We often get so caught up in our own presidential campaign, that we fail to notice that other important elections are being held around the world. One such election will be held in the Ukraine on Sept. 30 when a new parliament (Rada) will be chosen.
I just returned from a seven-day visit to the Ukrainian capital, Kiev, where I led a four-member delegation from our National Democratic Institute (NDI) to assess preparations for the upcoming election. NDI and its Republican Party counterpart, the International Republican Institute (IRI), are both funded by the U.S. government and work together to promote democracy around the world.
Assisting fledgling democracies in new countries created out of the old Soviet Union is a significant part of our foreign policy. Democracy has a mixed record of success in this part of the world but we need to keep doing everything possible to help it flourish. Democracies are more likely to be friends of the United States and less likely to get involved in foreign military adventures.
Ukraine is at a crossroads and the success of democracy will be determined by this parliamentary election and a subsequent presidential election several years from now.
President Victor Yushchenko, who wants Ukraine to align with Western Europe, won a dramatic election in 2004 after surviving being poisoned. This was what became to be known as the Orange Revolution. However, parliamentary elections in 2006 resulted in a ruling parliamentary coalition led by Yushchenko’s presidential rival Victor Yanukovych, who wants the country to be aligned with Russia. Yanukovych became Prime Minister.
President Yushchenko dissolved parliament this summer after great internal strife and called for new early elections which will be held on Sept. 30.
Our delegation met with virtually all the leadership of competing political parties as well as journalists and national election officials in an attempt to determine whether or not this upcoming election would be held free of fraud that has plagued previous Ukrainian contests.
We had the opportunity to meet personally with Yuliya Tymoshenko who could become Prime Minister if the parties aligned with the Orange (pro-western) coalition win a majority of the 450 seats in the Rada. She is a Ukrainian version of Hillary Clinton and Nancy Pelosi combined and has been a sometimes rival of President Yushchenko within the Orange coalition.
On the last day of our visit, we held a widely attended press conference and highlighted recent changes in the election law (pushed through by the Prime Minister’s coalition as a condition for holding early elections). We took the position that these changes enhance the possibility of fraud occurring on Election Day and urged that the national Central Election Commission take action to limit the possibility of fraud.
The election law changes included reinstating old rules that permit people to vote at home on election day (a mobile voting box taken to their home) without having to first submit any medical proof of disability and a cumbersome new procedure for purging the voting lists of people who have traveled outside the country and have not returned within three days of the election. It is feared that anti-Orange election officials in the 34,000 voting precincts will use the mobile ballot boxes to “vote” people who never requested permission to vote from home and that they may be overly zealous in purging pro-Orange voters in the Western part of the country.
Our position was to hold free and fair elections (absent of fraud) and then everyone can live with the results no matter who wins.
Various pro-democracy international organizations will send teams of election observers to the Ukraine for the elections; however, it is unrealistic to expect that there will be enough observers to monitor all 34,000 precincts. International observers will document election abuses. Their presence will serve as somewhat of a deterrence to more blatant efforts at fraud and their findings can become the basis for a court challenge to the results of the elections if fraud is widespread.
Ukraine as well as some parts of the old Soviet Union has made strides toward democracy in the last 15 years. Countries in Eastern and Central Europe that had previously been Soviet satellites like Poland and Hungary have made greater progress in most cases.
It is clearly in our national interest to continue to peacefully promote democracy around the world no matter which party is in control of our government. And this is true no matter how you may feel about what’s going on in Iraq where we have attempted to impose democracy through military force.
Keep an eye on election results from Ukraine the end of September. We have a stake in the outcome.
Martin Frost served in Congress from 1979 to 2005, representing a diverse district in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area. He served two terms as chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, the third-ranking leadership position for House Democrats, and two terms as chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Frost serves as a regular contributor to FOX News Channel and is a partner at the law firm of Polsinelli, Shalton, Flanigan and Suelthaus. He holds a Bachelor of Journalism degree from the University of Missouri and a law degree from the Georgetown Law Center.