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Ukraine Revote Now Hinges on Printing of Ballots

Times Staff Writer

A revote in Ukraine’s bitterly disputed presidential race could be upended because time is running out for printing ballots, opposition leaders said Friday, blaming President Leonid D. Kuchma for the problem.

Under legislation governing the Dec. 26 rematch between Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich and opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko, all ballots were to be printed by Ukraine’s national mint to protect against fraud.

But after election officials announced that the mint could not finish the job on schedule, parliament passed a law Tuesday authorizing a second plant to print ballots. Kuchma said he was willing to sign the bill, but only in his own office after the lifting of a blockade by pro-Yushchenko demonstrators.

The protesters have demanded that Kuchma accept an earlier parliamentary decision dismissing Yanukovich from office, which he has refused to do. Some have said they do not want to lift the blockade until Yushchenko wins the election, as they expect, and is inaugurated, so the current administration cannot remove documents that might provide evidence of corruption or other crimes.

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Yushchenko does not fully control the protesters, who are organized primarily by the student activist group Pora.

While campaigning Friday in the eastern city of Kharkiv, Yushchenko said Kuchma’s failure to sign the bill threatened to disrupt the revote, the Russian news agency Itar-Tass reported. At a news conference Thursday, Yushchenko had said, “According to my information, the major task of the Yanukovich team is to make the Dec. 26 election invalid, to make it not happen.”

Kuchma’s failure to promptly sign the law shows he “does not strongly desire to have the election on Dec. 26,” he added.

The balloting was set by Ukraine’s Supreme Court when it ruled that a Nov. 21 presidential runoff vote, narrowly won by Yanukovich, was invalid due to fraud. The court and parliament acted under the pressure of massive rallies, some drawing more than 100,000 protesters, that were held for 17 consecutive days in central Kiev to back Yushchenko’s claim that he was the real winner.

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In parliament Friday, Mykola Tomenko, a leading member of Yushchenko’s party, said the opposition might strike back at Kuchma by trying to oust him from the presidency before the revote, on the grounds that his five-year term expired early this month. “Today Kuchma and his team are doing everything not to allow the revote,” Tomenko said. He called on the Central Election Commission to print ballots without waiting for the president’s signature.

Estimates of how many ballots the national mint will be able to print vary. Itar-Tass said that the mint would be able to print about 10 million of the 38 million ballots needed. But Central Election Commission Chairman Yaroslav Davydovych, who said this week that only about half the ballots could be printed, expressed more confidence Friday.

The national mint was working “steadily 24 hours a day,” he told reporters. People trying to solve the problem “are now working extremely hard. They’ll make the impossible possible.”

Anastasia Bezverkha, a spokeswoman for Pora, said Kuchma didn’t want to sign the bill and was trying to shift blame to the protesters. “If he’s ready to sign, and all he needs is to reach his office, of course we’ll let him in,” she said. “It’s not his intention to sign the bill. He doesn’t want to sign it.... We are worried.”

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Yanukovich, in a brief statement to reporters Thursday, said, “There is a real threat that after Dec. 26, Ukraine may be at the edge of a large-scale crisis.”

He did not offer clarification, but his campaign manager, Taras Chornovil, said in an interview that the prime minister was referring to two possibilities.

One crisis scenario is that Yanukovich wins the election, but Yushchenko’s supporters cannot accept the possibility that he could win honestly, and they take to the streets to overthrow the results, Chornovil said.

The other, he said, is that Yushchenko comes out on top in the vote count, but either the Constitutional Court or the Supreme Court then rules the election invalid. Chornovil said he was one of 46 members of parliament who had filed a claim with the Constitutional Court seeking to invalidate the Dec. 26 balloting.

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Meanwhile, he said, Kuchma “wouldn’t mind it leading to a disaster” where the country is bitterly divided into opposing camps of equal size. If the crisis were severe enough, Kuchma might be able to call completely new elections, run for a third term and rule the country for five more years, Chornovil said.

If the rematch doesn’t take place at all, he added, Yanukovich’s camp would demand that the prime minister be recognized as president based on his official first-place finish in the invalidated November election.


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