AMBASSADOR'S BLOG - MORE GOOD NEWS ABOUT ELECTORAL FRAUD?

Kyiv
05.02.10




As Ukraine moves closer to the decisive second round of the presidential election on 7 February the words of the European Commission after the first round might seem a distant memory.  In a statement on 18 January, the Commission welcomed the fact that the first round of the elections on 17 January "took place in a peaceful atmosphere", and urged the leaders of Ukraine to ensure that the next round of voting on 7 February would be held "in a similarly peaceful environment".

With the election two days away, not everyone would describe the atmosphere in Kyiv as a "peaceful environment".  Electoral campaigning is running at fever pitch.  And the two electoral camps have continued to trade tough allegations about each other's plans for 7 February - the latest about how the Rada's 3 February changes to the electoral law could make fraud easier (say some), or more difficult (say others).  There's talk of street protests.  Anyone might think things were spinning into some kind of crisis.

But wait.  Haven't we been here before?  The 18 January Commission statement also noted that the first round "was preceded by a vigorous campaign which presented voters with a genuine choice."  No change there, then.  That vote too was preceded by allegations that fraud was about to take place on a massive scale.  I noted with interest before January's vote (Good news about electoral fraud?) that some experts were suggesting those fears were overblown.  They were right: the authoritative OSCE/ODIHR observer mission concluded that the first round "was of high quality and... met most OSCE and Council of Europe commitments"; and that "Civil and political rights were respected, including freedom of assembly, association and expression."

So I've been listening with interest to what experts on detecting electoral fraud are saying this time round.  And guess what?  Some people I respect are saying that there's a fair chance of good quality elections on 7 February.  The key, they say, will be to ensure that both presidential camps use their right to have their own people in place around the country to keep a close eye on what's going on; that both take the OSCE/ODIHR election observers into their confidence, give them maximum access, and report to them any dodgy happenings; and that both make sure that all their election commissioners turn out on the day so that neither side can accuse the other of trying to put a spanner in the works.

Now I don't want to be accused of being a follower of arch optimist Dr Pangloss.  It's important to take seriously all allegations of potential electoral fraud; and, as I noted earlier this week, the OSCE/ODIHR observers, like the two presidential candidates, face a tough task on Sunday  to do everything they can to ensure the election is clean.  But democracy is one of Ukraine's most attractive features; and the experience of the first round shows that Ukrainians are well capable of holding elections to European standards.  It seems indisputably in the best interests of both presidential camps, as EU High Representative Cathy Ashton said in a statement published on 4 February, "to ensure that the will of the people can once more be expressed at the polls this Sunday".  So I hope that happens; and that after the second round I can again write that election day turned out, frankly, a bit humdrum, dull and routine.

Leigh Turner
British Ambassador to Ukraine

NOTE:  You can read all of Ambassador Turner's blogs by visiting: http://blogs.fco.gov/roller/turner



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