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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.

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"Sociologists tells us there's a greater probability that Yanukovich will win, and in that case there is little doubt that Tymoshenko will try to take her case into the streets," he says.

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In the event of massive street protests, he adds, "I'm not sure anyone has sufficient power to impose control. Power is divided, and I doubt Yushchenko would be in a position to do much."

Local experts and international observers all agree that the election's first round on Jan 17 was acceptably clean. But fears over fraud in Sunday's voting have gathered apace, amid some very odd shenanigans.

Odd shenanigans

A large group of crowbar-wielding men, accompanied by lawmakers loyal to Yanukovich, smashed their way into the Ukraina state printing house (see video) two weeks ago, claiming that millions of excess presidential ballots were being produced there to enable fraud by Tymoshenko's camp. Pro-Yanukovich parliamentarians have also tried in recent weeks to fire the national police chief, Yury Lutsenko, who is loyal to Prime Minister Tymoshenko, and to take over the Kiev Appeals Court, which is exactly where any forthcoming election challenges are likely to be heard.

And this week a coalition of lawmakers including Yanukovich's Party of Regions and Yushchenko's Our Ukraine passed a new law to radically amend the rules for 33,000 local election commissions, which are responsible for local vote tallies. Yanukovich claimed the new rules, which might enable the representatives of a single party to certify voting results, were needed to head off an expected attempt by Tymoshenko to paralyze the vote count in his stronghold of eastern Ukraine. Tymoshenko told journalists that the law, which was signed by Yushchenko on Thursday, "paves the way for massive election fraud" by Yanukovich.

"The very fact that this law was passed just a few days before the election is a terrible scandal. How can you change the rules just before the voting?" says Olexandr Sushko, research director for the Institute for Euro-Atlantic Cooperation, an independent Kiev think tank. "This new law is clearly biased [against Tymoshenko] and we can only assume that Yushchenko signed it because he just can't bear the idea that his worst rival, Tymoshenko, might win."

Though they were allies in the Orange Revolution, Yushchenko and Tymoshenko quickly fell out. By last year, as economic crisis hammered Ukraine, the bureaucratic war between President Yushchenko and Prime Minister Tymoshenko had virtually paralyzed the work of government.

Ukrainians less inclined to demonstrate now

Politicians may summon the population back to the Maidan, experts say, but there's little indication that people are inclined to come this time around.

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