Ballot Printing Snafu Imperils Ukraine Election

By David Holley

Los Angeles Times

5:13 PM PST, December 17, 2004

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

Under legislation governing the rematch between Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych and opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko set for Dec. 26, 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 protesters.

The protesters have demanded that Kuchma accept an earlier parliamentary decision dismissing Yanukovych 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 that the current administration cannot remove documents that might provide evidence of corruption or other crimes.

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

While campaigning in the eastern city of Kharkiv on Friday, Yushchenko said that 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 that, "according to my information, the major task of the Yanukovych 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 runoff vote in the presidential race, narrowly won by Yanukovych, 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 to be the real winner.

In parliament Friday, Mykola Tomenko, a leading member of Yushchenko's party, said the opposition may 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 wildly. Itar-Tass said that the mint would be able to print only about 10 million of the 38 million ballots needed. But Central Election Commission Chairman Yaroslav Davydovych, who said earlier this week that only about half the ballots could be printed, expressed more confidence on 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."