Sunday's presidential vote in Ukraine fell short of "European standards for democratic elections," a Western monitoring team said in a statement Monday, citing bias by state-controlled media, disruption of opposition campaign events and government interference on behalf of its favored candidate, Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych.
With 95 percent of the ballots counted, Yanukovych had won 40.12 percent, and the leading opposition candidate, Viktor Yushchenko, had taken 39.18 percent, according to the Central Elections Commission. Because the official figures showed neither candidate with a majority, a runoff election between them will be held on Nov. 21.
"Ukraine now has three weeks to show that it is willing to organize democratic elections in accordance with its commitments," Doros Christodoulides, head of the delegation of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, said at a news conference here. His group was part of a team that included monitors from European parliaments and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
"The authorities should ensure that both candidates have equal access to, and unbiased coverage by, the media," Christodoulides said. "Both the authorities and political forces should refrain from any undue interference in the electoral process."
Nearly 75 percent of registered voters turned out in Sunday's election, a national record for the post-Soviet era and a measure of the campaign's intensity. In a statement, the Western observers praised the turnout as an encouraging sign "for the evolution of Ukrainian democracy."
The campaign was marked by numerous charges of dirty tricks. The Western mission, which had 600 observers on the ground for the vote, contended that the ploys were predominantly the work of Yanukovych's campaign and its government backers.
The observers noted dozens of incidents in which voters were turned away from polling stations because their names were not on the electoral rolls. The observers criticized the Central Elections Commission for failing to respond to complaints from affected voters, most of whom wanted to support Yushchenko.
Yanukovych favors closer integration with Russia and drew high praise from Russian President Vladimir Putin during the campaign. Yushchenko, a former prime minister, advocates rapid integration with the European Union and close ties with NATO. Officials in his campaign said Monday they believed he had scored ahead of his rival in the first round of voting and would win the runoff.
Observers from the Commonwealth of Independent States, a body consisting of countries that were part of the Soviet Union, said that they found no flagrant violations that could have affected the ballot outcome and that the vote was legitimate, free and open.
"There weren't any serious violations," said Gennady Seleznyov, a member of the Russian parliament and a member of the CIS observer mission, according to the Russian news agency Interfax. "Now the political struggle is going to become more intense. Based on the current results, Yanukovych is set to win."
Both Yanukovych and Yushchenko will now turn their attention to voters who backed minor party candidates -- 24 people ran in total -- particularly the contenders from the Communist and Socialist parties, who among them won more than 10 percent of the vote. Opinion polls suggest that those votes will divide fairly evenly between Yanukovych and Yushchenko, an indication that the next three weeks of campaigning will be as fierce as those leading up to Sunday's vote.
The Yushchenko campaign had threatened to take to the streets of the capital to protest any alleged fraud, but major demonstrations failed to materialize Monday.
In the western city of Lviv, a power base for Yushchenko, hundreds of opposition supporters marched peacefully to protest alleged election fraud, chanting, "Enough with thieves!"