- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 31, 2004

KIEV — Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych took the lead today in Ukraine’s presidential election with about 46 percent of the vote, according to partial results, but that was not enough to avoid a runoff in three weeks after balloting marred by fears of violence and charges of election fraud.

With nearly 50 percent of the precincts counted after yesterday’s vote, the main challenger, opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko, had 33.59 percent of the votes, the Central Election Commission said.

An array of exit polls put the two top candidates within a few percentage points of each other and below the 50 percent needed to avoid a Nov. 21 runoff.

Official results that differed sharply from the polls could inflame tensions, which already were high in the former Soviet republic after weeks of opposition accusations that officials had planned wide-scale vote fraud.

Mr. Yushchenko, in a live television broadcast, said early today that a count by his campaign observers showed him with little more than 50 percent of the vote, with 10,800 of the 33,000 precincts tallied. He characterized the showing as “a victory for the democratic forces.”



But Mr. Yanukovych’s campaign announced that its count of 50 percent of votes showed the prime minister with 41.2 percent, while Mr. Yushchenko had garnered 38.7 percent.

During the balloting, the Central Election Commission building was cordoned off with waist-high metal partitions. Water cannons and military-style attack vehicles were on hand in anticipation of demonstrations, though only a few dozen people gathered outside.

About 147,000 police were on duty and thousands of additional security forces were assigned to the capital.

The vote was seen as a key test of democracy in this nation of 48 million people and as an indicator of which direction Ukrainians will choose for their nation, which has cultivated ties with the West and neighboring Russia.

According to the preliminary results, the vote was split along regional lines, with Mr. Yanukovych getting strong support in eastern regions and the Russian-dominated Crimea, while Mr. Yushchenko overwhelmingly led in the West.

An exit poll conducted by the Kiev International Institute of Sociology and the Razumkov Center for Political and Economic Research gave Mr. Yushchenko 45 percent of the vote to Mr. Yanukovych’s 37 percent, the Unian news agency said.

But a poll by the Social Monitoring and Socis groups showed Mr. Yanukovych leading with 43 percent of the vote to Mr. Yushchenko’s 39 percent, Unian said. A preliminary version of that poll had Mr. Yushchenko with a two-percentage-point lead.

The poll showing Mr. Yushchenko leading asked respondents to fill out forms anonymously, while the other was done via face-to-face interviews. The discrepancy could indicate concern by respondents about identifying themselves as opposition supporters.

Both polls were sponsored by the U.S., Canadian and British embassies as well as the U.S. National Endowment for Democracy.

There were 22 other candidates on the ballot.

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