Source: National Post
Ukrainians are going to the polls on Oct. 28 to elect members of their parliament, the Verhovna Rada. If the elections were totally free, President Viktor Yanukovych’s party, the Party of the Regions, would have a hard time getting a majority since, according to the polls, its support is in the teens or low twenties, and is often lower that that of any of the principal opposition parties.
But initial indications suggest that the election results may not be accepted as free or fair by the West. Some leading figures of the opposition, including a former prime minister, Yulia Tymoshenko, have been imprisoned as a result of what human rights organizations and Western countries, including Canada, consider to have been politically motivated trials. The Election Law has been modified by the Party of Regions in ways that make it easier for the government to fix the results. Ukrainian media are being increasingly controlled or cowed through official harassment. The electoral commissions have been largely brought under government control. In the local elections of 2010, which may have served as a pilot project for the parliamentary elections, the principal opposition party was prevented from running in areas where it was especially popular.
It is important that we all should closely follow the electoral campaign and the elections themselves. The degree to which the elections are held in violation of human rights and democratic principles, if that proves to be the case, should have immediate consequences on Western policies toward Ukraine, including the negotiations of the free trade agreement that Canada is the process of etching out with that country.
We should not be surprised at the darkening shadows over Ukraine. Few countries have managed on their own to make a smooth transition from dictatorship to democracy without relapses. The journey has been long and hard for Ukraine since it became independent in 1991, because of its lack of experience as an independent state, its weak institutions and weak tradition of political pluralism and its scant understanding of the separation of powers.
Compounding these weaknesses, there has been insufficient support from the EU and strong interference from Putin’s Russia. Unlike European countries further to the West, Ukraine has not been able to count on the promise of EU membership in the short or medium term to serve as an incentive to move to democracy. (The EU’s current offer to Ukraine consists of an association agreement, accompanied by free trade and the possibility of EU membership in the distant future.)