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Swiss monitor urges review of Ukraine poll

Thousands of Ukrainians have been protesting the election results in Kiev Keystone

A Swiss government observer in Ukraine says the leadership should heed calls for a review of Sunday’s presidential poll amid allegations of widespread fraud.

Rudolf Von Rohr, a long-term observer with the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) told swissinfo he had witnessed irregularities in the second round of voting.

Ukraine’s electoral commission has declared Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych the election winner, but supporters of opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko have filed an appeal.

Thousands of his supporters have been staging demonstrations outside parliament in Kiev and are threatening a general strike.

The United States and European Union have led western criticism, alleging serious election abuses.

Ukraine’s Supreme Court says the official election result will not be published until after the appeal has been heard on Monday.

Von Rohr – who has been in Ukraine since September 10 – is based in Vinnitsa in the west, where support for Yushchenko is strong. Support for Yanukovych is strongest in the east.

swissinfo: As an election observer, what was your impression of the poll?

Rudolf Von Rohr: The first round here in Vinnitsa was calm and the electoral procedures were correct on the whole.

The second round was very different. We had a lot of fraud [and] a lot of pressure on voters from the local authorities. My observation was that the second round was really a step backwards.

Here in Vinnitsa it was relatively calm, but in the east – where there are more oligarchs – there were more problems with fraud and vote rigging. In the centre and the west, procedures were generally more in line with the election law.

swissinfo: Some observers have spoken of a media bias in favour of the Russian-backed candidate, Viktor Yanukovych.

R.v.R.: A lot of television stations backed Yanukovych. Only one – Channel Five – gave any information about the campaign or goals of Yushchenko. There was really a bias, and that is against the law.

Most of the channels are state controlled. It is very difficult for journalists, who risk losing their jobs. But to my mind, the biggest problem is that people in the countryside do not get accurate information.

swissinfo: The United States and European Union have condemned voting irregularities in the second round. Will the Ukrainian leadership now conduct a review of the poll?

R.v.R.: I hope so, but in my opinion it will depend on what role [Russian President Vladimir] Putin plays.

In the past weeks Putin has made several visits to Kiev, and on Monday he was the first to congratulate Yanukovych even before the central electoral commission published the final result.

Perhaps he is surprised by the actions of the people now. We don’t know what Russia will do, and for us that’s the important question.

swissinfo: Yushchenko has said he would agree to another election. What is the likelihood that that will happen?

R.v.R.: I don’t know. There are legal questions here. And I personally don’t believe that Yanokovych and the oligarchs from the [eastern] Donetsk region will agree to a re-election.

swissinfo: What do you think is likely to happen? Will Ukraine go the same way as Georgia did a year ago and oust the president in a peaceful revolution?

R.v.R.: I hope Ukraine will choose a peaceful way, but I don’t know how long the people will wait for an answer from the [outgoing] president, Leonid Kuchma.

swissinfo-interview: Morven McLean

A former Soviet republic in east-central Europe bordered by Russia to the east.
Population: 48 million.
Ethnic breakdown: Ukrainians – 78%; Russians – 17%.

Under Ukrainian law the president can hold office for no more than two consecutive terms.

President Leonid Kuchma has served two terms since 1994.

In the presidential poll the current prime minister, Viktor Yanukovych, had the backing of Kuchma and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Yanukovych stood against pro-Western opposition leader, Viktor Yushchenko.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR