Supporters of Ukrainian presidential candidate Viktor Yushchenko have lifted their siege of the nation’s Cabinet headquarters and will now dedicate their energies to preparing for a new election on Dec. 26. Their protest began shortly after current Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych was declared the winner in last month’s presidential run-off. Many Ukrainians who favor the European-leaning Yushchenko alleged massive vote rigging—a position seconded by Secretary of State Colin Powell, who cited “credible reports of fraud and abuse.” How, exactly, are Yanukovych’s supporters alleged to have fixed the election?
Given the extent of the fraud described by witnesses, a better question might be, “How didn’t Yanukovych’s supporters try to fix the election?” The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe sent 563 election observers to the Ukraine, and their allegations run the gamut from voter intimidation to ballot-box stuffing.
According to the OSCE, the irregularities started well before the election, as many state employees suspected of being opposition sympathizers were forced to hand their absentee ballot certificates to their bosses. Those certificates entitle the bearer not to a mail-in ballot, but rather to vote at any polling place in the Ukraine on Election Day. No one’s quite sure what happened to the certificates that were turned over, but it’s quite possible that they were distributed to pro-Yanukovych voters. Those voters, with multiple certificates in hand, were then allegedly bused from polling station to polling station, enabling them to vote several times. The pro-Yushchenko state employees, meanwhile, were essentially disenfranchised.
On Election Day, the OSCE observers claim that thousands of people were suddenly added to the electoral rolls. Many of these voters used absentee certificates, and the majority were in the pro-Yanukovych eastern half of the country. Approximately 5 percent of all votes cast came from these last-minute voters.
Ukraine also allows invalids and other homebound citizens to cast their ballots via mobile boxes, which are brought to a voter’s doorstep. In most regions, mobile ballots made up around 4 percent of the overall vote; but in the east, the figure was double that. It’s possible that the mobile boxes were stuffed en route.
Some of the fraud may have been no more complicated than merely letting Yanukovych supporters vote early and often. In several Yanukovych strongholds in the east, voter turnout was, to say the least, suspiciously high; in the city of Donetsk, for example, it was reported as 96.3 percent. Contrary to Ukrainian election law, police and local governmental officials were reportedly stationed in many of these polling places and may have scared away potential Yushchenko voters with threats of violence. Observers enlisted by the opposition were expelled from numerous polling sites, giving the cops free rein to intimidate.
The topper, according to the OSCE, has been the Central Election Commission’s lack of transparency in tabulating the votes. The ostensibly nonpartisan agency hasn’t been able to come up with a figure for how many absentee certificates were issued, for example, nor has it released voting figures for individual polling stations.
Yanukovych’s backers have responded by alleging massive voter fraud in the Ukrainian-speaking west, the Yushchenko heartland. Specifically, members of Yanukovych’s campaign alleged that up to 2 million fraudulent mail-in ballots were sent in from abroad. The OSCE, however, “found no credible evidence to support” this allegation.
Bonus Explainer: Yushchenko’s campaign had its work cut out for it from the beginning, given the obvious animosity of the Ukraine’s state-run media. Newscasts, for example, were stacked with unfavorable coverage of the opposition leader. And immediately after the first televised debate, a state-owned television station followed with a “roundtable discussion” that was little more than a one-sided attack ad against Yushchenko.