Ukraine tense as election fraud allegations fly
The Ukraine Central Election Commission posted an announcement late Monday on its website showing Viktor Yanukovich is in the lead to be Ukraine's next president. But his main rival Yulia Tymoshenko is alleging fraud.
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Russian monitors, the next largest contingent, had certified the election as satisfactory immediately following exit polls showing Yanukovich ahead.Skip to next paragraph
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"The verdict of the international observers will be taken very seriously by all sides in Ukraine," says Vadim Karasyov, director of the independent Institute of Global Strategies in Kiev. "There almost certainly was fraud -- it's common in Ukrainian elections -- but it really doesn't look likely that Tymoshenko will be able to prove enough to overcome Yanukovich's lead. It's probably all over but the shouting."
Despite the judgment of the international monitors, most Ukrainian experts agree that significant irregularities probably did take place.
But how much fraud was there?
"There will be allegations of fraud, no doubt much of it true, and we'll all learn a lot about it in the coming days," says Vira Nanivska, director of the City Institute, an independent political research center in the staunchly pro-Orange stronghold of Lviv.
Experts point to the failure of the Central Election Commission to report voter turnout figures for almost two hours after the polls closed as a major warning sign that final vote tallies might have been tampered with. "The turnout that was announced, almost 70 percent, looks way too high, given the widespread public disillusionment with politics and the much lower turnout in the first round of the voting last month," says Karasyov.
Experts say vote buying is a common practice on all sides of a Ukrainian election, as is repeat voting using the identification papers of relatives who are working abroad (nearly 3 million Ukrainians are away, working in Russia or the European Union, at any given time).
A vibrant democracy
Despite all the sound and fury that seems to accompany Ukrainian elections, some experts say, it's worth remembering that the country has once again demonstrated that it has a vibrant democratic system, the last of its kind among Russia's immediate neighbors.
"Ukraine has the most free, most competitive electoral system in the former Soviet Union," says Tammy Lynch, an expert at Boston University's Institute for the Study of Conflict, Ideology and Policy. "The country is an incredible example of a burgeoning democracy, against many odds."
And in Ukrainian-speaking western Ukraine, where the vote went overwhelmingly Tymoshenko's way, people will just have to accept the triumph of their old adversary Yanukovich, says Ms. Nanivska.
"Nobody here wants to fight, and everybody says the emotional task now is to come to terms with defeat," she says. "It's a trial of democracy, and we must undergo it."