Oct. 28 parliamentary election unfair, saying the imprisonment of President Viktor Yanukovych's arch-foe, Yulia Tymoshenko, and non-transparent vote tallying were a step back for democracy. 

Three pro-Western opposition parties made a strong showing in the proportional voting that chooses half of parliament's 450 seats, but they accuse authorities of rigging results in a number of individual races in an attempt to secure Yanukovych's allies a majority. 

Arseniy Yatsenyuk, a leader of Tymoshenko's Fatherland party told a crowd of some 2,000 people outside the Central Election Commission office in Kiev that the opposition is demanding the votes in disputed districts be recounted. Earlier in the day, his party threatened to declare the new parliament as illegitimate. 

World boxing champion Vitali Klitschko, leader of the opposition Udar party that got 14 percent in the proportional vote and a total of about one-tenth of parliament seats, called for new elections based solely on the proportional system. 

"There will be no victory without a fight," Klitschko roared from the rally stage. 

The demonstration was far smaller than the hundreds of thousands who turned out in 2004 to protest the fraud-tainted presidential election that Yanukovych purportedly won. Those rallies, which came to be known as the Orange Revolution, forced a rerun that Yanukovych lost, though he won the next election in 2010. 

"They stole the opposition's votes, it wasn't fair, it wasn't honest, it wasn't pretty," said Roman Vorobei, 18, a university student in Kiev, who came to the protest. 

Western election observers said last week that although the vote itself was satisfactory, the count prompted concern. European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton on Monday urged Ukrainian authorities to quickly produce final results — "which should reflect the genuine will of the Ukrainian voters." Complaints should also be dealt with swiftly and effectively, she said. 

While the proportional share of the vote was tallied relatively quickly, the count of votes in individual races took days, prompting brawls between government and opposition supporters, the use of tear gas and even the storming of one election commission by riot police. 

The opposition accuses election officials of inflating the count in favor of government loyalists, annulling votes for opposition candidates and even outright falsifying of results. The government insists that violations were few and isolated. 

The stakes were high for many government-backed candidates vying for the perks and immunity from prosecution enjoyed by Ukrainian lawmakers as well as for Yanukovych's Party of Regions as a whole, which will have to search for allies in the new parliament to get a majority. 

"Things seem to be getting tense as every seat in parliament seems to count now for the party of power," said Timothy Ash, head of emerging markets research at Standard Bank in London. "They did not do as well as first thought, and might now struggle to secure a parliamentary majority."

AP

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