Saturday

19th Aug 2017

Dodgy elections harm EU-Ukraine ties

  • The OSCE report was more harsh than the EU expected (Photo: osce.org)

Prospects for an EU-Ukraine treaty faded further on Monday (29 October) when election monitors said Ukraine is going backward on democracy.

The Vienna-based voting watchdog, the OSCE, noted that election day itself went well.

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It said Sunday was "calm and peaceful," that there was a healthy turnout of 58 percent and that vote counting was done properly in 96 percent of cases.

But it gave a laundry-list of problems in the run-up to the event.

The biggest one was the exclusion - "based on unfair criminal convictions" - of former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko and former interior minister Yuriy Lutsenko.

It also said that "powerful economic groups influenced the political environment," that President Viktor Yanukovych's ruling Party of the Regions used state money for its campaign and that state TV showed a "clear bias" in its favour.

It noted that some voters were bribed with gifts, 13 candidates were threatened with violence, campaign workers had tents torn down and there was "widespread use of black PR" - such as distribution of fake pamphlets in the name of political opponents.

Some outside observers, such as MEPs from the Party-of-Regions-affiliated centre-left S&D group, said the OSCE's concerns "should not discredit the outcome."

But for her part, Walburga Habsburg Douglas, a Swedish politician who led the OSCE mission, spoke damningly of the Yanukoych machine.

"Considering the abuse of power, and the excessive role of money in this election, democratic progress appears to have reversed in Ukraine ... One should not have to visit a prison to hear from leading political figures in the country," she told press on Tuesday.

Andreas Gross, who led a delegation from the Strasbourg-based rights watchdog, the Council of Europe, added: "The 'oligarchisation' of the whole process meant that citizens lost their ownership of the election, as well as their trust in it."

Meanwhile, Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt described the overall result as "worrying."

Top EU officials are planning to meet with Yanukovych in Brussels in late November or early December.

But the OSCE criticism has dimmed even further the prospects of signing an EU-Ukraine political and association pact designed to pull the nation out of Russia's sphere of influence.

"The OSCE report was sharper than we expected. There is absolutely no basis to sign the agreement ... It would not have happened at the summit anyway for technical reasons, but we could have been more elastic if the elections had gone well," an EU source said.

"I am glad that the report was so tough - it sends out the message that we are not stupid," the contact added.

Meanwhile, with almost 55 percent of the votes counted on Tuesday afternoon, the Party of Regions came out on top.

The Yanukovych team got 35 percent.

The Tymoshenko-inspired United Opposition got 22 percent and is expected to join up with Udar (13 percent), an anti-corruption party led by a boxing champion, as well as Svoboda, a far-right nationalist group (9 percent).

But post-election haggling, including with hundreds of so-called independent candidates, could create surprise results.

"We told them [Yanukovych officials] that they could win this election without any abuses. But they basically said: 'This is the way we do things in Ukraine.' It's a question of culture, of mentality, which is far away from Western standards and which is not going to change quickly," the EU source added.

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The EU and Ukraine will "most likely" not hold a summit this year, but diplomats blame it on technical instead of political reasons.

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A handful of EU countries want to sign a treaty with Ukraine in autumn despite its erosion of democratic standards. But others disagree.

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