KIEV, Ukraine – Ukraine sank deeper into political turmoil Monday following a disputed parliamentary election, with the opposition dismissing a government offer for a revote in a handful of districts and pressing instead for ballots to be re-tallied in more than a dozen precincts across the country.
Western observers deemed the Oct. 28 parliamentary election unfair, saying the imprisonment of President Viktor Yanukovych's arch-foe, Yulia Tymoshenko, and non-transparent vote tallying were a step back for democracy.
Tymoshenko Fatherland party and two other pro-Western opposition parties made a strong showing in the proportional voting that chooses half of parliament's 450 seats, but they accuse authorities of rigging results in a number of individual races in an attempt to secure Yanukovych's allies a majority.
Hundreds of protesters rallied outside the Central Election Commission building in Kiev late into the evening on Monday, protesting the alleged fraud and demanding an honest vote count. Opposition forces threatened to hold round-the-clock protests and even boycott the new parliament and demand an entirely new election.
With final election results still not announced as of Monday, authorities attempted to ease tensions by proposing a revote in five disputed election districts. But the opposition angrily rejected that offer, saying their candidates had honestly won those races and there was no need hold a repeat vote there.
Instead, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, who heads Fatherland while the former premier is in jail, said opposition parties are demanding a recount — not a revote — in 13 districts which they believe they won.
The opposition accuses election officials of inflating the vote count in those races in favor of government loyalists in those races by annulling opposition votes based on technicalities and simply falsifying the numbers.
"We are not asking for anything, we are demanding honesty," Yatsenyuk told protesters Monday night. "We have (election) protocols that prove the opposition's victory in those districts."
Monday's demonstration was far smaller than the hundreds of thousands who turned out in 2004 to protest the fraud-tainted presidential election that Yanukovych purportedly won. Those rallies, which came to be known as the Orange Revolution, forced a rerun that Yanukovych lost, though he won the next election in 2010.
"They stole the opposition's votes, it wasn't fair, it wasn't honest, it wasn't pretty," said Roman Vorobei, 18, a university student in Kiev, who came to the protest.
Western election observers said last week that although the vote itself was satisfactory, the count prompted concern. European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton on Monday urged Ukrainian authorities to quickly produce final results - "which should reflect the genuine will of the Ukrainian voters." Complaints should also be dealt with swiftly and effectively, she said.
While the proportional share of the vote was tallied relatively quickly, the count of votes in individual races took days, prompting brawls between government and opposition supporters, the use of tear gas and even the storming of one election commission by riot police.
The opposition accuses election officials of inflating the count in favor of government loyalists, annulling votes for opposition candidates and even outright falsifying of results. The government insists that violations were few and isolated.
The stakes were high for many government-backed candidates vying for the perks and immunity from prosecution enjoyed by Ukrainian lawmakers as well as for Yanukovych's Party of Regions as a whole, which will have to search for allies in the new parliament to get a majority.
"Things seem to be getting tense as every seat in parliament seems to count now for the party of power," said Timothy Ash, head of emerging markets research at Standard Bank in London. "They did not do as well as first thought, and might now struggle to secure a parliamentary majority."