International monitors decry Ukraine election

Walburga Habsburg Douglas (second from right), head of an observer mission, said the democratic process failed
Sergey Dolzhenko/EPA
Walburga Habsburg Douglas (second from right), head of an observer mission, said the democratic process failed.

KIEV — International observers delivered scathing criticism Monday of Ukraine’s parliamentary election, saying the vote was heavily tilted in favor of President Viktor F. Yanukovych’s Party of Regions through the abuse of government resources, the dominance of media coverage, and the jailing of two prominent opposition leaders.

“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, a Swedish lawmaker who led an observer mission for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly.

With nearly 80 percent of Sunday’s ballots counted by Monday evening, the results showed the Party of Regions well ahead of its opponents, with about 33 percent of the vote.


The Fatherland party of the jailed former prime minister, Yulia V. Tymoshenko, was second in the early results, with about 24 percent. The results also showed the Communist Party with about 14 percent, followed by a party called Punch, led by boxing champion Vitali Klitschko, with 13 percent, and the ultranationalist Freedom Party with 9 percent.

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The election was closely watched as a gauge of developing democracy in this former Soviet republic of 45 million, once viewed as on a steady track toward integration with Europe after the Orange Revolution of 2004.

Framed in that context, the verdict by international observers was devastating.

Andreas Gross, a member of the Swiss Parliament who led a delegation to Ukraine from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, said problems were so deep that even calling a new election would not help.

‘‘We have systemic problems,’’ Gross said. ‘‘To make a new election with the same rules, you get the same result.’’


The observers said there was little opportunity to witness vote tabulation. They also criticized a decision by the Central Election Commission not to release precinct vote totals, noting that exit polls suggested the ruling party’s margin of victory was much smaller than it claimed.

The precise balance of power in the Ukrainian Parliament will not be known for several weeks because half of the 450 seats will be filled by candidates who did not have to declare a party affiliation ahead of Sunday’s vote. They can choose later to align with a party.

The relatively strong showing by the right-wing Freedom party, whose leader, Oleg Tyagnibok, is known for espousing anti-Semitic and racist views, had not been predicted in polls. In parliamentary elections five years ago, the party won less than 1 percent of the vote.

Support for the nationalists seemed in part to reflect a backlash against a law rammed through Parliament this year elevating the status of the Russian language, a move viewed by many as undercutting Ukrainian. The Party of Regions has its base of support in the predominantly Russian-speaking south and east of the country.

But some voters said their support of the ultranationalists was also a protest against the ruling authorities.


The Yanukovych government had been bracing for criticism from international observers and went to great lengths to portray the balloting as free and fair, even installing Web cameras in more than 30,000 polling stations.