Kyiv, Ukraine – IRI has worked to promote democracy in Ukraine since 1992. Through work with political parties, women’s and youth organizations, IRI’s contribution to the October 31 presidential election was broad and substantial. In addition to providing nationwide campaign training to political parties and pollworker training to many parties fielding candidates in yesterday’s election, IRI has also actively assisted in increasing the professional capabilities of locally elected officials.
In 2003 and 2004, IRI trained thousands of political party activists in 14 oblasts. In addition, IRI provided legal training to attorneys representing political parties. By focusing on grassroots political party development and encouraging coalition building and legal advocacy, IRI’s aim has been to strengthen the ability of parties to communicate to a broader cross-section of society based on substantive issues which voters care about. In doing so, IRI hopes to increase public confidence and participation in Ukraine’s political institutions.
IRI fielded a 25 member delegation representing a number of political parties in the United States and Europe and comprised of election experts who have observed multiple elections in numerous countries around the world, including the following: Ukraine, Russia, Belarus, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Romania, Germany, Kazakhstan, Macedonia, Mongolia, Guatemala, Honduras, Haiti, Mexico, Solomon Islands, Indonesia, Afghanistan, Albania, Taiwan, Croatia, Uzbekistan, Moldova, and Kyrgyzstan.
The delegation Co-Chairmen are Michael Trend, Member of Parliament of the United Kingdom and Vice Chairman of the Westminster Foundation for Democracy and the Honorable Bohdan A. Futey, United States Federal Judge.
In the two months prior to Election Day, IRI deployed staff members to conduct extensive regional pre-election assessments in nine oblasts. Furthermore, IRI fielded a team of domestic election monitors in each of Ukraine’s 25 oblasts who reported weekly on the general political environment, especially focusing on state interference in the election, the adherence of the election commissions to the election law, and one-sided media coverage. Based upon these assessments and reports, it is clear that a systematic and coordinated use of government resources on a national scale created an atmosphere of intimidation and fear designed to pressure people into supporting the government-backed candidate.
The assessment reports also found massive problems with voter lists, unfair practices in the creation of the election commissions and credible reports of voter intimidation. In Sumy Oblast, for example, elected members of local town councils were threatened on multiple occasions with the loss of their jobs if they attended IRI training programs designed to raise awareness of their rights as pollworkers under the election law.
The delegation found that Ukraine’s electoral process and its quest for democracy, have taken a step backward. This is the eighth national election since independence. Although all countries experience election problems in the transition to democracy, Ukraine’s are greater than they should be given the opportunities it has had to correct many of these problems. The government of Ukraine must take immediate steps to improve the administration and conduct of the second round of voting.
In addition to its pre-election assessment, the delegation documented the following problems during the election:
- government power structures use of state resources such as schools, state factories, hospitals and public transport systems to force students, state workers, and citizens who rely on state services for their livelihood to campaign against their will for the government-backed candidate;
- the partisan engagement of security services, military and local police in support of the government backed candidate;
- failure of national and local state owned and private electronic media to provide impartial and fair coverage of or access to opposition candidates;
- the dismissal of election commission members just prior to Election Day; and
collaboration with a foreign government to allow a foreign president to appear in Ukraine and express his opinions on one of the candidates on a three-day visit just days before Election Day, in an effort to influence the vote. In addition, a military parade, which was held in Kyiv three days prior to the election, was clearly an effort to intimidate the voters.
- badly maintained voter lists, not previously seen on this scale, which resulted in people being denied their right to vote, and many additional names on voter rolls for which no accounting could be made. This problem was widespread and appeared systemic;
- interference by unauthorized persons into the electoral process was also prevalent throughout the country;
- credible reports of busing of voters among oblasts and polling stations for the purpose of multiple voting; and
- the wide disparity in exit polling results raises serious concerns.
In summary, an election is evaluated both on Election Day, as well as throughout the actual campaign period. In both cases, IRI has found that Ukraine has fallen well short of international standards.
Based upon the foregoing, IRI urges the government to take the following steps in preparation for the November 21 runoff election:
- replace any polling station or territorial election commission members found to have engaged in fraud;
- begin a complete review of voters lists in each polling station in order to correct inaccuracies;
- allow the two runoff candidates equal time on state media and equal access to private media;
- immediately prosecute individuals who have violated the election law; and
facilitate the accreditation of additional international observers for the second round.