- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 2, 2002

The United States yesterday criticized Ukraine's general election as seriously flawed and accused the current rulers of "abuse of authority" that benefited certain parties.

With nearly all ballots counted last night, no clear winner emerged from the Sunday vote. The party of reformist former Prime Minister Viktor Yushchenko had a slight lead over the Communists, while the party close to President Leonid Kuchma came in third.

The State Department, noting "illegal interference by the authorities in the election process and abuse of administrative resources," said media coverage of the election campaign was "highly biased, and opposition candidates did not have equal access to the electronic media."

Washington agreed with a preliminary assessment by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) that registered "important flaws" and said a "general atmosphere of distrust pervaded the pre-electoral environment."

"We are disappointed that the government of Ukraine did not move in a proactive manner to ensure a level playing field in the election for all political parties," State Department deputy spokesman Philip Reeker told reporters.

"We are particularly disappointed that officials did not take steps to curb the widespread and open abuse of authority, including the use of government positions and facilities to the unfair advantage of certain parties," he said.

Mr. Reeker called on Ukraine's central election commission and judiciary to ensure that the results of the vote are tabulated and published "promptly and transparently."

He also said the United States supports a follow-up OSCE mission after the results are certified "to assess the extent to which international commitments and standards for democracy have been met."

Asked whether the OSCE findings would have any specific effect on Ukraine's standing in the international community, Mr. Reeker said, "It's the people of Ukraine who face the repercussions of not having had fully democratic elections."

A senior European election monitor in Kiev criticized the "completely incompetent" organization of the voting process.

"Queues were huge, and people just gave up. This means fewer voters were able to cast their vote," Hanne Severinsen of Denmark was quoted by Reuters news agency as saying. Asked if ballot-rigging had taken place, she said: "Seeing the incompetence, it could have happened."

Late results gave Mr. Yushchenko's Our Ukraine party about 23 percent of the vote. The Communist Party had 20 percent and the pro-Kuchma party, For United Ukraine, about 12 percent, the election commission said.

The West was closely watching the election for signals that the Texas-sized former Soviet republic with 50 million people would deal a blow to Mr. Kuchma's administration.

The president, whose image has been marred by accusations of corruption and links to the murder of a journalist critical of his rule, needs a two-thirds majority in parliament to win a constitutional amendment that would allow him to run for a third term after his mandate expires in 2004.

A hostile legislature also could block a law giving him immunity from prosecution when he leaves office.

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