Last updated: November 6, 2012 5:31 pm

Fresh ballots raise doubts over Ukraine poll

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Ukraine’s parliament has approved re-runs of last week’s elections in five disputed seats after opposition groups alleged fraud in more than a dozen contests.

The decision raises further questions about the fairness of the election, and comes amid an escalating standoff between the ruling party and the opposition.

In line with exit poll numbers, three opposition parties cumulatively mustered 50 per cent in party list contests, which account for half of the 450 parliament seats. But official results show that the president’s party – along with allied independents – are positioned to preserve a majority after winning most “single mandate” contests.

Hundreds of opposition protesters gathered for a second day outside the central election commission in Kiev, the capital, on Tuesday, accusing authorities of rigging the election in favour of Viktor Yanukovich’s ruling Party of Regions.

Addressing supporters outside Ukraine’s central election commission late on Tuesday, opposition leader Arseniy Yatseniuk said: “We demand a recount to establish the real election result. Pick up the calculator, count the votes again and uphold the opposition victories in 13 single mandate constituencies.”

Addressing protestors late on Tuesday, boxer-turned-politician Vitali Klitschko said the opposition was ready to boycott the new parliament if the “falsifications” were not reversed. “We are ready to give up our parliament seat mandates, to stand up for our rights, principles and truth.”

Opposition leaders claim that systemic, nationwide use of fraudulent tactics robbed them of victory.

“We counted ballots from our town . . . the opposition candidate won the single mandate contest by a landslide, but then a court – fraudulently citing some technicalities – invalidated our votes entirely,” said Mykhailo Skuchinsky, an election commission member in a rural town south of Kiev. “They cancelled voting in all regions where the opposition candidates did well,” he alleged.

Mr Yanukovich’s administration says the election was fair. In a statement, Kostyantyn Gryschenko, foreign minister, said disputed results were rooted in election legislation “flaws” that would be fixed.

Preliminary findings by an observer mission led by the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe concluded that “democratic progress appears to have reversed in Ukraine”. Among drawbacks, observers cited abuse of administrative resources by the ruling party, voter intimidation, media muzzling and the jailing last year of Yulia Tymoshenko, the opposition leader.

Olha Aivazovska, head of the western-funded Opora election watchdog, said: “We have doubts about results at some 20 single mandate contests and noticed suspiciously high voter turnout in eastern Ukraine,” the hotbed of support for Mr Yanukovich’s party. “The results of this election reflect more the will of those with money and political power than the will of voters.”

Brussels last year froze signing of free trade and association agreements with Ukraine, describing the election as a “litmus” test of Mr Yanukovich’s democratic credentials.

In a joint statement issued on Friday, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and enlargement commissioner Stefan Fule noted “increasing concern that five days after the closure of the ballot the consolidated results have still not been announced”.

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