International election observers say the first round of voting in Ukraine's presidential election failed to meet a number of democratic standards, but the observers stopped short of calling for the vote to be invalidated.
Western election observers roundly criticized Ukraine's presidential poll in their preliminary assessment released in Kiev. The monitors told reporters Monday that widespread irregularities were observed in both the pre-election period and on voting day.
Bruce George heads the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's Parliamentary Assembly monitoring mission. He says western observers found Ukraine's vote to be far from free and fair.
"It is with a heavy heart that on the basis of our findings we have to conclude that the 2004 presidential elections in Ukraine did not meet a considerable number of OSCE, Council of Europe and other European standards for democratic elections.," he announced. "Indeed, the election process constituted in many respects a step backwards from the 2002 elections."
Mr. George says chief among the violations are problems with voter lists, in which some registered voters were unable to find their names listed, while others, including dead people, were listed twice.
He said there were also significant problems with the misuse of administrative resources on behalf of pro-government candidate Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich, who is outgoing President Leonid Kuchma's chosen pick to be his successor.
"We found overwhelming bias in favor of the incumbent prime minister in the state media and interference in his favor by the state administration," said Bruce George. "Mr. Yanukovich's campaign failed to make a clear separation between resources owned or managed by the incumbent political forces and the property of the state."
Supporters of pro-western opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko say their candidate would have won the first round outright, had there not been so many violations.
Preliminary results indicate the two leading candidates, Mr. Yanukovich and Mr. Yushchenko, will face off in a second-round ballot mid-November.
Despite the irregularities and charged pre-election environment, OSCE spokesman George says large numbers of Ukrainians voted in what he called, a generally calm atmosphere.
A spokesman for monitors with the Strasbourg-based Council of Europe said unrest was reported in about five percent of polling stations visited, but that few violent incidents occurred.