* PM accuses rival of planning “monstrous” election fraud
* Charges fuel tension ahead of Jan. 17 presidential poll
By Richard Balmforth
KIEV, Jan 13 (Reuters) - Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko drove up tension on Wednesday ahead of a weekend election for president, accusing her main rival of preparing to carry out “monstrous” poll fraud to win power.
Her broadside against former prime minister Viktor Yanukovich, seen as her main challenger, raised the temperature further around the Jan. 17 presidential poll, the first since the mass unrest of 2004 sparked by a rigged election.
Tymoshenko was herself the subject on Tuesday of a vehement attack from President Viktor Yushchenko, her erstwhile ally in the 2004 “Orange Revolution” which propelled them both to power.
“A conscious disruption of the election process is going on,” Tymoshenko told a government meeting, saying that Yanukovich’s party was organising mass fraud in the east of the country, his main power base. “Such monstrous falsification didn’t even happen in 2004,” she said.
Yushchenko became president in an unprecedented third round of voting after mass protests against electoral fraud led to victory being denied to the Moscow-backed Yanukovich.
The last opinion polls published show Yushchenko has little chance of being re-elected. Yanukovich and Tymoshenko are expected to face each other in a Feb. 7 run-off vote.
Yanukovich, on a campaign trip to Crimean capital Simferopol, shrugged off Tymoshenko’s accusations.
“Tymoshenko’s comments ... show that a guilty mind betrays itself,” he told journalists. “How can the opposition falsify results? Only the authorities have that ability — they have the mechanism, structure, the interior ministry.”
At stake in the election is the ex-Soviet republic’s future place in Europe and relations with former Soviet master, Russia, which have deteriorated under Yushchenko.
The country of 46 million is deep in economic recession and the political feuding, particularly between Yushchenko and Tymoshenko, has imperilled a $16.4 billion bailout from the International Monetary Fund.
The pro-Western Yushchenko made a dramatic appeal on Tuesday for the electorate to have faith in his “European policies” and said victory for either Tymoshenko or Yanukovich “will return us to the swamp for decades”.
He renewed a charge that Tymoshenko and Yanukovich were part of a single Kremlin coalition of forces.
The bickering among the political elite in the run-up to Sunday’s election has highlighted the extent to which the “Orange” euphoria of 2004 has faded.
As Tymoshenko spoke during her cabinet’s meeting, several thousand supporters of Yanukovich’s Regions Party demonstrated outside the government building listening to World War Two-era songs and demanding higher wages and pensions.
But despite the mud-slinging and occasional protests, analysts doubted that mass rallies like that seen on Kiev’s Independence Square in 2004 would be repeated.
“No repeat of Independence Square is possible ... There will be no resistance by an insolent administrative pressure and defenceless democrats. Things will be different. There will be a different distribution of emotions,” said independent analyst Alexander Dergachev.
Tymoshenko said an unusually high number of voters in Yanukovich’s home region of Donetsk had opted to vote from home, showing the organising hand of his Party of the Regions.
Home voting was widely used in 2004 to skew election results because it allowed officials to bypass the secret ballot and did not require voters to prove their identity.
Eight members of the 14-member Central Electoral Committee were also in the pay of the Yanukovich camp, she said.
She said she intended to take her complaints to the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) which has sent election monitors to Ukraine. (Additional reporting by Natalya Zinets and Yuri Kulikov in Kiev and Pavel Polityuk in Simferopol; Editing by Elizabeth Fullerton)