KIEV, Nov. 1 - Kharkiv city election commission has delayed crucial data on voter turnout and is counting ballots at an extremely slow pace, potentially setting the stage for election fraud, opposition leaders charged Monday.
Arsen Avakov, who represents the opposition Batkivshchyna party, on Sunday defeated a candidate backed by the authorities for the post of Kharkiv mayor, according to at least two exit polls.
But since the announcement of exit poll data late Sunday, the ballot counting process in Kharkiv has slowed down considerably with the commission naming Henadiy Kernes, who is backed by the authorities, as leading the vote.
But potentially more troubling, the commission has not yet released data on the voter turnout, a potential indicator that massive fraud may be at work.
“One day passed, but the authorities have not yet released information on how many people participated in the elections,” Oleksandr Turchynov, one of leaders at Batkivshchyna, said.
Delaying the release of the voter turnout may potentially allow some well-connected party members to secretly add more ballots in any given district that would de-facto add more votes to a given candidate.
Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city, was recently specifically singled out by opposition groups as a place where the authorities may resort to massive fraud.
Opposition lawmakers founded thousands of illegal ballots secretly printed in Kharkiv, a charge that law enforcement authorities had originally tried to deny.
But on Friday - two days before the vote - at least 42,400 of illegal ballots was destroyed, almost three times the amount that had been found by the opposition groups, according to the police.
The election of an opposition figure as the mayor of Kharkiv, the stronghold of President Viktor Yanukovych’s Regions Party, would send a powerful message across Ukraine that the ruling party’s candidates can be defeated.
This comes as the Regions Party appears to have crushed its rivals at local elections throughout most of central and eastern parts of Ukraine, cementing Yanukovych’s power.
Avakov defeated Kernes with 34.7% vs. 30.9% of the vote, according to an exit poll conducted by GfK Ukraine. Another exit poll, ordered by Savik Shuster Studios, also showed Avakov defeating Kernes.
These data, however, was questioned by Kernes, who cited a third poll, ordered by the ruling party, according to which he had narrowly won over Avakov with 33.4% vs. 31.9%.
The ballot counting process was extremely slow.
Kernes was leading Avakov 31.19% vs. 28.19% after 19.2% of ballots had been counted as of late Monday, almost 24 hours after polling stations had closed, according to the city election commission.
An alternative counting of ballots conducted by the Avakov campaign had showed their candidate was running ahead of Kernes with 2 percentage point lead after 65% of ballots had been counted, according to Batkivshchyna.
Vitaliy Maliarenko, a local Batkivshchyna official, said numerous violations has been recorded during the ballot counting in favor o Kernes.
“We’ve gotten about 20 facts,” Maliarenko said. “The situation is troubling.” (nr/ez)