Ukraine opposition complains of stolen seats as count nears end

KIEV Fri Nov 2, 2012 11:47am EDT

Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich holds his ballot as he visits a polling station during the parliamentary elections in Kiev, October 28, 2012. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich

Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich holds his ballot as he visits a polling station during the parliamentary elections in Kiev, October 28, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Gleb Garanich

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KIEV (Reuters) - Ukrainian opposition parties accused President Viktor Yanukovich's Party of the Regions of "stealing" several parliamentary seats as the vote count from Sunday's election neared completion on Friday.

The Party of the Regions is set to retain a majority in the 450-seat parliament with their traditional communist allies and some independents.

The opposition voiced suspicions about sudden swings in counting away from opposition candidates and in favor of the Regions in some constituencies.

"If manipulations continue ... we will do everything to make sure this election is ruled void," Vitaly Klitschko, the leader of opposition liberal party UDAR (Punch), told reporters.

"According to our data ... we are missing 1.5 to two percentage points (of the actual vote compared to the official results)."

UDAR campaign manager Volodymyr Kurennoi told local media: "This 1.5 percent (of votes) was stolen from us."

However, no opposition party has called for large-scale public protests - which derailed Yanukovich's first bid for the presidency in 2004 - despite a hunger strike by jailed opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko over what she said was widespread vote-rigging.

According to results as of Friday, the Party of the Regions was set to win 187 seats with its communist allies getting 37 and independents, most of whom are likely to support the Regions, securing 43.

This should add up to a comfortable majority for the ruling party.

In the opposition camp, Tymoshenko's Batkivshchyna bloc stood at 104 seats, Klitschko's UDAR at 40 and the far-right Svoboda (Freedom) nationalists at 37.

Half of the parliament is elected by voting for political parties while the other half is chosen in individual constituencies. This means that one percentage point can translate into at least two seats for a party.

SCUFFLES IN VOTING DISTRICTS

In some individual districts, prolonged vote-counting triggered accusations of rigging and led to scuffles.

Riot police used tear gas at a district election commission in the town of Pervomaisk on Thursday night, local media reported. The opposition says initial vote results were reviewed in favor of a Regions candidate.

The interior ministry said in a statement police had been called in to help bailiffs retrieve vote counts submitted by individual polling stations in line with a court ruling.

Arseny Yatsenyuk, who leads the United Opposition bloc which includes Batkivshchyna, urged the central election commission on Friday to investigate claims of fraud, Batkivshchyna said.

The Party of the Regions has denied allegations of vote-rigging.

Tymoshenko, who is being treated for back trouble in a state-run hospital, may have put her lieutenants in Batkivshchyna in an awkward position with her hunger strike.

According to partial results of the party vote based on 99.65 percent of ballots, Batkivshchyna had secured 25.52 of the vote, a figure in line with exit polls and pre-election surveys.

While they criticized the election over issues such as Tymoshenko's imprisonment and biased media coverage, monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe were largely positive about the voting in their preliminary report this week.

The central election commission has until November 17 to announce the official election result.

(Reporting by Olzhas Auyezov)

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