The Blog

Trouble in the Ukraine

Massive vote fraud has brought citizens to the streets as pro-Putin Viktor Yanukovich has stolen the election from the pro-Western Viktor Yushchenko.

12:30 PM, Nov 24, 2004 • By REUBEN F. JOHNSON
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Yushchenko supporters form a march several miles long running through the center of Kiev and down the main thoroughfares of Khreshchatyk and Red Army Street. (11/23/04)Yushchenko supporters form a march several miles long running through the center of Kiev and down the main thoroughfares of Khreshchatyk and Red Army Street. (11/23/04)Kiev

THE POLITICAL CRISIS in Ukraine has produced crowds that now number over a million people here in the streets of the capital (Kiev's total population is only 2.6 million) and demonstrations in the thousands by the Ukrainian Diaspora in Canada and Britain. European statesmen such as the former Czech president Vaclav Havel, who once led his own revolution in the street against an authoritarian regime, are calling for the rest of the world to support the democratic opposition.

This growing popular movement was sparked by the announcement of the final vote tally from the November 21 presidential run-off election, in which the Ukrainian Central Electoral Commission claimed pro-western opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko had been defeated by Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich, who is closely allied with Vladimir Putin's Russian government and is looking now to assume the presidency of this former Soviet Republic.

The demonstrations are all in support of Yushchenko, who has denounced the results as fraudulent. His well-organized followers--who were expecting the Yanukovich government to attempt rampant ballot box-stuffing chicanery--immediately swung into action. The tent city, barricades, and massive stage that they have set up Kiev's central Independence Square is now one of the largest public revolts against a government in power since Chinese students occupied Beijing's Tiananmen Square in 1989.

The accusations of electoral fraud and subsequent street demonstrations have been prompted by three major factors: How far off the mark the reported 49.6 percent to 46.6 percent margin is from the independent exit polls taken in Ukraine; the lopsided turnout numbers reported by electoral authorities in Prime Minister Yanukovich's hometown power base in Eastern Ukraine, and the thousands of cases of fraud and irregularities recorded by the Yushchenko campaign and foreign observers, who were in Ukraine to monitor the voting. One of the strongest statements has come from Senator Richard Lugar, one of those observers, who said that "there was a concerted and forceful program of election day fraud and abuse enacted with the leadership or cooperation of authorities."

The statistical evidence of a not-very-clever attempt to steal the election by the Yanukovich government is so difficult to refute that no government official has even tried to do so. To a man they fall back on the tired and true Soviet-style answer that "all the voting was conducted in accordance with law," but the numbers contradict the everyday laws of electoral behavior.

The most authoritative exit poll in this election was taken by the Kiev International Institute of Sociology (KIIS), which has a stellar track record both for accuracy and credibility. Its accuracy to date has been far superior to exit polling in U.S. elections despite the much higher turnout of Ukrainian electoral contests. Based on its polling KIIS estimated Yushchenko's victory margin at 54 to 43 percent. The official government tally of 49.6 percent for Yanukovich and 46.6 percent for Yushchenko, almost all polling experts agree, has been cooked to hand the election to Yanukovich.

National turnout in this election was about 79 percent. It would have been reasonable to expect a higher turnout in more politicized areas, such as Yanukovich's hometown of Donetsk and other eastern Ukrainian cities, and in areas of the country heavily populated by Russian speakers. Yanukovich has been strongly backed not only by Ukrainian president Leonid Kuchma, but also by Russian president Vladimir Putin and the political machine inside the Kremlin. He had promised to look after the interests of the Russian-speaking eastern half of the country, which has a number of disagreements with the western, Ukrainian-speaking half.