- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 9, 2010

KIEV | International monitors on Monday hailed Ukraine’s presidential election as transparent and honest, bolstering opposition leader Viktor Yanukovych’s claim of victory and leaving Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko in a strategic bind.

Mrs. Tymoshenko, who was the charismatic catalyst of the 2004 Orange Revolution mass protests, had said she would call supporters into the streets if she deemed Sunday’s election fraudulent. But although she has signaled she will challenge the outcome in the courts, she issued no protest call on Monday and canceled two planned press conferences as she apparently weighed her options.

International observers’ criticism of the 2004 presidential election lent significant weight to the Orange protests, which ended with a court-ordered revote in which Mr. Yanukovych was defeated by Viktor Yushchenko. This time, the observers’ imprimatur could undermine any call for protest.

Mr. Yanukovych had a lead of 3.2 percentage points, with 99.44 of the ballots counted. When all the votes have been counted, the Central Elections Commission will release the preliminary tally.

A Yanukovych victory would close a chapter in the country’s political history by ousting the pro-Western leadership of the past five years, which foundered due to internal divisions, fierce opposition from Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine and the collapse of the economy.

As president, Mr. Yanukovych would try to balance relations with Moscow against Europe, tilting to Moscow where his Orange Revolution predecessors tilted West. But his narrow mandate, Ukraine’s deeply divided society and moribund economy will limit his ability to implement desperately needed political reforms.

The international monitors issued a joint statement saying “the professional, transparent and honest voting and counting should serve as a solid foundation for a peaceful transition of power.”

Joao Soares — head of the observation mission from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly — said the vote was an impressive display of a democratic election and a victory for the people of Ukraine. In comments apparently directed at Mrs. Tymoshenko, he urged Ukraine’s politicians to heed the official vote tally.

“It is now time for the country’s political leaders to listen to the people’s verdict and make sure that the transition of power is peaceful and constructive,” Mr. Soares said.

High turnout and the efficient performance of election officials dispelled fears of large-scale fraud, the observers said.

The election commission projected the turnout among Ukraine’s 37 million voters at just under 70 percent, 3.2 percentage points higher than the first-round vote on Jan. 17, in which 18 candidates competed. Mr. Yanukovych won that round with a 10 percentage point lead.

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