Opposition Candidate Appears to Eke Out Win in Ukraine

BY Larisa Epatko  February 8, 2010 at 2:24 PM EDT

With almost all of the votes tallied, opposition candidate Viktor Yanukovych claimed a victory over Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko by a slim margin in Sunday’s presidential runoff in Ukraine, although Tymoshenko refused to concede defeat by Monday evening local time.

Yanukovych’s success marked a political turnaround since his loss during the 2004 Orange Revolution. During that year’s election, he appeared to win in a runoff vote, which was later deemed fraudulent. Following massive street protests, he lost in a re-vote to the Western-oriented candidate Viktor Yushchenko.

The incumbent Yushchenko, however, saw his popularity ebb in subsequent years due in part to Ukraine’s economic problems and government infighting. And six years later, he was defeated in the first round of elections in January, during which Yanukovych and Tymoshenko became the top two vote-getters, launching Sunday’s runoff.

Now with 99 percent of the votes counted, the Central Election Commission said Yanukovych garnered 48.66 percent of the vote to Tymoshenko’s 45.75 percent, Reuters reported on Monday.
Tymoshenko had not conceded defeat by Monday evening, and she postponed a press conference originally scheduled for Monday afternoon to Tuesday.

David Stern, GlobalPost‘s reporter based in Kiev, said Tymoshenko is in an unfamiliar position. “She’s not used to losing. … She could try and challenge the elections, but I think that even she realizes that’s probably a losing prospect.”

Tymoshenko had said leading up to the vote that Yanukovych’s party would try to engage in voter fraud, but international monitors have said the election met their standards:

“Yesterday’s vote was an impressive display of democratic elections. For everyone in Ukraine, this election was a victory,” Joao Soares, president of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which coordinated the observers, said in a statement. “It is now time for the country’s political leaders to listen to the people’s verdict and make sure that the transition of power is peaceful and constructive.”

But politics are unpredictable in Ukraine, and “what comes next is anybody’s guess,” Stern said.

Hear more of his interview here: