Yushchenko sweeps to victory but opponent refuses to accept result
Viktor Yushchenko swept to election victory in Ukraine yesterday, while his bitter rival, the Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, refused to accept the outcome of the presidential re-run and vowed to challenge the result.
With less than 1 per cent of the vote left to count, Mr Yushchenko had an impregnable 52 to 44 per cent lead. His supporters fêted their president-in-waiting after a poll battle that has shattered the rigid politics of the regime which has been in place since Ukraine gained independence in 1990.
The reverse for Mr Yanukovych came after weeks of mass demonstrations in protest at election fraud last month. Throughout the "Orange Revolution" hundreds of thousands of people blockaded the centre of the capital, Kiev, and other cities and eventually forced a re-run of the election.
The moral muscle from the protests allowed the opposition to change election procedures and diminish scope for fraud. They were helped by 12,000 international election monitors.
The man who masterminded the hamfisted fraud, which involved bussing voters from eastern Ukraine to cast multiple ballots in favour of Mr Yanukovych, was found dead with gunshot wounds at his dacha outside Kiev last night. The Transport Minister, Heorhiy Kyrpa, had been beaten up by Mr Yanukovych after the fraud was pinpointed as the reason for the election re-run. But it was unclear last night if Mr Kyrpa had taken his own life or if he had been murdered.
After yesterday's win for Mr Yushchenko, the Yanukovych camp said there had been "massive falsification" by their rival and they would challenge the results in the Supreme Court, which could delay an official result until the new year.
But international monitors said they were satisfied. The OSCE monitoring mission chief, Bruce George, said: "The people of this great country made a great step forwards to free and fair elections by electing the next president of Ukraine."
The President of Georgia, Mikhail Saakashvili, was the first foreign leader to congratulate Mr Yushchenko, followed by the Polish President, Aleksander Kwasniewski, who said: "All Europe nervously watched the elections and today Europe feels great joy from the fact that democratic processes have won in Ukraine."
In the early hours of yesterday morning, when three exit polls showed he had a lead over his rival, Mr Yushchenko went to Independence Square, in the heart of the capital, to address his supporters. It was in this square that hundreds of thousands first gathered on 21 November to protest against the fraud perpetrated by the government in that day's election, triggering the 17 days that became the "Orange Revolution".
Mr Yushchenko, who claims to have been scarred by a near-fatal poisoning attempt last September by his political enemies, was flanked by his wife and senior political allies as he bowed to his supporters.
Ukraine became independent in 1990 but has since been ruled by communist-era politicians who are believed to be allied to shady businessmen known as "oligarchs" with links to the criminal underworld. Mr Yushchenko said their time was over. He said: "This is a victory for the Ukrainian people, for the Ukrainian nation. Perhaps we have been moving towards this for several centuries. For the past 14 years we were independent, but now we have become free."