Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Yushchenko or Else?

Though opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko was officially declared the winner in Ukraine's third round of presidential elections late Monday, a representative for his competitor, Viktor Yanukovych, vowed to make an immediate appeal to the Supreme Court. Yanukovych's campaign manager alleged on Monday that a massive legal action was being prepared to prove widespread fraud in the re-runoff was responsible for the apparent victory of Yuschenko over Yanukovych. The Central Election Commission declared Yushchenko to be the winner on the basis of returns that showed him to have garnered 52 percent of the vote to just over 44 percent for Yanukovych.

The allegations of fraud received corroboration from Yossef Bodansky, Senior Editor of Global Information System. Bodansky, an election observer for all three rounds of the Ukrainian Presidential elections, filed a report in Monday's Defense & Foreign Affairs Daily and claims that his team of observers witnessed serious fraud in a mental hospital in Vinnytsya, 200 miles south of Kiev. Reports of comparable fraud at other hospitals were reported by Ukrainian, Russian and East European monitors. In the mental hospital in Vinnytsya, Bodansky reports, a list of patients eligible to vote had been drawn up three days prior to the election. Just a day before the election, after many hospitals had failed to produce a list of patients who had the mental capability to vote, lawyers for the Yushchenko camp persuaded the Ukrainian supreme court to rule that such a list deprived patients of the basic right to vote and thus that no list could be a precondition for voting. Consequently, individuals seeking to vote in the hospital did not need a voter's permit form, mailed in advance to the voter's residence, but could simply fill out a short form declaring their intention to vote in the hospital. Their names were then added to the list by hand, and no attempt was made to check if these voters had voted in the polling station associated with their primary residence. Bodansky writes that he witnessed a stream of people coming in from the street, filling out the form, and voting. The list of voters had well over 800 names by late morning, even though the hospital records showed only 400 patients. Bodansky claims that by the end of the day of polling, the number of voters in the "Orange counties" exceeded the head count of voters by about three percent. Since the regular stations reported no great discrepancies in the two counts, Bodansky concludes that the added votes came from the "extraordinary" stations, such as ones in hospitals like the one he visited in Vinnytsya.

Bodansky doubts that the alleged fraud accounted for the entire eight percent lead Yushchenko achieved. He thinks the remainder of Yushchenko's lead resulted from fatalism on the part of many Yanukovich voters who thought there was no point in resisting the pressure from the West. He cites a joke that was making the rounds on the eve of the election as evidence of widespread cynicism:
The Ukrainian Central Elections Committee requested several governments in
the West to assist in preparing the right kind of form for the polls. The US
State Department sent the following text: "Dear voter, You have to chose one of
the following two options: 1. Viktor Yushchenko is elected the next president of
Ukraine; or 2. There is going to be a fourth round of presidential elections."
Bodansky deplores the pressure Washington has exerted to secure a quick resolution in favor of Yushchenko. He reports that on December 28, the U.S. State Department "prodded" the Ukrainian courts "to uphold the re-run election victory" of Yushchenko. While sources say Washington will wait for the Supreme Court's ruling before formally congratulating Yushchenko, the Bush administration is plainly more interested in seeing Ukraine move away from Moscow's orbit than in a thorough investigation of the process that produced the favored result.

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