Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe

Testimony :: Hon. Christopher H. Smith
Chairman - Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe


Ukraine’s Upcoming Parliamentary Elections: A Pivotal Moment

Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe

Rep. Chris Smith, Chairman

Opening Statement

Welcome to this Helsinki Commission hearing on the October 28 parliamentary elections in Ukraine. Even though the actual voting is still five months away, in the hope that matters raised can still be properly addressed we believe it is important to focus attention now.

Ukraine’s past four national elections – two presidential and two parliamentary – have met international democratic standards. They received positive assessments from the OSCE-led international observation missions and other international observers.

But given Ukraine’s democratic backsliding under Viktor Yanukovych, we have reason to be concerned about the pre-election climate and watchful for attempts to skew the conditions in which the campaigns will be conducted.

The October 2010 local elections, and, more recently, the March mayoral election in Obukhiv in Kyiv oblast were problematic. And Ukraine’s general backsliding is very troubling; we see it in the independence of the judiciary, in corruption, tightening controls over the media and harassment of NGOs – all these things could also have a debilitating impact on the election process.

Concerns are emerging that, in addition to potential overt voting day election rigging, more subtle measures of manipulation may already be taking place, such as putting pressure on opposition candidates to not run or to switch allegiances to the ruling Regions party.

Especially disconcerting – and disgusting – is the unjust imprisonment of political opposition leaders, former Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko and former Interior Minister Yuri Lutsenko, removing their participation in the elections and casting a shadow over the entire election process.

Unless they and other senior former government officials are released from prison and restored to their full political and civil rights, the October elections will, by the very fact of their imprisonment, be tainted. The imprisonment of leading opposition figures alone is so significant, and outrageous, that they will make it impossible for the international community to assess these elections as having fully met international democratic standards.

These elections are a litmus test for Ukrainian democracy – of the degree and kind of democracy it still has. The elections process, including the pre-election environment, registration, campaign, voting, counting and tabulation, will tell us a lot about Ukraine’s future course. Will Ukraine continue sliding towards authoritarianism, or will it resume its path to democracy? Another factor here is that in 2013 Ukraine will assume the leadership of the OSCE – which makes it even more important that these elections be conducted in line with OSCE standards of freedom and fairness – if not, Ukraine’s Chairmanship will begin under a cloud.

As a long-time advocate of democracy, human rights and rule of law in Ukraine, I hope that the Yanukovych government will not tear Ukraine away from its recent tradition of free and fair national elections and will permit a genuinely democratic election process – one in which political parties and candidates compete on a level playing field, there exists equitable media access, and the balloting is conducted in a manner that instills confidence.