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Ukraine polls marred by fraud, say international observers

By IANS/RIA Novosti,

Kiev: International observers have slammed Ukraine’s parliamentary elections as “a step backward” for democracy, saying the polls were marred by fraud, intimidation and other abuses.

“Ukrainians deserve better than these elections,” Andreas Gross, head of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe’s (PACE) observer mission, told reporters Monday in Kiev.

The observers criticised the pre-election media coverage as unfair, and also pointed to a lack of transparency in campaign finances and the abuse of administrative resources.

Sunday’s vote, in which Ukranian President Viktor Yanukovych’s ruling Party of Regions seems to get 33 percent of the vote, was widely seen as a test not only for Yanukovych himself, but also for the country’s fledgling democracy.

It was also viewed like that due to the allegations that have surfaced in recent months of authoritarianism, corruption and the jailing of political opponents.

Several opposition parties also gained considerable ground in these polls, to the point of posing a potential threat to the ruling party’s hold over the 450-seat legislature.

The observers slammed what they called the inordinate campaign spending by the Party of Regions and its financial backers, many of them wealthy businessmen from the party’s support base in southern and eastern Ukraine.

“A democratic election is much more than a competition between smaller and bigger oligarchs who colonise Ukrainian politics and democracy with their big money,” Gross said.

Ukrainian Central Election Committee chief Volodymyr Shapoval dismissed those allegations at a press conference Monday.

Prime Minister Mykola Azarov told reporters late Sunday night that the vote had been fair.

The observers also took issue with Ukraine’s new electoral law, enacted late last year, which they say hands the Party of Regions an unfair advantage.