KIEV, Ukraine -- The door to Ukraine’s presidency has all but been shut in the face of Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko. But now she has managed to stick her foot in just before the door closed. She won a court ruling that suspended the results of the Feb. 7 runoff, pending an investigation into her allegations of election fraud.
Nevertheless, Western leaders and election observers have already been quick to recognize Victor Yanukovych, the same man they accused of trying to steal Ukraine’s presidency during the 2004 election, as victor in 2010.
Tymoshenko’s opponents and independent analysts, meanwhile, interpret her tenacity in challenging the election results more as an exercise in political survival than a genuine attempt to overturn the outcome.
On Feb. 17, Ukraine’s Higher Administrative Court suspended the official election results announced on Valentine’s Day by the country’s Central Electoral Commission, which declared Yanukovych the winner by a slim margin of 3.5 percentage points, or 888,000 ballots.
Tymoshenko personally delivered her case to the judges in Kyiv on Feb. 16, tunneling her way through a crowd of Party of Regions supporters camped outside, after having vowed to never surrender the nation to Yanukovych’s “gang of criminals.”
“I want to make it clear: Yanukovych is not our president. However the future circumstances play themselves out, he will never become the legitimately elected president of Ukraine,” Tymoshenko said in a televised address on Feb. 13, breaking nearly a week of public silence.
The court is expected to take a final decision by Feb. 25, the scheduled inauguration day of Yanukovych.
At issue are 1.5 million votes from the Feb. 7 runoff, which Tymoshenko’s team claims was stolen from them by the Yanukovych camp through various fraudulent schemes.
Vadym Karasyov, a political analyst at the Institute of Global Strategies, said fraud may have been significant in the Feb. 7 runoff. But Karasyov said it wasn’t limited to the Yanukovych team.
In a newsletter released by Tymoshenko’s team, her claims of election fraud included damaged or spoiled ballots, illegal changes to voter lists on election day and unusually high turnout figures in Yanukovych-friendly eastern Ukraine, in addition to suspicious home voting.
Add it up, and Tymoshenko’s side alleges the fraud cost their candidate more than the margin of Yanukovych’s victory.
“It’s even possible that Yanukovych was responsible for more [fraud] than she was, but I don’t think she would have let him get away with a million votes,” Karasyov said.
So why is Tymoshenko still kicking up a fuss in the face of recognition of Yanukovych’s victory by international heavyweights such as U.S. President Barack Obama, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the European Parliament?
According to analyst Karasyov: “She wants to hold together her faction, remain prime minister and – most of all – retain her image as an unbeatable candidate for future elections.”
It was Tymoshenko who helped reverse Yanukovych’s fraud-marred victory in the 2004 presidential race. She mesmerized the crowds of peaceful pro-democracy demonstrators in the center of Kyiv during the 2004 Orange Revolution, the culmination of years of opposition struggle against international pariah and former President Leonid Kuchma, who had chosen Yanukovych as his successor.
Tymoshenko went on to become the first prime minister of President Victor Yushchenko. Then, after Yushchenko fired her as part of post-Revolution squabbling, Tymoshenko retook the government and the lead position among Orange leaders during a snap parliamentary election held in 2007.
Now, by stubbornly refusing to admit defeat, Tymoshenko might be finally showing signs of vulnerability. “This is just her Achilles heel showing. I think she just doesn’t know how to get out of this situation with dignity,” Hanna Herman, a close confidant of Yanukovych and veteran of the 2004 election, said.
“After this ruckus that she has kicked up, I think her chances of winning a future election have been seriously diminished,” Herman concluded.
Although Yanukovych clinched the Feb. 7 runoff by a slim lead, the growing general consensus is that he has won fair and square.
Election observers from the OSCE, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, the European Parliament and other Western institutions endorsed the validity of Yanukovych’s victory even earlier than the CEC, during a press conference held on Feb. 8.
Klas Bergman, director of communications for the OSCE’s Parliamentary Assembly, said the OSCE and its Western partner institutions fielded 700 observers for the runoff, not including hundreds of other international observers.
“Of course, we don’t see everything. There were polling stations where we weren’t present,” Bergman said. But he added: “We took part in numerous activities across the country and we were aware of this [issue of home voting] and looked into it.”
Charles Tannock, a British lawmaker and Tymoshenko supporter who monitored the Ukrainian runoff for the European Parliament, also acknowledged the possibility that Western observers had missed some fraud during the runoff, “though normally the long-term observers who are very experienced pick up on this if [it is] on a large scale, as there are usually intelligence leaks from the opposition which are investigated,” Tannock said.
Regarding the suspicions about home voting, which have been raised by Tymoshenko’s team, Tannock said: “I am not aware of any serious scrutiny of the home voting but understand the ballot boxes are escorted by a mixed team from both parties to avoid any tampering, making such a thing on a large scale very difficult, as this has been raised in previous elections and dismissed in 2004.”
So does the tenacious lady in braids have a chance at overturning the Feb. 7 runoff and calling a new vote, as she helped do against Yanukovych in 2004?
Karasyov says, “No. This is just a diversion. The court gets to show they are objective, and Yulia gets another chance to trumpet her case.”
Tymoshenko has already suffered losses in her campaign to challenge the vote in lower Ukrainian courts.
“She’s scored another goal, but she won’t win the match,” Karasyov said.