Is that it?  After all the build-up of the past few months, the first round of the presidential election in Ukraine on 17 January seems to have been... normal.  I've spoken to several OSCE/ODIHR observers and others who were officially accredited to visit polling stations around the country on the day.  All told tales of peaceful scenes, ballot boxes supervised by representatives of different parties, electoral officials doing their best to make sure things worked, and so on.  Then on 18 January the OSCE/ODIHR mission presented its "Statement of Preliminary Findings and Conclusions" on the 17 January poll.  The key finding was that: "The first round of the 17 January presidential election in Ukraine was of high quality and showed significant progress over previous elections.  The election met most OSCE and Council of Europe commitments.  Civil and political rights were respected, including freedom of assembly, association and expression.  Election day was conducted in an efficient and orderly manner."

Efficient, orderly... it all sounds a bit dull, right?  Well, the conduct of elections is one area where routine, humdrum and regular are all good and surprises, excitement and weird things happening are bad.  The OSCE/ODIHR conclusion shows that the fears expressed before the election of massive vote-rigging were unfounded.  It also sets the stage for the second round, on 7 February, when there will be a run-off between the two leading candidates, Victor Yanukovych and Julia Tymoshenko.  The European Commission has issued a good statement welcoming the OSCE/ODIHR findings and calling on Ukraine's leaders to ensure that the second round takes place "in a similarly peaceful environment and that it will build on the positive aspects of the first round". 

Wise words.  The Ukrainian presidential election is far from over.  The second round will be hard-fought, and the stakes are high.  That makes it all the more important that the two camps continue to take the OSCE/ODIHR team into their confidence to maximise the chances of the second round running as smoothly as the first; and to minimise the likelihood of anyone crying foul afterwards.  That way, whoever wins will be able to declare the presidential campaign done and dusted and get on with running the country as soon as is reasonably possible.

PS My polling-day blog of 17 January noted that there would be several exit polls published at 20.00 when polls closed, and noted concern about whether they would be accurate.  In the event, with over 99% of the vote counted, the results show that several of the exit polls were in fact highly accurate.  Congratulations to the organisations concerned!  If forecasts are equally accurate in the second round on 7 February that will be a sign that in Ukraine exit polling, too, is now "of high quality".

Leigh Turner
British Ambassador to Ukraine

NOTE:  You can read all of Ambassador Turner's blogs by visiting:

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