Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich today dismissed international criticism of Sunday’s parliamentary election which his Party of the Regions seems set to win, while opposition nationalists have threatened street protests against alleged vote-rigging.“The opposition says Yanukovich’s rule is marred by deepening cronyism and an increasingly authoritarian style,” reports suggest. Yanukovich’s opponents were forced to contest the election on an uneven playing field, said analysts.
The poll was a “step backward” for Ukraine’s democracy, said the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which dispatched 600 monitors to observe the election. It cited media bias, the abuse of state resources by the ruling party and, and the continued detention of opposition leader and former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko.
“The lack of appropriate responses by the authorities to the various electoral violations has led to a climate of impunity.” said Audrey Glover, the Head of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OSCE/ODIHR) long-term election observation mission. “This has cast a shadow over the election and the democratic progress that, until recently, Ukraine had been making.” (The group’s full report can be downloaded in full here).
The Obama administration endorsed the OSCE’s criticism.
“We share the view of OSCE monitors that Sunday election constituted a step backward for Ukrainian democracy,” U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said.
She called Tymoshenko’s conviction “politically motivated” and urged the regime to put an “immediate end” to “the selective prosecution and detention of political opponents.”
The election 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,” The New York Times reports.
“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 election observation delegation from the International Republican Institute.
“When you have political opponents incarcerated, when you have the minority television stations basically kept off the air, these are not positive developments,” he told The New York Times.
“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,” said Dreier, whose delegation included Nadia Diuk, Vice President of Programs for Africa, Europe, Eurasia, Latin America and the Caribbean at the National Endowment for Democracy.
Democratic opposition groups may yet organize Orange Revolution-style street protests.
“What has happened over the last day cannot even be called falsification, it is a crime, a bacchanalia of banditry,” said leading pro-Tymoshenko MP Sergiy Pashynsky. “If our voice is not heard, we will react adequately including with mass protests”.
The leader of the ultra-nationalist Svoboda party Oleh Tiahnybok said that his party and the Batkivschyna United Opposition have also agreed to urge people to stage protests.
Many Ukrainians “are worried about Svoboda’s radical far-right rhetoric in a country already riven by strong cultural and political divisions,” reports suggest.
The party’s leadership has faced criticism for openly racist and anti-Semitic pronouncements.
“Svoboda is the biggest sensation,” said political analyst Volodymyr Fesenko of the Penta think tank. “The Ukrainian political borsch (soup) has got a bit more spicy. There will be more pepper but how it is going to taste is another question,” he said.
The poll saw a record high of cases of then electoral bribery, said the Committee of Voters of Ukraine.
“We have never recorded so many cases of bribery in Ukrainian elections,” said CVU Chairman Oleksandr Chernenko:
Sunday’s elections had not brought the country closer to democratic standards, as a number of problems were recorded at all stages of the electoral process. In particular, election commissions were not balanced, the counting of votes in some districts was being delayed, and a lot of cases of the bribery of voters were recorded in single-seat constituencies. Chernenko said that there were no grounds to believe that the violations that were reported on the polling day could affect the election results. However, he said, the election results could seriously be affected by violations that are occurring during the counting of votes.
Opposition groups should unite to put Ukraine on “a democratic path” and remove “the Yanukovych regime,” said Vitali Klitschko (above), a world champion boxer and head of the new UDAR party:
It’s not at all clear they could do that, even if they could find a way to unite. But unlike Putin, who has faced vocal opponents recently, Yanukovych has no oil or gas revenue to lavish on his country. He has raised salaries and benefits, with no obvious way of paying for them now that the election is over. His critics believe he also lacks the political savvy that Putin has used to cement his place at the top in Russia.
“Without money, they will try to stick to power by using physical force,” predicted Denis Kazansky, a political journalist in Donetsk, Yanukovych’s home town.
“Klitschko, the two-meter (6-foot-7)-tall WBC heavyweight champion, will now enter parliament at the head of his new party and could be a towering force in the assembly,” Reuters reports:
He has ruled out any post-election coalition with Yanukovich and says his party will team up with Arseny Yatsenyuk, who leads the united opposition in Tymoshenko’s absence, as well as with other opposition groups, including Svoboda, headed by 43-year-old surgeon Oleh Tyahnybok.
The flawed election is likely to undermine prospects for a new European Union-Ukraine association agreement.
The accord would only go forward “if the democratic rights of the Ukrainian people, including freedoms of expression, political participation, association and media, are respected, the rule of law is put on strong footing, and progress is made on the overall reform agenda,” US Secretary of State Clinton and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton wrote in a New York Times editorial this week.