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Ukraine Election Dispute Grows into Political Crisis

Jonathan Miller of Independent Television News gives an update on the disputed election in the Ukraine. Then, Jim Lehrer speaks with an international election expert about the growing political crisis.

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  • JONATHAN MILLER:

    In downtown Kiev there's a whiff of revolution in the freezing air.

    In the thousands, tens of thousands, they marched towards Independence Square to join the disgruntled masses who had braved sub-zero temperatures throughout the night, in protest of an election which all except the winners say was rigged.

    Shades of Prague, Belgrade, Tiblisi? To veterans of past velvet revolutions, it's eerily familiar. "Yushchenko, Viktor Yushchenko," was, they say, "cheated us for presidency by his political nemesis, Viktor Yanukovic.

    The two Viktors. But only one can win. Viktor Yushchenko told the crowd the people's will cannot be broken; the people's vote cannot be stolen.

  • VIKTOR YUSHCHENKO (Translated):

    You are the heroes. You are the heroes of Ukraine.

    You are carrying on your shoulders what will become- maybe tomorrow, maybe next week, maybe next year or in many years to come- the future of Ukraine.

  • JONATHAN MILLER:

    With that, he told them to march on parliament, where inside his political supporters were decrying what independent observers agree was fraud, a fraud which gave Yanukovic, the outgoing president's designated heir, a narrow victory despite exit polls which gave Yushchenko, leader of the liberal opposition, a clear lead.

  • SPOKESMAN (Translated):

    The parliamentary speaker said we're sliding towards the abyss.

  • JONATHAN MILLER:

    Yushchenko, a former prime minister himself, later told parliament Ukraine was now on the brink of civil war.

    In a provocative act, Yushchenko placed his hand on a bible and read the oath of office before opening a window and addressing his supporters.

    Yanukovich addressed the nation on a state TV last night.

    He hasn't declared victory yet, but he's already being congratulated by his most important backer, President Putin of Russia.

  • VIKTOR YANUKOVICH (Translated):

    I don't want you to feel like losers. We all won. And we will win more if we keep things peaceful in Ukraine.

  • JONATHAN MILLER:

    But democracy was not the winner here. It's been a dirty campaign with dirty tricks aplenty.

    Victor Yushchenko alleges that twice his political enemies tried to kill him. He claims to have been poisoned in September.

    This is him before it happened; now, his face is hideously scarred. The government said he must have eaten some bad sushi.

    The stakes are high. Politically, Ukraine is split down the middle– between those looking East to Russia, and those who look to Europe.

    Yanukovic derives his support from the East. Although turnout was improbably high, at 96 percent in places, it does seem he'd easily have won.

    Yushchenko's support is in the more prosperous West. That's why what's happening in Kiev is rather different to what happened in Tiblisi, Georgia, exactly a year ago today, when opposition supporters stormed parliament and ousted the deeply unpopular President Eduard Shevardnadze.

    Today his successor commemorated his Rose Revolution, an anniversary given added poignancy by events in Ukraine.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    For more on the situation in Ukraine, here Michael McFaul, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and an associate professor at Stanford University.

    How would you describe the situation or what's happening right now in Ukraine?

  • MICHAEL McFAUL:

    Well, Jim, I teach a course on revolutions back at Stanford.

    And the definition of a revolution is when two leaders backed by two alternative organizations each claim to be the sovereign authority of one country.

    And that's what you have in Ukraine today. We just saw it on the tape where Mr. Yushchenko went before a parliament, a rump parliament, the other folks were not there.

    And he took the oath of office for the presidency.

    Mr. Yanukovich, the prime minister has been declared the president… presidential winner by the other side. It's a revolutionary situation. I think it's very, very tense right now.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Is it proper, as was done in the tape, to compare it with prior eastern European revolutions, particularly toward the end of the Cold War?

  • MICHAEL McFAUL:

    Well, yes and no. If you think about Poland in 1989 and the round table and the elections or Prague in 1989, what was very different about that situation versus Ukraine today is it was overwhelmingly on the side of the Democrats or the opposition — 85 percent, 89 percent.

    There was no "there" for the incumbents in power. Ukraine is different.

    Even by the exit polls run by organizations that are sympathetic to Mr. Yushchenko, 40 some percent voted for Mr. Yanukovich so the balance of power here is much more equally distributed.

    And that to me means that both sides might think they have a chance to fight to win.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    What do you make of the widespread charges that the election was in fact rigged?

  • MICHAEL McFAUL:

    Oh, absolutely. I mean….

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Absolutely?

  • MICHAEL McFAUL:

    It's just overwhelming.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    How? How do they rig it?

  • MICHAEL McFAUL:

    Well, they run the state. They can stuff the boxes. I mean, you have 99 percent turnout in the region Donets'k where Mr. Yanukovich is from.

    That never happens anywhere. Some precincts are reporting over 100 percent. That can't physically happen. I don't think there's any doubts really frankly on both sides.

    We knew this was going to happen. But it was done in a very rather elaborate and elegant way compared to say, Georgia that was mentioned in the tape a year ago where it was done in a very haphazard way.

    They changed the numbers. You know, at one time he's up 20 points and then down 20 points.

    This happened incrementally hour by hour where Mr. Yanukovich gradually won and the spread is only 3 percent.

    And that makes it ambiguous because the exit polls don't quite capture it, the parallel vote tabulations — these are technologies we use to monitor elections — don't quite capture it.

    And very interesting and perhaps for the first time in history, the Russians got involved. So the Russians sent their electoral monitors. They said, no, those westerners….

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Our guy won.

  • MICHAEL McFAUL:

    They said it was fair. Their exit poll showed that their guy won. That's a very different thing. It muddied the water here.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    When you said we knew this was going to happen? What do you mean? The outside world knew they were going to rig this election?

  • MICHAEL McFAUL:

    Yeah. I mean, this has been in the cards for a long time. The opposition has been preparing for it for a long time.

    Mr. Yanukovich and his supporter President Kuchma has basically been preparing for this for a long time.

    And, again because it's in the gap, right, it's not 75-25, it's 55- 45, they think they can get away with it.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    All right, now, the story about the alleged poisoning of Yushchenko and the deformed face, what is really known about that?

  • MICHAEL McFAUL:

    Well, it's been disputed. He went to Austria and some doctors said it didn't happen. Then they said it did happen.

    My own assessment of it is that it probably did happen; something did happen. This is a rough place. Lots of rough stuff.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    You mean it probably did happen, that somebody within the government opposed to this guy poisoned him?

  • MICHAEL McFAUL:

    Yes, I think that happened.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    And he went to Austria and was treated. He went there twice according to the wire stories that I read today and his face… and this poisoning caused his face to be deformed?

  • MICHAEL McFAUL:

    I think that's right. And I think a picture tells a thousand words. He wouldn't do that to himself.

    And let's remember who this guy is. He's not some firebrand revolutionary. This is a mild mannered central banker that has been radicalized because of the politics in Ukraine.

    He doesn't want revolution. He's been forced to be the leader of this opposition. So I find it hard to believe that he would do this to himself.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    But tell us more about this. He's described as a liberal. That's… what's that mean in Ukrainian terms?

  • MICHAEL McFAUL:

    Well, in Ukraine and Russia — that region — liberal means he supports economic reforms, he wants Ukraine to be part of the West.

    He would like to see Ukraine integrate some day into the European Union and perhaps even NATO.

    But this really wasn't an election about liberal versus conservative and it's not about liberal versus communist say ten years ago had we been talking about Ukraine.

    This is really about a corrupt regime. President Kuchma, and his hand- picked successor, this guy….

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Kuchma wanted to give it over to this guy.

  • MICHAEL McFAUL:

    That's right. And kind of wanted to do….

  • JIM LEHRER:

    And say watch me do it in a way.

  • MICHAEL McFAUL:

    And I challenge you to not let me do it. Yushchenko has organized the opposition, again as the map really clearly showed, it's red state, blue state in America, well, here it is, it's very polarized in Ukraine as well.

    And the West supports Yushchenko. The East supports Mr. Yanukovich.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Why is Russia staying with the government, staying with Kuchma and his chosen one?

  • MICHAEL McFAUL:

    Well, because Ukraine is ethnically divided too.

    And when you saw that blue part of Ukraine, the blue part of Ukraine is pre-predominantly Russian, ethnically Russian and Russian speaking so they see Yushchenko and they have branded him as an American patsy.

    His wife is an American. They see this as if it goes to Yushchenko, NATO and the West creeps into our sphere of influence.

    Let's remember the Kiev roost, that's where Russia started. This is for them part of what they think as their home land.

    So they're fighting very hard and Putin himself has been very intimately involved in this election.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    In what way?

  • MICHAEL McFAUL:

    Well, he went and campaigned for three days for Mr. Yanukovich during the first round.

    He has sent electoral public relations guys who have been working there, by one count, 250 million dollars of Russian money was spent for Mr. Yanukovich.

    And he very quickly, even before the official results were announced, congratulated president Yanukovich in his victory.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Tell us more about, you say this liberal leader began as a banker. Tell us more about him.

    Where was he educated and all of that? What do we need to know about this guy?

  • MICHAEL McFAUL:

    Well, he comes from what I would call a kind of professional class of post Soviet bureaucrats that were brought up and brought into the government.

    Remember guys like Yegor Gaidar, the first prime minister in Russia who came in a technocrat to do economic reform. That's what Yushchenko is. He served in the government.

    He served under Mr. Kuchma for a while and then was ousted and became the kind of figure, point person, if you will, for the opposition, reluctantly so.

    I mean, my friends in the Ukrainian opposition movement have been frustrated with him, that he is not a firebrand revolutionary.

    He is not, for instance like this guy, Saakashvili, the president of Georgia who in a moment like this immediately seized the day and kind of charismatic big guy. No, that's not him.

    I think he would be happy being the central banker of Ukraine but circumstances made him serve a different role.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    But that's a process stake we have, right?

  • MICHAEL McFAUL:

    Right.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Philosophical stake.

  • MICHAEL McFAUL:

    Right, that's a philosophical stake but we have to side with those that are on the side of democracy.

    But the second issue is this, that when you have two sides that say we won the right to lead this country, that is a very dangerous situation that could… you know, my greatest fear is that some idiot- and it will be an idiot– who will lash out at the other side.

    I don't know if it will be a government official or somebody on Yushchenko's side and somebody will die.

    And that happens in these situations. The other side will say they provoked us; now we are in the midst….

  • JIM LEHRER:

    A civil war possible.

  • MICHAEL McFAUL:

    Down the road, civil war, yes.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Are there instruments within the government that could resolve this peacefully? Are the tools there for it to work?

  • MICHAEL McFAUL:

    No. There isn't. I mean, we've got to the impasse now. They've gone to the streets. They're camped out on the streets.

    The government said we've won. And it seems like Mr. Yanukovich and Kuchma, the president, their strategy is just going to be to gut it out, to let the protesters camp out there in very cold winter that we're now moving into and hope that gradually it will dissipate.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    So, somebody has to blink or there's going to be war.

  • MICHAEL McFAUL:

    Yes, I think that's right.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Michael McFaul, thank you very much.

  • MICHAEL McFAUL:

    Thank you.