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5 November, 2012  ▪  Oleksandr Horyn

Legitimizing the Regime

Why some international observers did not notice violations during the Ukrainian election

The application by the Ukrainian government of manipulative technology during this year’s parliamentary election was accompanied by steps for its legitimization in the eyes of the international community. In addition to the powerful informational trumpeting of the pro-government media, which constantly reminded everyone of the democratic nature and integrity of the election and the insignificant number of violations recorded at polling stations, an equally important manipulative function was played by those who gave positive assessments of the election on behalf of part of the corps of observers, who sympathize with the Yanukovych regime.

PRAISE TO THE LACK OF COMMON SENSE

These were mostly observers from CIS member-states and the representatives of little-known organizations in European countries, which throughout 28 October, prior to the closing of the polling stations, attested to the mass media, that the election were being conducted under ideal conditions, while the minor violations that they discovered, could not impact the result of the voting. Quite a few foreign guests even visited polling stations, accompanied by representatives of the Ukrainian government. More specifically, in Zakarpattia, observers from Slovakia, Russia, Israel and the USA personally met with the Head of the Oblast State Administration, Oleksandr Ledyda.

Ultimately, this category of observers was the fastest and most approving in their statements and conclusions. The Chinese mass media including the Xinhua News Agency, the “People’s Daily” newspaper and International Chinese Radio were among those who offered an interesting selection of flattering reviews on Ukrainian democracy. Russian observer and member of the Public Chamber of Russia, Sergei Markov, stated that the Ukrainian election “was successful, democratic and in line with a standard, that is even higher than in several countries of the European Union.” At a briefing at the press centre of the Diplomatic Academy of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine by an observer from the European Centre of Geopolitical Analysis, Daniël van der Stoep, from the Netherlands, stated that the campaign was honest and fair, and that its organization was even better than in several Western countries. In the view of the Israeli international mission, ICES, the parliamentary election in Ukraine is legitimate and complies with international standards of election law. Observers from the CIS and GUAM did not see any significant violations.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine rushed ahead of the flattering rhetoric that was massively transmitted in the Ukrainian media. On election day, without waiting for the polling stations to officially close, Ukrainian diplomats held an international conference where Kostyantyn Hryshchenko greeted foreign observers (their list is not on the site of the MFA) with “the election that was once more conducted with integrity, transparency and in compliance with legislation” noting that “rumours of the demise of Ukrainian democracy were significantly exaggerated”, and that the country’s leadership had passed its democracy test.

Immediately after the announcement of exit poll results, Ukraine’s Premier Mykola Azarov was quick to greet all in his party fellows with the victory, and assure everyone that the international community recognized the transparency and integrity of the election. “The election was calm and normal in the view of all foreign observers, without any exceptions,” he stated, though not a single official delegation of observers had given their assessment by that time. On the following day, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine confidently declared that “most international observers gave the voting and the counting process a positive assessment.”

Later, some Western diplomats reinforced this rosy mood of the celebration of Ukrainian democracy. The former president of PACE, the Deputy Head of the Pace parliamentary election observation mission, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu (known for the cooperation with authoritarian regimes on post-Soviet territories during his presidency of the Council of Europe) declared that the issue of the parliamentary campaign in Ukraine being illegal would not be raised in PACE, since the majority of observers had evaluated election day as being “good” or “very good”. He also expressed the view that the conviction of former Premier Yulia Tymoshenko should not influence the recognition of the legitimacy of the election.

A TRAP FOR OBSERVERS

Ukrainian government had counted far too much on the international observers, who came to Ukraine to keep an eye on the actual course of the vote, during which no appalling falsifications were found. The Party of Regions did not hesitate to use a variety of dirty technologies on the eve, and after the election, yet it tried to whitewash the entire campaign with just the actual election day that seemed to go relatively smoothly. Some inattentive Western guests found themselves in this trap, drawing international attention to the transparency and democratic nature of the election process, based simply on the observation of the actual course of the voting. Meanwhile, most violations prior to and after the voting were beyond their purview. Moreover, quite a few of them stopped working immediately after the closure of the polling stations and the start of vote-counting, having considered that they had completed their mission and thus allowing the government to use an entire arsenal of means to rig the results.

This is where the differences in the evaluation of the Ukrainian election stem from, even on the part of delegations from influential international institutions and states. Together with the above-mentioned conclusions of Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, who extravagantly complimented Ukrainian democracy, many European politicians were amazed by the declarations of the Head of the delegation of observers from the European Parliament, Pawel Kowal. On the Sunday press conference at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, he expressed his expectations that the election in Ukraine could become an impulse for its European integration (and this in spite of the already known numerous violations by the party in power, that had been recorded during the election campaign, and the imprisonment of the opposition leaders). On 29 October, citing the preliminary data of observers, he declared that most MPs in the European Parliament had not recorded significant violations of election legislation. Although he later confirmed the critical observations of his colleagues from the European Parliament, OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, PACE and NATO at a joint briefing of these five most influential observation missions, his position was seen as being extremely unclear compared to that of other delegations, which shocked many European MPs.

In his interview with Dziennik Polski, he noted that he had not received any signals regarding falsification in the Ukrainian election, mentioning only cases of the restriction of access to the mass media for the opposition and the absence of equal opportunities for all political forces, and remarked that for the post-Soviet space, the Ukrainian election was not the worst, although “a slight worsening” was seen compared to the post-Orange Revolution period. It appears that such a non-critical position of the head of the European Parliament’s delegation was also caused by the transformation of the special mission of many Polish politicians and diplomats from the advocates of Ukraine into disguised defenders of the Yanukovych regime, advancing the idea of cooperation with him in European circles.

In a comment for The Ukrainian Week, Rebecca Harms attested to the lack of unity among the members of the EU delegation in determining the problems in the Ukrainian election process that were reported by other missions, which had conducted their observation for a longer period of time. These included voter bribing, carousels, the lack of transparency of vote-counting and many more. “It was a huge surprise to me, when four members of our delegation from the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats made a statement to the press on 30 October in Brussels, in which they noted that everything was fine with the election, so let’s get to work. In my view, this is a premature assessment. The counting of votes is still on-going, there are a lot of complaints, and they have to be reviewed. In no way is it possible to give a final evaluation right now. It is necessary to take into account all the complaints and shortcomings that we receive from observation missions and members of election commissions,” she commented.


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