US groups to censure Yanukovich
Viktor Yanukovich, the Ukraine’s president, will be criticised by two pro-democracy institutes for backtracking on democratic gains made since the Orange Revolution in 2004.
A joint statement will be made public in coming days by the institutes representing the top political parties from the US.
Written by the International Republican Institute and National Democratic Institute, the statement – obtained by the Financial Times – focuses on recently adopted election legislation that unfairly undermines the chances of opposition parties in a forthcoming October 31 election to regional legislatures.
Marking the sharpest international criticism of Mr Yanukovich’s democratic credentials yet, the statement follows rising complaints by domestic opposition parties and media. Both have accused Kiev’s Moscow-friendly leader and loyal coalition of waging a Kremlin-styled crackdown on democracy and press freedoms since taking over as president.
Referring to the election law that was adopted by pro-presidential allies in parliament on June 29 and signed by Mr Yanukovich on July 27, the statement attacks the law for “limiting electoral potential” of opposition parties by banning participation of election blocs and parties registered less than one year ago.
“Restrictions on new parties and independent candidates appear to be unreasonable in light of principles established by the Ukrainian constitution, as well as international obligations and commitments that Ukraine has undertaken,” the statement reads.
Pro-democracy activists have praised the progress Ukraine has made since the Orange Revolution. Back then, a rigged presidential vote favoring Mr Yanukovich was overturned leading to a five-year presidential term by his pro-western rival, Viktor Yushchenko. Ukraine was seen as a rare beacon of democracy in Russia’s backyard and activists hoped the trend would continue despite Mr Yanukovich’s remarkable political comeback in winning the presidency this February.
But IRI and NDI point to the recent developments as big risks for democracy in Ukraine, saying: “These developments could be characterised as changing the legal framework to create restrictions on political competition and … unreasonable denial of citizens’ rights to legitimate choices.”
Mr Yanukovich’s majority coalition in parliament was also criticised for adopting the new rules too close to the election “in a non-transparent manner with virtually no public debate”.
Opposition parties claim that their leaders and associates have faced increasing political persecution. Three high-level officials that served last year in the government of Yulia Tymoshenko, now an opposition leader, have been jailed on corruption charges. On Wednesday, Ms Tymoshenko’s party headquarters on the Crimean peninsula was raided by secret service agents.
Mr Yanukovich has repeatedly denied wrongdoing.
But in an open letter this week, the International Press Institute urged Mr Yanukovich to put an end to a “disturbing deterioration in press freedom over the last six months”.
“There are fears that since then the clock has been rolled back on recent press freedom gains in Ukraine,” the Vienna-based institute added.