KIEV, Oct. 30 – President Viktor Yanukovych on Tuesday faced growing international pressure over flawed parliamentary elections after the U.S. had joined European organizations to express concerns over the handling of the vote.
The growing criticism may potentially put at risk Ukraine’s relations with the West and may effectively delay the country’s political association and a free trade agreement with the European Union.
“The U.S. government is concerned that the conduct of the Sunday’s parliamentary elections constituted a step backwards from progress made during the previous parliamentary and the 2010 presidential election,” Mark Toner, an acting spokesman at the U.S. Department of State, said in a statement.
The comments echo those made by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, the OSCE’s Parliamentary Assembly, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, the European Parliament and the NATO Parliamentary Assembly.
The Polish Foreign Ministry on Tuesday said the Ukrainian elections “did not fully conform to democratic standards," according to ministry pokesman Marcin Bosacki.
Some of the biggest concerns include the alleged use of the government’s resources to favor pro-government candidates, as well as “interference with media access and harassment of opposition candidates,” Toner said.
The sharp criticism comes in contrast with the way the elections are seen by Yanukovych, who said the elections were assessed “positively” by international observers.
“I am glad that according to preliminary assessments from many Ukrainian and international observers, including the OSCE, the elections on a technically level had been handled well,” Yanukovych said Monday. “The process of voting has been positively assessed by the observers.”
Yanukovych also said his government will work with the international community to fix any discovered problems to make sure that future elections are even “more democratic.”
The U.S. agreed that the election day was peaceful overall and observed by a large number of domestic and international observers, it is vote counting that underscores the real problem.
“We are troubled by allegations of fraud and falsification in the voting process and tabulation, by the disparity between preliminary results from the Central Election Commission and parallel vote tabulation and by the Central Election Commission’s decision not to release precinct results,” Toner said.
The Central Election Commission delayed by at least four hours releasing key statistics, such as the final turnout, shortly after the vote had ended, opening the possibility for staffing more ballots in boxes, analysts said.
The latest elections had the lowest turnout in Ukraine over the past 20 years, at 57.99%, while some districts in the Donetsk region, Yanukovych’s stronghold, had suddenly reported turnout at 75%, underscoring the concerns over fraud.
Yanukovych’s Regions Party scored 30.33% of the vote, followed by the opposition Batkivshchyna party’s 25.29% and the liberal Udar party’s 13.83%, the Central Election Commission reported Tuesday after tabulating 97.38% of ballots. The Communist Party scored 13.31% and the nationalist Svoboda party received 10.3% of the vote, the commission reported.
“We also reiterate our deep concern that the politically motivated convictions of opposition leaders, including of former Prime Minister Tymoshenko, prevented them from standing in these elections,” Toner said. “We again call on the government to put an immediate end to the selective prosecution of political opponents.
“The United States will continue to support the Ukrainian people’s aspirations for an independent, prosperous and democratic Ukraine,” Toner said.
“We regret that flawed parliamentary elections do not advance Ukraine toward this goal, but we remain committed to working with Ukraine to improve democratic institutions, strengthen the rule of law, and advance essential economic reforms,” he said. (tl/ez)