Ukraine election officials reject Yanukovych appeal

Friday, December 31, 2004

BY ANNA MELNICHUK ~ The Associated Press

KIEV, Ukraine -- Election officials on Thursday rejected Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych's voluminous challenge to results showing he lost this week's presidential revote, saying he did not prove any widespread violations.

Yanukovych's campaign team vowed to take their legal fight for the presidency to Ukraine's Supreme Court even as reformer Viktor Yushchenko mapped out plans for his inauguration and first 100 days in office.

"The vote has changed the country and it changed us," Yushchenko told Ukrainians in a New Year's greeting issued four days after the former Soviet republic's third presidential balloting in two months.

The revote was ordered by the high court after it annulled a Nov. 21 runoff election, ruling the results that gave victory to Yanukovych were tainted by fraud. Sunday's redo resulted in a solid win for Yushchenko, according to preliminary results. Final results can only be announced after all appeals are exhausted.

Yanukovych submitted a 27-volume complaint to the commission, including claims that at least 4.8 million people -- mainly disabled and sick -- were deprived of their right to vote by election reforms introduced after the first runoff. It also alleged there were problems with voter lists, not enough ballots were printed and people illegally campaigned on election day.

The 15-member Central Election Commission unanimously rejected the complaint.

"Evidence submitted in the claim does not prove mass violations" and could not "influence the results of the vote," said Marina Stavniychuk, a commission member.

Yanukovych's campaign manager, Taras Chornovyl, said they would appeal to the high court, but he sounded pessimistic. "I could forecast the decision of the Supreme Court but it would be wrong to take defeat for granted," he said.

International monitors reported no widespread problems in Sunday's voting -- a contrast to their stinging criticism of the Nov. 21 ballot.

Charges of fraud in that vote brought hundreds of thousands of Yushchenko backers, dressed in his campaign color of orange, into Kiev's streets for days of protests. The demonstrations quieted after the Supreme Court ordered the new election.

Yanukovych has refused to concede defeat despite results saying Yushchenko won Sunday's election with 52 percent of the votes to the prime minister's 44.2 percent.

"We will call all of our supporters, of which there are 15 million ... to not recognize Yushchenko as a legitimate president," Chornovyl said.

"In a year, we will change power," he added. That was an allusion to parliamentary elections to be held in 2006, but it was an acknowledgment even Yanukovych's closest advisers held slim hopes of overturning Yushchenko's victory.

As Yanukovych's forces promised to keep the legal fight going, Yushchenko began planning his new administration. He told journalists he already has a 100-day plan and created a committee to fill top Cabinet positions.

"We can move to the West only after normalizing relations with neighbors," Yushchenko said in an interview on TV5. "The European Union doesn't need a partner with a suitcase full of problems."

The Western-leaning Yushchenko has promised to crack down on widespread corruption and bring more openness to government and business. He wants to strengthen Ukraine's ties with Europe, but also says he will maintain "friendly ties" with Russia, which is his country's biggest trade partner.

Yanukovych, whose campaign was backed by Moscow, drew his support largely from Ukraine's east, where pro-Russia sentiment is high. Yushchenko got most of his support in Kiev and western Ukraine, which worry about being linked too tightly to Russia.

Yushchenko said he would consider replacing all the country's appointed governors. Before the court-ordered revote, some eastern governors raised the prospect of seeking autonomy if Yushchenko became president.

Borys Bespalyi, a Yushchenko-allied lawmaker, told The Associated Press that Yushchenko's top priority will be to ensure "full national unity."

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