OSCE: Democratic progress appears to have reversed in Ukraine


In its report issued on Monday 29 October, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe international observers state that “Ukraine’s parliamentary elections were characterized by a tilted playing field. This was the result, primarily, of the abuse of administrative resources, as well as a lack of transparency in campaign and party financing and of balanced media coverage.”

Voters had a choice between distinct parties and candidate registration was inclusive, with two notable exceptions, representing a wide variety of political views. The political environment, however, is dominated by powerful economic groups, to the detriment of the electoral process,  the statement said.

"Considering the abuse of power, and the excessive role of money in this election, democratic progress appears to have reversed in Ukraine, " said Walburga Habsburg Douglas, the Special Co-ordinator who led the OSCE short-term election observation mission and the Head of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly delegation. "One should not have to visit a prison to hear from leading political figures in the country."

"Ukrainians deserved better from these elections. The ’oligarchization’ of the whole process meant that citizens lost their ownership of the election, as well as their trust in it" said Andreas Gross, the Head of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) delegation. "Unfortunately, the great democratic potential of Ukrainian society was not realized in yesterday’s vote."

Election day was calm and peaceful overall, and the voting and counting was assessed mostly positively by the observers, but tabulation was assessed negatively, as it lacked transparency.

The election administration managed the technical aspects of the pre-election process adequately, but routinely held pre-session meetings behind closed doors, and most open sessions lacked substance.

"Yesterday, we witnessed a strong turnout and a well-conducted polling process. The positive engagement of the Ukrainian people shows their steadfast desire for democracy, and this bodes well for Ukraine’s future, " said Assen Agov, Head of the Delegation from the NATO Parliamentary Assembly "We all hope that the disappointment of our overall assessment will galvanize political stakeholders into delivering the democratic progress which Ukrainians clearly seek."

"The lack of appropriate responses by the authorities to the various electoral violations has led to a climate of impunity." said Audrey Glover, the Head of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OSCE/ODIHR) long-term election observation mission. "This has cast a shadow over the election and the democratic progress that, until recently, Ukraine had been making."

From the report which can be downloaded in full here

This statement of preliminary findings and conclusions is delivered prior to the completion of the election process. The final assessment of the elections will depend, in part, on the conduct of the remaining stages of the election process, including the count, the tabulation and announcement of results, and the handling of possible post-election day complaints or appeals. The OSCE/ODIHR will issue a comprehensive final report, including recommendations for potential improvements, some eight weeks after the completion of the election process.
….  The 28 October parliamentary elections were characterized by the lack of a level playing field, caused primarily by the abuse of administrative resources, lack of transparency of campaign and party financing, and lack of balanced media coverage. Certain aspects of the pre-election period constituted a step backwards compared with recent national elections. Voters had a choice between distinct parties. Election day was calm and peaceful overall. Voting and counting were assessed mostly positively. Tabulation was assessed negatively as it lacked transparency.

The legislative framework for parliamentary elections could provide a basis for the conduct of democratic elections, if implemented properly. The new electoral law, adopted in November 2011, reinstated a mixed electoral system without the required wide consensual discussion and re-introduced deficiencies that were noted when it was previously used. The law includes some important improvements, although it also contains a number of shortcomings, mainly regarding the full enjoyment of candidacy rights, adequate campaign finance provisions, absence of clear criteria for the delineation of single-mandate election districts, and lack of effective sanctions for serious violations of the law.

…. Some small parties appear to have registered candidates solely in order to obtain seats on election commissions (so-called ’technical parties’). In line with legal provisions, the CEC denied registration to Yulia Tymoshenko and Yuriy Lutsenko, two prominent opposition politicians, who are currently serving prison sentences following trials criticized by the OSCE PA, the PACE and the EP as unfair. As a consequence of such trials, their inability to stand is in contradiction with the commitments outlined in paragraphs 5.1, 7.5 and 24 of the 1990 OSCE Copenhagen Document.
The fact that they were not able to run as candidates negatively affected the election process.

Powerful economic groups influenced the political environment to the detriment of the electoral process. This manifested itself, inter alia, in a lack of diversity in media ownership and pluralism, as well as a lack of transparency in campaign and party financing.

…. Regarding the media environment, new provisions in the electoral law for voters’ right to diverse, objective and unbiased information and for balanced coverage are a positive step. However, they remain declarative as balanced coverage remains undefined in the law and mechanisms for monitoring of and ensuring compliance with this provision are lacking. The campaign coverage in news and current affairs programs on the most popular monitored TV channels was limited, which may have negatively affected voters’ access to different political views. The fact that five times as much paid political advertising was broadcast indicates that in order to reach out to voters, political parties required significant financial means. State TV displayed a clear bias in favour of the ruling party.

….  “The media environment is characterized by a virtual absence of editorial autonomy on television, ” according to OSCE/ODIHR. “The politicization of TV by businesspeople and the dependence of state-owned broadcasters on the state budget significantly limit political pluralism, in favor of the ruling powers. The direct access of media owners and political actors to news content, the latter through ‘envelope payments’ to journalists, hinders investigative journalism and ultimately undermines the media’s crucial role as the watchdog for political power.”

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