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Ukrainians Fear Fraudulent Presidential Vote

Precinct Head Ludmilla Shapovalova presents ballots, Kyiv, Ukraine, 17 January 2010

Hundreds of international observers fanned out in Ukraine to monitor the election and watch for signs of vote fraud

Voters in Ukraine cast ballots in Sunday's presidential election amid concern that voting irregularities might taint the electoral process. About 3,000 international observers spread across the country to look for signs of vote fraud. A few procedural infractions at a polling station just 300 meters from the Ukrainian Central Election Commission headquarters in Kyiv.

Election workers and representatives of several political parties arrived at Kyiv's precinct 29 about an hour before polls opened early Sunday. They watched as precinct chairwoman Ludmilla Shapovalova presented the ballots, which were kept in a safe that had been secured with signed and tamperproof seals.

Shapovalova says special police are usually assigned to election precincts two days before the vote to sit in the room with the safe and prevent any outsiders from interfering.

Oleh Nimirovsky, a representative of Ukraine's Freedom Party joined opposing political forces to account for the precinct's alloted 1,920 ballots.

Nimirovsky says everything is legal, in order and without any violations or emotional excess, save perhaps the usual Election Day commotion.

Shapovalova then secured ballot boxes with official seals affixed to sheets of paper that were signed by election workers and party representatives.

Nimirovsky addressed a minor infraction by removing perimeter tape that prevented voters from reading official literature posted for those who would like a last-minute review of candidate positions.

The head of the Council of Europe's observer delegation, Hungarian lawmaker Matyas Eorsi, noted that uniformed police were visible to voters in violation of election law. Eorsi told VOA the infraction is not likely to impact the vote, but should be addressed.

"Ukrainian authorities in the future should pay more attention to these details.," Eorsi said. "Why? Especially in this former Soviet [republic], where the secret services and the uniformed people represented a special intimidation to the people, and this has not yet been forgotten."

Western observers say none of the major candidates followed up on campaign charges of attempted election fraud against opponents by presenting evidence to the courts. Eorsi says such accusations do not help the democratic process.

"Because what we see in former Soviet countries is that the losers start to blame the election process; start to criticize the winners with election fraud, and even if there are reasons to be critical, it is very dangerous to undermine public credibility in the election process," Eorsi said. "Very dangerous."

International monitors are expected to post an online report about the Ukrainian voting procedures on Monday.

In 2004, the Ukrainian Supreme Court confirmed that candidate Viktor Yanukovych had rigged the election, sparking the Orange Revolution, which gave the presidency to Viktor Yushchenko.