Ukraine opposition complains of stolen seats

KIEV Sat Nov 3, 2012 3:41am EDT

Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich (R) inspects the guard of honor during a ceremony to mark the day of Ukraine's liberation from Nazi invaders during World War Two on the day of the parliamentary elections in Kiev, October 28, 2012. REUTERS/Mykhailo Markiv/Presidential Press Service/Handout

Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich (R) inspects the guard of honor during a ceremony to mark the day of Ukraine's liberation from Nazi invaders during World War Two on the day of the parliamentary elections in Kiev, October 28, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Mykhailo Markiv/Presidential Press Service/Handout

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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.

An observer team from Canada criticized the count because observers had largely been barred from the counting rooms by election officials.

"This limited their ability to fully observe a vital phase of the election process," a statement by the team, which fielded 500 monitors, said.

It reported evidence of deliberate attempts to manipulate results, particularly where competition was at its keenest in places like the capital Kiev.

"We ... note that the process of vote tabulation has been marred by serious violations which raises doubts about the integrity of the results in several districts," it said.

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 Organisation 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 and Richard Balmforth)

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