EU monitors give mixed report on Ukraine vote
Today @ 09:30 CETEUOBSERVER / BRUSSELS - Voting in Ukrainian local elections on Sunday (31 October) looked fair to the two MEPs who went out to monitor the event. But EU institutions are unhappy about irregularities in the run-up to the poll.
"I have seen a lot of elections in the past as an observer for the OSCE and I saw no serious flaws. But elections are not just about election day. It's about the whole picture," Polish MEP Pawel Kowal from the right-wing Law and Justice party told EUobserver by phone from Kiev on Monday.
The MEPs noted that their mini-mission was far too small to judge the election in a scientific way.
The EU assembly and the OSCE, the Vienna-based pro-democracy club, does not send full-blown missions to local-level votes. But the two Polish members, who speak Russian and who could chat with ordinary people, went out on a special initiative of Polish EU parliament President Jerzy Buzek amid concerns that President Viktor Yanukovych is turning back the clock on democratic reforms.
The two MEPs raised the red flag over pre-election machinations by the Yanukovych camp.
Mr Kowal noted that due to last-minute changes in election rules Ms Tymoshenko's candidates were unable to register in the important Kiev and Lviv districts. Mr Kozlwoski said "it served the interests of the ruling party" that non-party-affiliated candidates, such as people from NGOs or former Tymoshenko loyalists, were unable to run at all.
An EU official who also paid attention to the vote told this website: "Did Yanukovych pass the test? As far as the process of voting is concerned - Yes. As far as the legislation changes - rather not. And we still have to wait for the third phase to be completed [vote counting]."
The contact added that the new administration has harassed the opposition since coming to power: "If you intensively work for two months, September and October, on making the life of your opponents hard, then two weeks of eased pressure do not matter."
The new president is making an effort to persuade EU opinion-makers that he is pro-European and pro-democratic. At least three PR firms are working for him or his supporters in Brussels. And MEPs visiting Ukraine are getting the VIP treatment - Mr Kowal on Monday had a one-to-one dinner with the Ukrainian foreign minister; a larger delegation of euro-deputies will on Wednesday meet with the president and his prime minister.
An exit poll by the German firm GfK on Sunday indicated that Yanukovych candidates won 36 percent of the regional vote while Tymoshenko people got 13 percent.
"Nothing happened that would really change our point of view on Ukraine. It's a country in the midst of far-reaching reforms. There are many poor people. They need to see that these difficult reforms will one day bear fruit in things such as visa-free travel or even EU entry," Mr Kowal said.
Asked by this website if the EU parliament's mini-mission was itself fair, since both the Law and Justice and Civic Platform parties are considered to be hostile to Mr Yanukovych, Mr Kozlowski said: "As far as Polish political parties are concerned, there are no divisions on Ukraine. We speak with one voice. We see Ukraine's future [EU] membership as a strategic goal."