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Kuchma falls short of Ukraine majority

By Tom Warner in Kiev

Preliminary results of Ukraine's parliamentary elections indicated on Monday night that President Leonid Kuchma had failed in his goal of winning a majority in parliament.

If confirmed, this would mean preserving the political status quo, in which a loose grouping of centrists under Mr Kuchma are the dominant force but lack sufficient seats to consolidate power. Foreign policy is likely to waver between western and pro-Russian stances while economic policy would continue to pander to Ukraine and Russian financial groups.

As vote-counting neared completion on Monday night, the centrists began making overtures to the centre-right leader Viktor Yushchenko.

Sergey Tyhypko, leader of one of four pro-Kuchma parties in the For a United Ukraine bloc, said that «changes must be made» in Mr Kuchma's cabinet in order to bring Mr Yushchenko's pro-Western Our Ukraine bloc into a «coalition government».

Mr Tyhypko's offer came as the increasingly complete results were defusing a dispute over the vote count. Earlier on Monday, when the vote appeared to be going strongly in in the Kuchma camp's favour, Mr Yushchenko had accused Mr Kuchma's administration of stealing a chunk of his votes. But later results announced were much closer to those of exit polls and an alternative vote count run by Mr Yushchenko's group and other opposition parties.

With 94 per cent of the votes counted, Our Ukraine had increased to 23.5 per cent of the votes in nationwide proportional voting, while the group's candidates also did much better than expected in direct elections.

The late results deflated the Kuchma camp's early hopes as For a United Ukraine's share slipped to 12.1 per cent in proportional voting and many of the Kuchma camp's candidates who had been expected to win in direct races were upset by Mr Yushchenko's candidates or by independent local businessmen.

If the results are confirmed, they would give the pro-Kuchma group 185 of the parliament's 450 seats, Mr Yushchenko's group 116 seats, the Communist party 66 seats and the opposition Socialists and Yulia Tymoshenko bloc a combined total of 45 seats. The remaining 38 seats went to unaffiliated candidates.

International observers sharply criticised the elections, which Andreas Gross, vice-president of the Council of Europe's parliamentary assembly, said were marred by visible double-voting and unreasonably crowded polling stations that failed to respect voters' «dignity».

If the international observers conclude that the results were unfair, it would further isolate Mr Kuchma from western leaders, who have largely stayed away from Ukraine since a scandal in 2000 when Mr Kuchma was accused of ordering the murder of a journalist.

Opposition groups and domestic election observers said there were many methods of vote-rigging. However, For a United Ukraine and the Central Electoral Commission rejected the charges and insisted the count was fair.

Andreas Gross


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