New York Times Talks to Con. Dreier, Co-Leader of IRI’s Observer Mission, About Ukraine’s Elections

October 29, 2012

Observers Denounce Ukrainian Election, Citing Abuses by Rulers
The New York Times

By David M. Herzenhorn

KIEV, Ukraine — International observers delivered scathing criticism on Monday of Ukraine’s parliamentary election, saying the vote was heavily tilted in favor of President Viktor F. Yanukovich’s Party of Regions through the abuse of government resources, the dominance of media coverage and the jailing of two prominent opposition leaders.

“Considering the abuse of power, and the excessive role of money in this election, democratic progress appears to have reversed in Ukraine,” said Walburga Habsburg Douglas, a Swedish lawmaker who led an observer mission for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly.

With more than 80 percent of Sunday’s ballots counted by Monday night, the results showed the Party of Regions well ahead of its opponents, with about 32 percent of the vote.

The Fatherland party of the jailed former prime minister, Yulia V. Tymoshenko, was second, with about 24 percent. The results showed the Communist Party with about 14 percent; Punch, a party led by the boxing champion Vitali Klitschko, with 13 percent; and the ultranationalist Freedom party with 9 percent.

The vote was closely watched as a gauge of developing democracy in this former Soviet republic of 45 million, once viewed as being on a steady track toward integration with Europe after the Orange Revolution of 2004.

Framed in that context, the verdict by international observers was devastating.

“Obviously, if you look at the excitement of the Orange Revolution and what it brought about and where we are today, it’s very unfortunate,” said Representative David Dreier, Republican of California, who led an American delegation here.

“When you have political opponents incarcerated, when you have the minority television stations basically kept off the air, these are not positive developments,” Mr. Dreier said. “Democracy is about much more than elections. Democracy is about recognizing the rights of minorities, respecting the rule of law, building Democratic institutions. Unfortunately, we have not heard that taking place here.”

Andreas Gross, a member of the Swiss Parliament who led a delegation to Ukraine from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, said problems were so deep that even calling a new election would not help.

“We have systemic problems,” Mr. Gross said. “To make a new election with the same rules, you get the same result.”

The Yanukovich government had been bracing for criticism from international observers and went to great lengths to portray the balloting as free and fair, even installing Web cameras in more than 30,000 polling stations. The casting of votes itself seemed largely free of shenanigans, with only scattered complaints of malfeasance.

But observers said they could not look past the overall tilting of the political field in favor of the Party of Regions, particularly the continued jailing of Ms. Tymoshenko, the country’s best-known opposition politician, and Yuri Lutsenko, another opposition leader.

Ms. Tymoshenko announced through a lawyer on Monday that she would begin a hunger strike to protest fraud in the parliamentary election.

The balance of power in the Ukrainian Parliament will not be known for several weeks because half of the 450 seats will be filled by candidates who did not have to declare a party affiliation ahead of Sunday’s vote. They can choose later to align with a party.

The relatively strong showing by the right-wing Freedom party, whose leader, Oleg Tyagnibok, is known for espousing anti-Semitic and racist views, had not been predicted in opinion polls. In the last parliamentary elections five years ago, the party won less than 1 percent of the vote, far short of the threshold to control a faction in Parliament.

Support for the nationalists seemed partly to reflect a backlash against a law rammed through Parliament this year elevating the status of the Russian language, a move viewed by many as undercutting Ukrainian.

The Party of Regions has its base of support in the predominantly Russian-speaking south and east of the country, while the nationalists are stronger in the Ukrainian-speaking west.

Some voters said their support of the nationalists was a general protest against the ruling authorities. Others said they were disenchanted with all of the familiar choices.

About 16 miles outside Kiev, in the small city of Brovary, Natalya Volonyuk voted at a school, accompanied by her husband, Yevgeny, the director of a small Internet company, and her sons, Denis, 4, and Svyatoslav, 2.

“I don’t like Yanukovich or Yulia,” Ms. Volonyuk said. “They disappointed us.”

Anatoly Gaidai, 51, who worked for a German distribution company and now seeks out freelance jobs while his wife works as a teacher, said Ukraine needed to adopt a nationalist stance to avoid being dominated by Russia.

Mr. Gaidai said he had voted for Freedom also hoping that the party would fight corruption.

“It’s the only political party that can maybe, maybe change something in Ukraine, because it’s really very corrupted,” he said. “Everything in Ukraine belongs to one family, the Yanukovich family.”

Pavlo Rizanenko, a former investment banker and city councilman who ran for Parliament in Brovary for the Punch party, said the authorities had repeatedly tried to have him thrown off the ballot. He said they had hoped to help the Party of Regions candidate, Sergey Federenko, who is Prime Minister Mykola Azarov’s massage therapist.

On the City Council, Mr. Rizanenko built a reputation for fighting land-use corruption by public officials. Last year, he spent a month in a hospital after four men beat him with rubber clubs on a street.

Mr. Rizanenko declared victory on Monday, citing parallel counting of votes at polling stations by his supporters. The official count, however, seemed stalled with a lesser-known, independent candidate in the lead.

“They don’t live by laws,” Mr. Rizanenko said of officials connected to the Yanukovich administration. “They live by their own rules.”