Ukraine’s local elections ‘did not meet standards for openness and fairness’ – US Dept. of State

The US Department of State today slammed Ukraine’s local elections that were held last Sunday for being less free and open than in previous elections and the quality of these elections had regressed:

Preliminary reports from election monitors suggest that Ukraine’s October 31 local elections did not meet standards for openness and fairness set by the presidential elections earlier this year. Domestic and international election observation efforts, most notably those led by the widely-respected domestic, non-partisan monitor OPORA, reported numerous procedural violations on election day. While election observers recognized improvements in the accuracy of voters lists since the presidential contest, they also noted shortcomings, such as insufficient training for electoral commission members, which contributed to the procedural violations and to organizational problems.

Ukraine’s local election law, passed in July, was cited as a source of problems on election day by election observers and international experts. Some difficulties precipitated by the new law, such as blocking the participation of new parties, were lessened or ended by the revisions ordered by President Yanukovych in September. However, other aspects of the law and of pre-election regulations and procedures challenged the placement of the names of some candidates on ballots, allowed for reported cases of improper use of administrative resources during the electoral campaign, established unbalanced electoral commission membership, and created complicated registration and voting procedures.

President Yanukovych has recognized the need to bring electoral legislation into line with international standards through a consultative process. The United States is prepared to assist Ukraine in support of electoral code reform.

Anna German, Yanukovych’s spokeswoman, rejected the criticism:

‘The definition of democracy is not set in stone,’ she said. Democracy in every country has its own peculiarities, and in Ukraine as well…And we in Ukraine can also draw conclusions from US elections.’

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The Financial Times provided more analysis:

The weekend election was the first since Mr Yanukovich took over as president and is seen as a test of his democratic credentials.

The hard-hitting comments indicate that Mr Yanukovich is seen as failing to fully uphold his promise to preserve democratic gains made since the 2004 Orange Revolution. Back then, a vote rigged in his favour was overturned amid massive pro-democracy protests.

A spokesperson for Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, said she was concerned about reports of irregularities during the elections – particularly since Ukraine had been building a record for polls that met international standards.

“They undermine public confidence in the electoral process and in the further consolidation of democracy in Ukraine,” the spokesperson said.

On Tuesday, the US-based National Democratic Institute, one of the financers of the Kiev-based OPORA, issued a strongly worded statement, saying: “The environment surrounding Ukraine’s October 31 local elections has deteriorated compared to the situation during the presidential election earlier this year”.

On Monday, Mykola Azarov, Ukraine’s prime minister and an ally of Mr Yanukovich, insisted the elections were “democratic”.

In a television address to the nation on Tuesday, Mr Yanukovich called upon the country to proceed with everyday life, saying: “The local election in Ukraine is over.” But he conceded that problems existed with the vote, saying: “I recognise that the elections had technical flaws and were complex.”

Attention will now fall on the assessment given by European Union leaders. Lady Ashton will closely follow the completion of the electoral process, including the way votes are tabulated and the response to complaints and appeals, her spokesperson said.

The EU has tried to emphasise the importance of democratic reforms and the rule of law as it develops a relationship with Mr Yanukovich.

Since taking over as president, Mr Yanukovich has pledged to uphold democracy and improve relations with Russia while keeping Ukraine on a path towards EU integration. But the opposition and pro-democracy activists accuse him of cracking down on democracy and press freedom.

As during the Orange Revolution, when Moscow backed Mr Yanukovich’s candidacy, Russian observers have dubbed the vote as fair.

Largely controlled by oligarchs backing Mr Yanukovich, Ukraine’s main television channels and news agencies were seen to be citing observers that backed up Mr Yanukovich’s claim that the vote was democratic.

The findings of OPORA were largely kept off the airwaves, feeding criticism that Mr Yanukovich is attempting to copy the success of Russia’s Vladimir Putin in setting up a “managed democracy”.

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Not a good sign at all, is the US & Europe coming in a little too late after giving such a free pass in the Presidential elections?

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