HE Ambassador Leigh Turner

For months now, Ukrainian political parties have been accusing each other of preparing massive fraud during the first and second rounds of the Ukrainian presidential election on 17 January and 7 February.  So I'm intrigued to hear several respected experts express the view this week that, in fact, many of the accusations being thrown around in Kyiv are exaggerated.  The experts argue that the fact each presidential candidate is allowed to allocate two of his or her own people to each of the local election commissions will help reduce the risk of electoral fraud.  Moreoever, they point out, each of the main political camps is watching each of the others closely for the same reason at national, regional and local level - and in several cases is devoting massive resources to the task.  They note that the new electoral register, prepared with the help of UK funding, is a great improvement on its predecessor.  Add in the efforts of international observers, the experts say, and it will be far harder to fix results than many are claiming.

Some of these suggestions produce hollow laughter from other electoral experts in Kyiv.  Those people allocated by candidates to local electoral commissions, the sceptics argue, could be sleepers for other parties or just plain unreliable, particularly where minor candidates are concerned.  There are simply too many polling stations (33,000) to supervise properly.  And so on. Fraud, these experts argue, is inevitable.

I think they're both right.  On the one hand, fraud in the Ukrainian electoral system is potentially a problem, and it's vital that election commissions at local and national level plus the various political camps and the international observers do everything they can to ensure the election is clean.  At the same time, the argument that some parties may be tempted to big up the supposed risk of fraud so as to prepare the ground to cry foul after the election - whatever the result - has the ring of plausibility.  The assessment that some of the concerns expressed about fraud may in fact be exaggerated would support such a thesis.  I've blogged before about this, and about the need to use the excellent offices of the OSCE/ODIHR observer mission both to minimise the risk of fraud during the election and to make it as hard as possible for anyone to raise unjustified concerns afterwards. 

The good news is that, according to OSCE/ODIHR, all the main electoral camps are so far co-operating fully with the mission and have been raising many cases of potential fraud so that the OSCE/ODIHR experts can investigate and, where necessary, make recommendations to reduce the risks.  Let's hope such co-operation continues so that all concerned can maximise the chances of the forthcoming election being as free and fair as possible - and a further step towards the consolidation of Ukraine's reputation as a democratic leader in the region.

Leigh Turner
British Ambassador to Ukraine

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