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Ukraine Vote Begins With Uncertainty About Election Process

The presidential vote in Ukraine opened amid uncertainty over the election laws. Distrust between candidates Yulia Tymoshenko and Viktor Yanukovych has led to doubts about the electoral process.

Four days before voting started Sunday, Viktor Yanukovych's Regions Party in Parliament managed to pass a controversial amendment to Ukraine's election law. The measure allows a local election precinct to open even if it lacks a quorum of commission members representing both candidates.

Serhiy Davydych is a commissioner representing Mr. Yanukovych at Precinct Number Eight in Kyiv.

Davydych says there was need to avoid the possibility of special moves by several commission members who could disrupt the election if they failed to show up.

In other words, Yanukovych supporters feared Ms. Tymoshenko would withdraw her representatives from precincts where she was weak. Under the previous law, the lack of a quorum would have prevented the opening of a precinct, thus depriving those registered there of a vote.

Ms. Tymoshenko's representative at the precinct, Volodymyr Rykhlik, says international election observers would make it difficult to carry out such a scheme. Rykhlik's concern is changing election rules so late in the game.

He says any law needs to be verified, reviewed and tried out in practice. He notes that other government laws are studied by commissions, publicized and then released in an official publication.

The head of the Council of Europe's observer delegation, Hungarian lawmaker Matyas Eorsi, says that Ukrainian politicians seem to play with the rules rather than playing by the rules. He cautions that sudden rule changes undermine voter confidence and violate a general principle of election law.

"According to the principle, no country should change the law one year prior to the elections," said Eorsi. "And in our [Ukrainian] case, it was not only a last minute amendment, but between the two rounds. This is totally unacceptable by any international standard."

The observer delegation from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has urged the losing candidate to accept defeat. But Volodymyr Rykhlik and Serhiy Davydych say Yulia Tymoshenko and Viktor Yanukovych do not know how to lose, and could dispute election results in court or on the streets.

Prime Minister Tmyoshenko and Mr. Yanukovych were the top finishers in last month's preliminary round of voting in the race to replace the current president, Viktor Yushchenko. The campaign has been marked by smears and there are fears that supporters of the loser could protest on the street.