KIEV, Nov. 8 – Ukraine’s opposition parties suffered a setback Thursday when a court upheld a recent controversial decision by a local election commission rejecting 30,000 ballots to award victory to a pro-government candidate.
In a second blow to the opposition, a senior member of the Central Election Commission said there was no reason to question elections at 13 majority districts as the parties had demanded.
The developments suggest that confrontation between the opposition groups and the authorities were likely to escalate, deepening political crisis triggered by alleged manipulations at the elections.
This comes a day after jailed opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko urged the opposition parties to increase pressure on President Viktor Yanukovych whom she had accused of being ultimately responsible for the alleged fraud.
The opposition parties launched street protests and held rally in front of the CEC in reaction to delayed ballot tallying at a number of majority districts that had resulted in overturning victories by opposition candidates.
The district No. 94 is one of those that are believed to be affected by massive manipulation and fraud.
Exit polls and early ballot counting showed Viktor Romaniuk, an opposition candidate, leading Tatiana Zasukha, a pro-government candidate, by a comfortable margin of 12,000 votes.
However, the local election commission suddenly delayed ballot counting, giving enough time to Zasukha’s lawyers to submit lawsuit demanding to withdraw 30,000 ballots cats on 27 different polling stations in the Kiev region. When a local court had ruled to remove the ballots, the commission declared Zasukha as the winner of a parliamentary seat by a narrow margin.
Arseniy Yatseniuk, who led the opposition Batkivshchyna party for the election, on Thursday alleged that Zasukha had taken about $1 million in loans from Ukrgazbank on November 1, three days after the election, and the money may have been used to pay bribes to election committee members.
Zasukha, the wife of former governor of the Kiev region, was a pro-government lawmaker for more than over the past decade. Media reports suggested she had 400 million hryvnias on her bank account and a major land owner in the Kiev region.
Reacting to the scandal, the CEC on Monday suggested holding new parliamentary elections in the district No. 94 and four other districts that had similar problems.
But Tymoshenko, in a letter from jail sent through her lawyer, urged the opposition groups on Wednesday to fight the CEC’s proposal and to use evidence to prove the victories by opposition candidates.
Batkivshchyna asked the Kiev District Administrative Court to cancel the local election commission’s decision to withdraw 30,000 ballots from the vote, but the court had rejected the appeal.
Ihor Alekseyev, the lawyer representing Batkivshchyna, said the party will appeal the ruling by the court, and said the dispute may be further taken to the European Court of Human Rights.
Meanwhile, the opposition groups, which include Batkivshchyna, Udar and Svoboda, also demanded to expand to 13 the number of districts that had been allegedly manipulated to steal victories from opposition candidates.
Mykhaylo Okhendovskiy, the senior member of the CEC, said on Thursday that there was no reason or evidence to expand the number of districts.
He also said that the new elections may be held only after Parliament approves amendments to the election law, a prospect that may take many months.
“There are no reasons to talk about expanding the number of districts where results could not be determined,” Okhendovskiy said. (tl/ez)