Remarks on Ukrainian Parliamentary Elections

Woodrow Wilson Center - Washington, D.C.


I am very pleased to be able to discuss the Ukrainian elections before such a distinguished audience, and would like to extend my thanks to the Kennan Institute of the Woodrow Wilson Center, the Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute, and the Krytyka Institute for sponsoring this roundtable, and to Dr. Mykhailo Minakov for organizing it.

It is important for Ukraine to follow a path of strengthening democracy because, as Secretary Clinton and Catherine Ashton noted in their October 24 International Herald Tribune editorial, it remains in our common interest to see an independent, prosperous and irreversibly democratic Ukraine that is associated with the European Union. But the European Union can only open its arms to Ukraine if the democratic rights of the Ukrainian people are respected. As a Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, I have visited Ukraine five times in the last two years because of the importance of Ukraine’s democratic trajectory.

Unfortunately, the United States has concluded that the October 28, 2012 parliamentary elections in Ukraine were a step backwards for democracy in Ukraine, a view shared by international observation missions for the elections. As Ambassador Ian Kelly, our representative to the OSCE, said yesterday, while election day was peaceful and watched over by large numbers of international and domestic observers, there were significant areas of concern in the conduct of the elections as well as throughout the pre-election campaign environment. We are concerned about the abuse of government resources, interference with the media, harassment of opposition candidates, and allegations of fraud and falsification in the voting process and tabulation. We also reiterate our deep concern that the politically motivated convictions of opposition leaders, including of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, prevented them from standing in these elections.

We should note that not all of the votes cast on October 28 have yet been counted and not all of the seats have been determined. As officially announced, the returns thus far for both the party list and single member district seats indicate that President Yanukovych’s Party of Regions, allied with the Communist Party and a few independent MPs, will likely command a majority in the parliament. The Central Election Commission has until November 12 to certify the results and must announce them before November 17.

In recent years Ukraine had been on a path forward to becoming a stronger democracy. Ukraine’s parliamentary elections in 2006 and 2007, and the presidential election in 2010, were deemed by international observers to be mainly in compliance with international democratic standards. Parties and candidates were mostly able to compete freely, and generally received equal treatment under the law. Incidents of intimidation, and harassment were few, and a generally free media environment fostered genuine competition. The Ukrainian people were engaged and voter turnout was high. Voting and counting procedures were conducted in a transparent and credible manner. . The local elections of 2010, on the other hand, were marred by procedural violations. They did not meet international standards for openness and fairness.

At a meeting with regional state administrations in Crimea in July, President Yanokovych said of the 2012 parliamentary elections, “The government must create all conditions for holding fair and democratic elections,” and that “The election campaign should go flawlessly, in full accordance with international standards.”

The preliminary assessment issued this week by the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human rights and other international observers did note several positive aspects of the parliamentary elections that are worth repeating. The campaign was competitive in most of the country, with voters having a choice between a wide range of parties and candidates. A high number of domestic and international observers were registered, and the active involvement of domestic observers throughout the electoral process enhanced its overall transparency. Election day was calm and peaceful overall, and the voting process was generally orderly and well-organized.

On the whole, however, the parliamentary elections appear to have fallen short of international standards. The campaign environment before the elections raised deep concerns about violations of democratic norms, and voting and tabulation procedures on election day itself appear to be marred by fraud and falsification.

First,domestic and international election monitors and the media raised a host of concerns about violations during the pre-election period. These included credible reports of government pressure on media outlets and interference with media access; intimidation against opposition candidates, campaign personnel, and journalists; widespread misuse of government administrative resources; and vote buying.

For example, cable television companies throughout Ukraine turned off the independent channel TVi in major media markets, or moved it to premium subscription packages, thereby limiting access to it and severely cutting its market share.

The European monitoring group ENEMO highlighted concerns about observer access to the Central Election Commission; poor implementation of the lottery system for Precinct Election Commissions; widespread replacement of commission members; intimidation, pressure and harassment of opposition candidates; abuse of administrative funds and voter bribery; and continued pressure on certain media organizations.

The domestic monitoring group OPORA reported problems with the use of administrative resources, election administration, and vote buying in the days and weeks before the election, citing in its October 26 report 159 incidents of administrative resource abuse in 21 oblasts, 146 violations of campaign procedures in 24 oblasts, and 124 cases of confirmed voter bribery in 21 oblasts.

The CANADEM election observation mission noted in its early October report that vote buying was the most observed campaign violation.

ODIHR’s Long Term Observers verified the abuse of administrative resources by officials in a dozen oblasts, with most such abuses in support of the Party of Regions or its candidates. They also reported a few cases of threats or physical attacks on candidates and campaign workers.

Second, there are good reasons to suspect that on election day itself voting and the procedures of the vote count did not rise to international standards. Factors that raise suspicions include a lack of transparency at the District Election Commissions; evidence of vote-buying and other vote fraud; and denial of service attacks against the web sites of domestic election-monitoring NGOs.

There were two main problems with the Election Commissions charged with tabulating the votes. First, using a lottery system to choose members of the Precinct Election Commissions led to strange outcomes for their composition: on some of them, major political parties were not represented at all, but small parties were. It’s unusual to not have the major parties, who represent the views of millions of voters, not represented in the bodies that are going to count the votes. Of much greater concern, however, was the lack of transparency on the District Election Commissions. The Precinct Election Commissions conducted their tabulation of the vote in the open, with observers allowed. However, once the Precincts finished their work and posted results in the precinct, they transferred all election materials up to the District Election Commissions, most of which compiled and reviewed all Precinct protocols behind closed doors, no observers allowed. Whenever any part of a vote count is done in secret observers can never be assured of the accuracy of the vote count.

Several domestic observer NGO websites, including the Committee of Voters of Ukraine, OPORA, ElectUA, and Maidan, underwent Denial of Service (DoS) attacks that prevented access to their websites. The DoS attack also interfered with OPORA’s system for conducting a Parallel Vote Count, delaying announcement of their PVC.

Embassy and international observers and local media reported that the vote count was stalled in more than a dozen single member districts nationwide where the race between pro-government and opposition or independent candidates is close. The stalling increased tensions and led to scuffles between representatives of opposing candidates.

Finally, the elections were flawed because two major opposition figures, former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and former Interior Minister Yuriy Lutsenko, were subjected to selective prosecution and were imprisoned, and therefore were prevented from contesting the elections.

A consensus has emerged among international and domestic observers that Ukraine’s elections were a step backwards for democracy there. OSCE/ODIHR, the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly (OSCE PA), the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), the European Parliament (EP), and the NATO Parliamentary Assembly (NATO PA) shared this view and cited the “lack of a level playing field” during the campaign period. The Ukrainian NGO Committee of Voters of Ukraine (CVU) has characterized the 2012 parliamentary elections as even more problematic than the 2004 elections, the fraudulence of which sparked the Orange Revolution. ENEMO reported a greater number of violations than those in 2006, 2007 and the presidential elections in 2010, including carousel voting and ballot fraud.

There is even criticism from the government of Ukraine itself: Ukraine’s Parliamentary Commissioner for Human Rights Valeriya Lutkovska said she was “bombarded” with reports of electoral violations and was concerned about “numerous” reports from observers detailing violations. Ms. Lutkovska was particularly concerned over a widespread failure to protect the secrecy of the voting process, noting video cameras pointed at ballot boxes in some districts and an absence of curtains at voting booths in Yalta.

Overall, the 2012 parliamentary elections in Ukraine represent a step backwards from the previous trend towards improving openness and fairness in elections. As Secretary Clinton said earlier this week, “the people of Ukraine deserve so much better. They deserve to live in a country with strong democratic institutions, that respects the rule of law, and these elections did not advance those goals. So the United States remains committed to the people of Ukraine. We want to work with them to strengthen their democracy, sovereignty, and independence of their state, as we have for more than 20 years. And we call upon the leadership to stop the backward slide that Ukraine is in and start, once again, living up to the aspirations of the Ukrainian people, and the United States will stand with them as they do.”

For more information on the Ukrainian Parliamentary Elections, read the OSCE Statement of Preliminary Findings and Conclusions and the US Mission to the OSCE Statement on the Ukrainian Parliamentary Elections.

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