British Helsinki Human Rights Group - Regarding Ukrainian Electionshttp://www.bhhrg.org/CountryReport.asp?CountryID=22&ReportID=230
UKRAINE PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION 2004 - SECOND ROUND:
24 November 2004
The British Helsinki Human Rights Group (BHHRG) sent observers to the
second round of the presidential election in Ukraine on 21st November 2004.
BHHRG monitored the election in the city and district of Kiev, Chernigov, and
Transcarpathia. Counts were observed in central Kiev and Uzhgorod.
Contrary to the condemnations issued by the team of professional politicians
and diplomats deployed by the OSCE mainly from NATO and EU states, the
BHHRG observers did not see evidence of government-organized fraud nor of
suppression of opposition media. Improbably high votes for Prime Minister,
Viktor Yanukovich, have been reported from south-eastern Ukraine but less
attention has been given to the 90% pro-Yushchenko results declared in
Although Western media widely claimed that in Ukraine the opposition was,
in effect, excluded from the broadcast media, particularly in western Ukraine
the opposite was the case. On the eve of the poll - in flagrant violation of the
law banning propaganda for candidates - a series of so-called “social
information” advertisements showing well-known pop stars like Eurovision
winner Ruslana wearing the orange symbols of Mr Yushchenko’s candidacy
and urging people to vote appeared on state television!
Although BHHRG did not encounter blatant violations in either the first or second
rounds, the Group’s observers were alarmed by a palpable change in the
atmosphere inside the polling stations in central Ukraine in particular. In Round 1,
a relaxed and orderly mood prevailed throughout the day. In Round 2 the situation
had become slightly tense and chaotic. In BHHRG’s observation the change in
Round 2 was attributable primarily to an overabundance of local observers, who
exercised undue influence over the process and in some instances were an
intimidating factor. The vast majority of observers in the polling stations visited
were representatives of Viktor Yushchenko.
Transparent ballot boxes meant that these observers could frequently see
how people had voted. This OSCE-approved innovation made intimidation of voters
for the more unpopular candidate in any district easier since few supporters of
the minority would wish it to be seen how they had voted.
Ukraine’s election law allows only candidates and political parties, not non-
governmental organizations, to deploy observers. However, observers can be
deployed in the guise of journalists. For example, the Western-sponsored
Committee of Voters of Ukraine (KVU) - clearly sympathetic to the opposition -
deployed observers throughout Ukraine as “correspondents” for the
organization’s newspaper, <I style="mso-bidi-font-style: normal">Tochka Zora. On 31st October, BHHRG did not
encounter any representatives of this newspaper anywhere, but on
21st November such journalist-observers were highly visible in central Ukraine.
In Chernigov 11/208, for example, all 6 journalist-observers represented
opposition newspapers and one, for <I style="mso-bidi-font-style: normal">Tochka Zora, stood very close to the
ballot boxes and closely inspected how votes were cast. Because ballot
papers in Round 2 were much smaller than in Round 1 and were not
placed in envelopes before insertion into the transparent ballot boxes,
secrecy of the ballot was compromised. In this case, the immediate
impression was that a young <I style="mso-bidi-font-style: normal">Tochka Zora correspondent exercised more
control over the process than the election commission chairman himself.
In Chernigov (7/208), all 7 journalist-observers represented opposition
newspapers, in some cases simply temporary campaign publications such
as the pro-Yushchenko propaganda paper <I style="mso-bidi-font-style: normal">Tak - his election slogan “Yes.” In
a scene exemplary of the mood of voting on November 21st, BHHRG watched a
nervous looking old woman emerge from a voting booth, approach the three
opposition observers sitting directly behind the ballot boxes, and ask: “Have
I filled out the ballot correctly?” An observer inspected the ballot, saw it was filled
in for Viktor Yushchenko, and replied: “Yes.” The woman’s unfolded ballot was
plainly visible in the transparent ballot box.
Such groups of opposition journalist/observers were not in evidence in the
Transcarpathian region visited by BHHRG’s observers. Exit pollsters in
Mukachevo admitted to being Yushchenko supporters and were carrying out
their poll in a simplistic manner - asking every twentieth voter for their choice
without categorizing by age, class, etc. 40% of voters refused to say how they
had voted, but 80% of the remainder said that they had backed Yushchenko.
The exit polls were clearly not scientific - less so even than the ones predicting
Kerry trouncing George W. Bush in Florida and Ohio!
In a polling station attached to Uzhgorod’s university a group of young, male
Yushchenko observers hung around the entrance to the polling room and next to
the ballot box. OSCE guidelines condemn the presence of such un-authorised
personnel. The commission chairman in this polling station stated that four
members of the election commission had prevented observers for Mr. Yushenko
from fulfilling their tasks leading to the intervention of lawyers. When this
accusation was put to other members of the commission they appeared dumb-
founded and said no such incident had taken place. The chairman appeared
shocked that the BHHRG observers sought to confirm his detailed account
of the misbehaviour of some of his colleagues by asking other witnesses, but
no proper observation should accept allegations unquestioningly.
Whatever may have been the case in south-eastern Ukraine, it was clear to this
Group’s observers in central Ukraine and western Ukraine that the opposition
exercised near complete control. The broadcast media showed bias towards
Mr. Yushchenko in these areas, particularly in western Ukraine where Viktor
Yanukovich was invisible - not even being shown voting on polling day. It is
na+Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â»ve to think only the government had the facilities to exercise improper
influence over the polls. From what BHHRG observed, the opposition exercised
disproportionate control over the electoral process in many places, giving rise
to concerns that the opposition - not only the authorities - may have
committed violations and may have even falsified the vote in opposition-
controlled areas. So-called “administrative resources” in places visited by
BHHRG appeared to be in the hands of the opposition, not the Yanukovich
government,and this may have frightened voters. After all since Sunday,
police and security personnel in some western towns have declared their
loyalty to “president” Yushchenko.
The open bias of Western governments and their nominated observers in the
OSCE delegation, some of whom have appeared on opposition platforms,
makes it unreasonable to rely on its report.
In spite of these specific concerns, BHHRG finds no reason to believe that
the final result of the2004 presidential election in Ukraine was not generally
representative of genuine popular will. The election featured a genuine choice
of candidates, active pre-election campaigns, and high voter participation. It is
clear that Ukrainian opinion was highly polarized. That meant many people
backing a losing candidate would find it difficult to accept a defeat. Foreigners
should not encourage civil conflict because the candidate on whom they have
lavished expensive support turned out to be a loser.