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Ukraine Re-Vote

December 27, 2004 at 12:00 AM EDT


MARGARET WARNER: David Holley, welcome. The reports here today are that Viktor Yushchenko is claiming victory but his opponent, Mr. Yanukovich is refusing to concede. How decisive are the results?

DAVID HOLLEY: Well, the results are pretty decisive. It’s 52 percent to 44 percent, and it’s highly unlikely that Prime Minister Yanukovich would succeed in actually overturning the results.

But by complaining about them, by saying that there are voting irregularities and by taking his case probably to the Supreme Court, he may get some political mileage out of that and it may help him as he becomes an opposition politician in the future, which seems quite likely

MARGARET WARNER: So, in other words, this threat to challenge the results is not seen as a serious threat to the results themselves?

DAVID HOLLEY: I think it’s not seen as extremely serious. Some of his supporters may believe it is, and he might or he may say that he does. But even yesterday evening at a news conference shortly after the polls closed, he spoke in terms of saying, I believe I’m going to be the winner.

But he also spoke very seriously in response to questions about what if you lose? And he said well if I lose, we are going to build a very strong opposition and Yushchenko and his people will see what a strong opposition is like. And there have been other signals today that that may be the kind of goal he has in mind.

MARGARET WARNER: All right. Now tell us about Viktor Yushchenko and what his whole sort of public message has been since the polls closed.

DAVID HOLLEY: Well, since the polls closed, his message has been, we won, we did it. Thank you the people of Ukraine, my supporters who came out and held these massive demonstrations for two and a half weeks after the previous runoff round, challenging what they said was fraud, massive fraud in the initial runoff between Yushchenko and Yanukovich which the Supreme Court ruled had been so fraudulent that it should be redone.

MARGARET WARNER: How fair, how clean were these elections, was this election that took place yesterday?

DAVID HOLLEY: Well, the OSCE, Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and other foreign observer groups said today that these elections were a great improvement over the round three weeks ago

that they mark a major step forward for Ukraine in becoming a real democracy and so they were a big improvement. That endorsement by the foreign observers is part of why I was saying earlier that I don’t think the Supreme Court would overturn these results.

MARGARET WARNER: But the comments by the OSCE sounded somewhat qualified. I mean, were there still irregularities on one or both sides?

DAVID HOLLEY: Well, when they say it’s a big step forward, that’s implying that there were irregularities. Yes, there were all sorts of problems, some of them relating to voter lists which left off people. There were logistical problems.

So if you are looking for individual problems, it was not a beautifully, wonderfully well-run democratic election. And I’m sure that Yanukovich will have many legitimate complaints that he can bring to the Central Election Commission and the Supreme Court.

But if you are talking about hundreds or thousands of complaints, that’s not enough to overturn a victory of this size, and it’s probably one of the better run elections in many of the former Soviet states and certainly the fairest election that Ukraine has probably had since independence.

MARGARET WARNER: Now, Yushchenko’s chief of staff was here in Washington a couple of weeks ago and appeared on our program and he predicted that Yushchenko would win 20 of the 25 regions in the Ukraine; it would be a huge victory. Is the margin of victory less than at least the Yushchenko people had expected?

DAVID HOLLEY: Yes, it is less than I think they both truly expected and also quite a bit less than what they claimed publicly that they would be getting. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It salvages Prime Minister Yanukovich’s pride, I would say.

It leaves him in place to be a legitimate opposition politician in the future, and might actually make his supporters feel better about everything — all the talk of eastern Ukraine kind of rebelling in some form or another, seeking greater autonomy, being hard to govern for Yushchenko might become less if Yanukovich and people associated with him become a normal opposition that complains a lot, criticizes things that are wrong, but basically plays the game.

There will be parliamentary elections here in 2006. It seems that Yanukovich and his team are already looking towards those elections.

MARGARET WARNER: How did the vote break down? Did it break down along the geographic lines that everyone expected? Or did the freer media in this re-run election allow or permit Yushchenko to make some inroads in the East?

DAVID HOLLEY: It seems that Yushchenko probably didn’t make very big inroads. I don’t think he changed a lot of people’s minds. The East and the South are still heavily pro-Yanukovich in this balloting and the West very heavily Yushchenko and in the center leaning strongly toward Yushchenko but some Yanukovich support.

What was different is a significantly smaller number of votes for Yanukovich in the East which his people say is because of changes in the voting laws, it essentially disenfranchised some of his supporters by making it more difficult for them to vote. And of course the Yushchenko people would say that’s the fraudulent votes that are missing.

MARGARET WARNER: And what was Yushchenko actually running on? If you had to sum it up, what was his platform? What was he promising?

DAVID HOLLEY: Well, he was… probably his number one platform was an anti-corruption platform; that one of the key slogans of his campaign was, you know, no more bandits, or out with the bandits.

But at a more policy level, he was saying that he wanted to move Ukraine rapidly toward closer relations with the European Union and United States to seek NATO membership and to do the things necessary to achieve that, which, to start with, means completing Ukraine’s transformation to a market economy, to crack-down on corruption, to run fair and democratic elections, and in general, to try to run a government in a country that would be much more like a normal Western European country.

MARGARET WARNER: And how quickly is all this expected to be resolved and would the new president, ostensibly Yushchenko, take office?

DAVID HOLLEY: Well, the Central Election Commission is supposed to announce the official winner within 15 days of the elections, so we are expecting a decision by Jan. 10 at the latest, and I think they could do it a few days sooner than that.

And he can be inaugurated within a few days after they announce their decision. So we are basically looking at the first half of January for probable inauguration, I guess probably around Jan. 10, maybe a couple days later.

MARGARET WARNER: All right. David Holley, thanks so much.

DAVID HOLLEY: You’re welcome.