This time round, will it be free and fair?
That is the question being asked as Ukrainians go to the polls today, for a re-run of last month’s rigged presidential election. Some 12,000 international observers are monitoring proceedings. But their efforts have been complicated by an eve of poll decision taken by the country’s Constitutional Court. It has overturned a reform that was intended to cut fraud. Home voting was limited following the November 21 poll, which was annulled on the grounds of cheating – the opposition arguing that mobile ballot boxes had been a key source of vote-rigging. Now, however, in a move believed to benefit Viktor Yanukovich, declared winner of the last disputed election, legal authorities have restored the right to vote to a wide range of people unable to get to an official polling station. The move may mark a small victory for the Yanukovich camp but the prime minister’s supporters know that their man remains the underdog in this election race. Trailing in the polls, he claims his victory last month was illegally taken from him and he accuses his opponents of trying to seize power in a foreign-backed “orange coup.” The Western-leaning leader of Ukraine’s opposition is hotly-tipped to win the repeat ballot. Viktor Yushchenko’s face still bears the marks of dioxin poisoning that he blames on the authorities. He has promoted an image of the ex-Soviet state gradually integrating with Europe although he continues to describe Russia as a “strategic partner.” With the final countdown on to polling, a festive party for children was held in the square in Kiev that has become home to thousands of orange-brandishing opposition supporters. They believe that soon they will have something else to celebrate – the election of Viktor Yushchenko as president of Ukraine.