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Monday, November 15, 1999 Published at 15:33 GMT

World: Europe

Analysis: Kuchma victory raises questions

"Everything will be cool," says a poster held by these Kuchma supporters

By regional analyst Malcolm Haslett

Leonid Kuchma's election victory in Ukraine over his communist rival Petro Symonenko has been greeted with relief across much of Europe.

[ image: There were fears Mr Symonenko might form a
There were fears Mr Symonenko might form a "Slavic union"
Though Mr Symonenko underlined he would not abolish the private sector or plunge headlong back into a Union with Russia and Belarus, many feared his election might bring closer a restored "Slavic union" hostile to the West.

In the event, Mr Symonenko came 18 percentage points behind Mr Kuchma - with 38% to Mr Kuchma's 56%.

That shows that Ukrainians have decisively rejected a return to Communism or a re-established union with Russia and Belarus which many communists and some nationalists in the three countries would like.

One of President Kuchma's foreign policy advisers, Yuri Scherbak, says the rest of Europe should be pleased.

"It means that Ukraine will develop towards a market economy, towards integration with Europe, and will become a normal country which belongs to the European region.

"About 74% of voters came to the polling stations, and among them were a lot of young people who rejected the ideas of Communism. It was a very conscious vote."

Accusation of election irregularities

[ image: Mr Kuchma (left) won an impressive victory over Mr Symonenko]
Mr Kuchma (left) won an impressive victory over Mr Symonenko
Communist leader Petro Symonenko, on the other hand, is the latest opposition candidate to accuse the president of using his official power to distort the result.

"If these had been fair elections then I'm 100% certain we'd be able to claim victory even today. Unfortunately, the situation is different."

The electoral authorities, however, say there were no serious irregularities during the election.

Vasil Spivak, a member of the Central Electoral Commission, said: "There have been no serious breaches of electoral law, at least no reports of any have reached the Central Electoral Commission."

There is no particular reason to doubt this assertion. If irregularities have occurred in this second round, they probably were not sufficient to alter the result.

Nonetheless, there have been constant complaints from all opposition candidates, not just Mr Symonenko, that Mr Kuchma resorted to extensive abuse of presidential power to achieve his victory.

Opposition candidates were vilified in a number of scurrilous leaflets and newsletters, with a suspiciously-large circulation.

There were frequent attacks on opposition personnel and offices, and none of them - say the opposition - were properly investigated. The opposition also says state officials made frequent interventions on behalf of the president.

Grounds for concern

These accusations have, to a degree, been confirmed by foreign observers - from the Council of Europe and the OSCE (Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe) among others.

And when added to the fact that Leonid Kuchma has so far failed to inject life into a stagnant economy, they represent a problem for the West.

True, it is nice for the West to have a Ukrainian president who is keen to co-operate with the EU, Nato and other western bodies.

But neither economic reforms nor political democracy have developed very successfully during Mr Kuchma's first five years.

If his second term in office is no different, Ukrainians - like many Russians - may become even more disillusioned with the much-vaunted benefits of western-style government.

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