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додано: 03-11-2004
FT: Victor Yushchenko: Ukraine's ballot box revolution must not be stifled

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Ukraine's ballot box revolution must not be stifled
By Victor Yushchenko
Published: November 3 2004 02:00 | Last updated: November 3 2004 02:00

Ukrainians voted solidly for change in the country's weekend presidential elections. Despite fears of government interference in the poll, voters showed determination to exercise their constitutional rights to choose a president in a peaceful and democratic way.

We will challenge Sunday's poll results, which put me - the opposition's presidential candidate - neck and neck with Viktor Yanukovich, the incumbent prime minister and presidential candidate. Already, however, government officials are in shock that their man did not achieve an outright victory. For the second time in as many years, voters reminded the incumbent regime of its tenuous claim on legitimacy.

This was reinforced by the criticism from outside observer teams yesterday of government interference and state media bias in the poll. The rejection by many voters of the incumbent leadership should be seen by Kiev's power brokers as another sign that Ukrainians are demanding change.

The complaints by international poll monitors show that the regime never intended to conduct free and fair elections, despite declarations by Leonid Kuchma, the outgoing president, and Mr Yanukovich. The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe described the vote as a "step back" from our 2002 parliamentary elections, while US, German and European Union officials raised serious concerns.

Ukrainian voters must once again go to the polls, this time in a presidential run-off on November 21. The choice for voters is clear: on one hand, a vibrant opposition demanding a system of democratic values and economic initiatives to jumpstart Ukraine's integration into Europe; on the other, a candidate who represents an incumbent regime that values autocracy and crony capitalism more than freedom and the rule of law.

The government must now decide whether to ensure the run-off is free and fair. We must not allow again the voter intimidation and blatant government interference displayed this past weekend before international observers and, more importantly, millions of Ukrainians. We intend to put a stop to the methods of vote-rigging and intimidation employed in the first round.

The main methods of interference included the use of falsified voter registration lists provided by local governments to polling stations. The opposition mobilised millions of voters to petition the courts to correct such errors in advance, lest they be turned away from the polls. Unfortunately, this process was time-consuming and costly for many people. As we continue to tally parallel vote counts, we estimate that millions of opposition supporters were denied the opportunity to vote on polling day or were too poor to defend their right in court.

A second method could be seen at polling stations throughout the country, where nearly half a million thugs were dispatched to intimidate members of election commissions through tactics such as harassing telephone calls and physical shadowing. These tactics went unchecked by local law enforcement officials despite complaints and reinforced an atmosphere of fear that spilled over to polling stations. Finally, in regions where the regime's candidate looked certain to lose, organised groups engaged in multiple voting through voter-absentee cards provided by local government officials.

Despite such sabotage efforts, we are certain Ukraine's election commission will be forced to declare the democratic opposition candidate as winner of the first round. Exit polls and parallel vote counts show the government tried, but failed, to steal the election outright. We promised and delivered the peaceful means to check government abuse in each step of the electoral process. Going into the run-off, these civil rights activities will continue.

Herein lies the significance of Ukraine's current election. In the 14 years since declaring independence from the Soviet Union, the country became obsessed with the formal attributes of statehood. For too long, we overlooked the overt political and economic defects of our government, emphasising the institutionalisation of an independent state and safeguarding its sovereignty.

Today Ukrainians are prepared to address the essence of their young state, that which demands an unwavering commitment to democracy and the rule of law. When the final vote is cast later this month, it will either bring Ukraine into Europe's fold or set it aside for an undefined period. This weekend showed that given a fair chance, Ukrainians will make the right choice via the ballot box.

The writer, a former Ukrainian prime minister, is the leading opposition presidential candidate

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