IT is impossible to predict how the outcome of today's presidential election in Ukraine will be affected by yesterday's last–minute Supreme Court decision there to permit voting from home by those unable to walk or travel to polling stations. Some three million disabled people, in a population of 48 million, are thought to be covered by the ruling but in order to take advantage of it they would have had to register in the eight hours between the announcement of the Supreme Court's decision yesterday morning and the deadline of 8pm last night! It is widely thought that unsupervised home–voting was one of the methods by which supporters of the prime minister Viktor Janukovych were able to stuff the ballot boxes and win the first run of the election on 22 November. Backers of his challenger, Viktor Yushchenko, were saying yesterday that they did not think the Supreme Court's ruling would affect the outcome of today's vote because their man is believed to be so far ahead in public sentiment. Clearly, in these extraordinary circumstances the role of the international observers becomes critical; some 12'000 of them are in the Ukraine and their alertness to possible fraud by double and triple voting and ballot box stuffing could be a key factor in preventing further recourse to legal judgements should the result be close.

Meanwhile, in his end–of–the–year address President Putin criticised the West's interference in the Ukraine. He insisted that the November election was “free and fair” and accused the Western observers, of being prejudiced and irrelevant. He also claimed that Western governments had poured money into the Ukraine to support Mr Yushchenko's “orange” protest campaign. Looking at the scale and persistence of that massive campaign, it is difficult to say that Mr Putin is mistaken.


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