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Ukraine's presidential campaign, Part II: a cleaner run?

A flood of foreign observers is expected for the Dec. 26 rerun of the presidential vote.

By / December 10, 2004


Both sides are declaring victory and insisting they're looking forward to a fresh - but this time honest - electoral match between Viktor Yanukovich and his liberal challenger, Viktor Yushchenko, in presidential polls to be held in just over two weeks.

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Many here are still digesting the sweeping set of compromises, rushed through the Rada, or parliament, Wednesday, which brought an end to the 17-day street revolt over the fraud-tainted Nov. 21 election. Though few appear completely satisfied with the complex deal, which will rearrange Ukraine's political institutions, most say they're delighted to get a clear chance to elect a new leader.

"The main thing is the voting should be clean and honest," says Anna Kondratiuk, a biology student at Kiev's Shevchenko University, who was living in the tent city of protesters that sprung up in central Kiev. "I will be satisfied with any result obtained fairly, though I can't see how Yushchenko can lose."

Experts say the election rerun can probably be carried out without the tampering that led the Supreme Court to declare the last round invalid. One factor is a raft of tough antifraud measures adopted by the Rada, another is the vastly beefed-up contingent of foreign observers that will be monitoring the process.

"We expect the next elections to be better organized than the last round but there are still some issues of concern," says Yevgeny Poberezhny, deputy chair of the Committee of Ukrainian Voters, a nongovernmental organization that serves as a government watchdog. Not all loopholes were closed by the new legislation, he says, and time is short to rebuild and train new local election commissions. "One cannot exclude that [past violations] might be repeated. My principal feeling is uncertainty," he says.

In an open letter this week, Mr. Yanukovich complained of a "creeping coup," facilitated by crowds of Yushchenko supporters in the streets of Kiev, which he said caused the Supreme Court to deprive him of his official victory in the Nov. 21 polls "illegally." But he added that he's ready to win all over again. "I will carry on struggling because millions of Ukrainians are behind me," he said. "It is my direct duty to defend the country and people."

Some Yanukovich backers sound upbeat, almost jubilant. "Our spirits are high because people's political consciousness has been awakened," says Gennady Samofalov, a Rada deputy from eastern Ukraine and close Yanukovich ally. "I hope that now all falsifications shall end and the people can express their will. Yanukovich is sure he'll win."

Mr. Samofalov says the constitutional reforms mean that even if Yushchenko wins, he'll have to come to terms with the other side. Under the deal, the staunchly pro-Yanukovich eastern Ukraine won greater autonomy. Measures to strengthen parliament at the expense of the president probably mean that, in the future, a President Yushchenko could be blocked from carrying out many of his election pledges, such as initiating tough market reforms or steering Ukraine into NATO, the Western military alliance.