Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych has accused President Viktor Yushchenko of illegal interference in the parliamentary election campaign and his team of harboring plans to rig the vote in the September 30 parliamentary election. Ironically, three years ago it was Yushchenko who held Yanukovych responsible for violations in a presidential election campaign. The suspicions of foul play sparked the Orange Revolution, which eventually brought Yushchenko to power. Now Yanukovych leads the Party of Regions (PRU), which, according to opinion polls, should take the most votes in the election. Yushchenko backs the rival camp, consisting of the opposition coalition of Our Ukraine – People’s Self-Defense (NUNS) and the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc (BYT).
On September 17 the PRU issued a statement saying that the governors in Ukraine’s western regions — the stronghold of NUNS — were deliberately tampering with voter lists. The PRU said that the lists of voters compiled by the governors’ offices differed from Interior Ministry data. Deputy Interior Minister Mykhaylo Kornienko told a press conference on the same day that many nonexistent voters were registered in western regions, and that he feared substitutes would vote for people who are not planning to come to the polling stations. The president appoints and dismisses regional governors, while the Interior Ministry is subordinated to the prime minister.
Yanukovych, speaking on a campaign tour on September 19, claimed that NUNS and BYuT were going to sabotage the work of the electoral commissions in PRU strongholds in the south and east of Ukraine by refusing to sign vote-count reports on polling day. The PRU issued a statement threatening to pull out of the race if the “preparations for massive vote rigging” continued.
Deputy Prime Minister Mykola Azarov, who took over from Yanukovych as caretaker prime minister for the campaign period, said that the election would not take place if the PRU withdrew from it. The election watchdog Committee of Voters confirmed that if the PRU were serious about pulling out of the race, there would be no election because an exodus of PRU representatives from electoral commissions would technically block the election process. Yanukovych, however, said on September 21 that the PRU will continue to run, and he promised “to win this election by a landslide.”
Rather than pulling out of the race, Yanukovych has mounted an offensive against Yushchenko. In an open letter to Yushchenko, dated September 21, he accused the president of “violating Ukrainian laws and moral standards” by taking part in campaign events for NUNS. Yanukovych was particularly unhappy about Yushchenko appearing in NUNS’s televised campaign advertisements, as well as about Yushchenko’s participation in NUNS rallies in the western regions earlier this month, where he called on the locals to vote for NUNS.
The Committee of Voters also urged Yushchenko on September 21 to abstain from electioneering, although it noted that no Ukrainian law forbids the president from so doing. The Central Electoral Commission, however, in a vote of eight to seven passed a resolution late on the same day saying that Yushchenko’s campaigning in favor of NUNS had been illegal, and requesting that he cease such activities. The NUNS and BYuT representatives on the commission voted against the resolution.
Yushchenko dismissed the warning as a sign of the CEC’s “politicization.” Yushchenko’s secretariat explained that he had violated no laws because legal restrictions on electioneering apply to the executive and judges, but not to the head of state. Speaking at a press conference in Khmelnytsky on September 22, Yushchenko also replied to Yanukovych’s open letter, saying that he would not accept lecturing on moral behavior from somebody who benefited from rigged ballots in 2004.
Yanukovych hailed the CEC’s warning for Yushchenko, insisting that the president has no moral right to side with any party in an election. Speaking on his campaign tour of the southern regions on September 22-23, he insisted that Yushchenko’s team planned vote rigging. What’s more, Yanukovych warned, “Somebody will miss the plane to flee Ukraine because the people will rise against those who are destroying this country” if NUNS and BYuT block the work of the electoral commissions.
From September 24, the PRU began to erect tents on Independence Square (the Maidan), which had been the heart of the Orange Revolution, in what looks like a muscle-flexing exercise. The party said that its supporters would spend the night following polling day at the square, waiting for the preliminary results of vote counting. In April-May this year, the PRU succeeded in taking thousands of its supporters to Independence Square to protest Yushchenko’s decision to call an early election. This, however, did not scare Yushchenko, and Yanukovych eventually had to accept his conditions.
(Channel 5, September 15, 22; UNIAN, September 17; Segodnya, September 18; Interfax-Ukraine, September 19-24; NTN TV, September 21; ProUA.com, September 23)