Thursday, January 14, 2010

Pre-Claims of Election Fraud in Ukraine

The first round of Ukraine's presidential election isn't even scheduled to take place until this Sunday, but already candidate (and current Prime Minister) Yulia Tymoshenko is talking about voter fraud. She's claiming there's an ongoing "deliberate disruption of the election process" on behalf of her chief rival, former president and current front-runner Viktor Yanukovych in the Donetsk region, his power base.

It was Yanukovych's alleged vote-rigging during the 2004 presidential election that sparked the whole Orange Revolution and brought Tymoshenko, along with current President Viktor Yushchenko to power in the first place, so these are charges that resonate historically in Ukraine at least. But as Yanukovych pointed out in his reply, it's a pretty difficult thing for opposition candidates to rig an election, that's usually only something that can be done by a sitting government which is already in control of the state apparatus that runs the elections in the first place.

And while cat fights between politicians are always amusing, by talking about fraud in a vote that hasn't even taken place is a pretty reckless thing for Tymoshenko to do. The worst possible outcome for Ukraine would be to have a closely-fought election where the losing side thinks that the vote was stolen from them. Ukraine can likely survive another five years of inept political leadership, whether the country can endure another political crisis following a hotly disputed election is another matter entirely. Tymoshenko's complaints of "pre-fraud" seem more like the actions of a politician doing whatever they need to so that they can hang onto power rather than someone truly concerned with the democratic growth of their country.

One reason for Tymoshenko's claims could be the latest polling data. The conventional wisdom has been that she and Yanukovych will meet in the February run-off. But a poll released this week by the Russian firm VTsIOM shows Sergiy Tigipko, a banker and former Economy Minister, edging past Tymoshenko into second place, which would put her out of the run-off. The same poll showed Yanukovych leading all 18 candidates with 30%.
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