Ukraine election: Growing concern of fraud
Yulia Tymoshenko, the fiery heroine of Ukraine's Orange Revolution, warned of massive fraud by her rival Viktor Yanukovich in Sunday's election and threatened to call for street protests. But few Ukrainians seem eager to march.
A grim mood of déjà vu is hanging over Ukraine's snowbound capital, amid news that both candidates facing off in the country's first presidential election since the Orange Revolution are already mobilizing their supporters to head for Kiev's central Maidan square in anticipation of fraud in Sunday's voting.Skip to next paragraph
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But don't expect any replay of the peaceful, pro-democracy upheaval that saw tens of thousands of protesters occupy the Maidan for three freezing weeks in the late autumn of 2004 in order to overturn an allegedly fraudulent presidential election. This time only the plunging thermometer looks familiar, experts say.
It's illegal to publish opinion polls before the voting, but political insiders cite internal surveys that suggest the wheel has probably turned in favor of Viktor Yanukovich, the dour son of Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine who was accused of rigging the 2004 presidential polls at the Kremlin's behest.
But the result could be close, they say, and even if Mr. Yanukovich beats the charismatic and outspokenly patriotic Yulia Tymoshenko at the ballot box, he will likely face a tough battle next week in the courts and in the streets.
Yulia Tymoshenko, the fiery heroine of three weeks of rolling 2004 protests on the Maidan that forced Ukraine's Supreme Court to call fresh elections that were won by her then-ally President Viktor Yushchenko, warned Thursday that massive fraud was being prepared by Mr. Yanukovich and "if we can't ensure a free and fair vote, we will call people to the streets."
For his part, Yanukovich applied on Friday for a permit to hold a rally of 50,000 supporters on the Maidan on Monday.
Sunday's voting will be the culmination of a contest that saw 16 other candidates, including the incumbent Mr. Yushchenko, knocked out in the first round last month. Yushchenko, a champion of rapid integration with NATO and the European Union who was brought to power by the Orange Revolution, received just 5.4 per cent of the votes. That was a personal humiliation and sharp rebuff for his political agenda and, though he remains formally in charge of the country, there is growing doubt as to whether he has the will or the authority to act firmly should events get out of hand.
"Regrettably, the least likely script is that everything will go in a calm and peaceful way," says Dmytro Vydrin, deputy secretary of President Yushchenko's National Security and Defense Council, a key advisory body that includes military and police representatives.