Ukraine election: International observers critical; Yulia Tymoshenko on hunger strike over 'rigged' vote


A supporter of Ukraine's former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko holds a picture of the opposition leader during a rally held outside Kiev's courthouse on December 20, 2011. The European Union warned Ukraine on December 19 that the jailing of ex-prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko had stalled the signing of an agreement taking Kiev a step closer to membership of the bloc. AFP PHOTO/ SERGEI SUPINSKY



International observers have roundly denounced the fairness of weekend parliamentary elections in Ukraine, saying they were influenced heavily in favor of the President's Party of Regions, The New York Times reported.

Walburga Habsburg Douglas, a Swedish lawmaker who led an observer mission in Ukraine, told the Times: “Considering the abuse of power, and the excessive role of money in this election, democratic progress appears to have reversed in Ukraine.”

Jailed Ukrainian opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko has gone on hunger strike to protest what she claims were "rigged" parliamentary elections.

Early results from Sunday's vote put President Viktor Yanukovych's Regions Party in the lead, followed by Tymoshenko's opposition bloc.

In a statement read by her lawyer and cited by RIA Novosti, Tymoshenko said:

"The elections were rigged from the first 'til the last day, and concealing this means killing Ukraine's future."

Refusing to eat was the only way she saw of protesting from the jail where she is currently serving time for abuse of office, her lawyer said.

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International observers have not reported finding evidence of vote rigging, but did criticize the election as a "step backwards" for democracy.

The vote didn't take place on a level playing field, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said today, criticizing "the abuse of power" and "excessive role of money."

While the polling itself went smoothly, its observers wrote in their statement, problems like the misuse of administrative resources, biased media coverage and opaque campaign financing stopped the election being free and fair from the start.

"Ukrainians deserved better from these elections," said Andreas Gross, the head of Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe's observer mission. "Unfortunately, the great democratic potential of Ukrainian society was not realized in yesterday's vote."

Prime Minister Mykola Azarov, however, told Russian monitors that finding fault with the poll would "be like calling white black," Reuters reported.

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The OSCE's verdict contrasts sharply with the praise reserved for Ukraine's 2010 presidential election, which as GlobalPost's Europe editor Gregory Feifer notes, was applauded by observers as the country's "best ever."

The past two-and-a-half years under Yanukovych have reversed much of Ukraine's earlier progress, Feifer says: "Most [voters] believe the Regions Party is reinstating the kind of fraud Ukraine once had in spades, including ballot-stuffing, vote-buying and censoring the press."

With one-third of party list votes counted, the Regions Party has more than 36 percent, according to the BBC. Tymoshenko's Fatherland coalition has 21 percent, while Yanukovych's allies the Communists have around 15 percent.

A new party formed by heavyweight boxer Vitali Klitschko, Punch, got 13 percent. Meanwhile the far-right, ultra-nationalist Freedom Party is on track to enter parliament for the first time ever, having polled 8 percent.

Reuters says the rise of smaller parties can be seen as evidence of a "revitalized opposition" in Ukraine – though given the Freedom Party's pro-Nazi leanings, not necessarily a progressive one.

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