The World from Berlin: 'Ukraine Disenchanted with European Dream'

Viktor Yanukovych will remain in power after last weekend's election in Kiev, but international observers claim the poll has yet again been tainted by manipulation and inconsistencies. Editorialists in Germany look to Ukraine on Tuesday and ask what the outcome will mean for future cooperation between the eastern country and the European Union.

International observers decried the results of Ukraine's Parliamentary elections Sunday. Zoom
AFP

International observers decried the results of Ukraine's Parliamentary elections Sunday.

By Monday night it was clear that Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych's Party of Regions would stay in power even as international observers and the opposition criticized Sunday's Parliamentary elections.

With 80 percent of the ballots counted, Yanukovych's party has so far captured 34 percent of the vote and the Communist Party, its traditional ally, secured 15 percent. That tally is enough to give Yanukovych's coalition a majority in the country's 450-seat parliament.

Opposition parties had a strong showing despite being at a disadvantage, but still not enough to wrest control from Yanukovych's party. The United Opposition bloc, which includes the Fatherland party of jailed opposition leader and former Prime Minster Yulia Tymoshenko, is in second place with some 23 percent of the vote. The UDAR, or "STRIKE" party, of former heavyweight boxer Vitali Klitschko won around 13 percent of the votes.

The far-right Svoboda or Freedom party secured 9 percent, giving it seats in parliament for the first time.

Hunger Strike

A lawyer representing Tymoshenko -- who is currently in the city of Kharkiv, where she is being treated in a state-run hospital for back pain -- said the former prime minister has gone on a hunger strike over what he described as a "rigged" vote. "This was not an election," attorney Serhiy Vlasenko told Reuters. "This was total vote-rigging."

Last October, a court sentenced Tymoshenko to seven years in prison after Yanukovych's government charged her with abuse of power in a Russian gas deal, claiming she saddled the country with a contract that had been too expensive.

Her imprisonment and that of her top deputy were the main critiques that the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) had regarding the election, calling it a "set back" for the country. They also decried that the ruling party used government funds to finance its campaign and that media coverage was skewed toward Yanukovych's party.

"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," Andreas Gross, head of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) delegation, said in a statement. "Unfortunately, the great democratic potential of Ukrainian society was not realized in yesterday's vote."

After the Orange Revolution in 2004, Ukraine was widely celebrated as taking a step towards Europe. Many of the same players in Sunday's election also featured prominently back then, but with roles reversed.

On Tuesday, editorials at major German newspapers suggest the elections show the squandered potential of the Orange Revolution and prove Ukraine is moving away from Europe.

The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:

"Ukraine is a structurally backwards and authoritarian country. But Yanukovych and his people managed to delude voters into believing that they would best be able to fulfil the nation's yearning dating back to 2004, the dreams of the Orange Revolution, the hope for an opening, for democracy and an alliance with the West while staying friends with Russia at the same time."

"But not all the voters bought that. Almost half of eligible voters stayed at home, because they are not convinced that any party can quell their hunger. Of those Ukrainians who did vote, more cast ballots for the ruling party than did in the previous election -- not because they were voting for greater freedom or pluralism, but because they wanted at least a little more pension money, perhaps a little foreign investment from Europe and, above all, to preserve the status quo."

"It is the sad truth that there is no other people in Europe who are so disenchanted with the European dream."

"The opposition party, coalesced around incarcerated Tymoshenko, didn't do too badly. If you factor in massive election manipulation that took place in the run-up to the vote, the regime-critical party convinced nearly half of all voters. But that wasn't enough in the end. Any kind of renewed uprising or second Orange Revolution appears to lie in the distant future. Yanukovitch has been successful in his policies: He has drowned out hunger with paternalism."

The left-wing Die Tageszeitung writes:

"The results of parliamentary elections in Ukraine are in many respects a déjà vu -- and that applies to Yanukovych's Party of the Regions, which, as expected, performed well in the eastern, Russian-speaking part of the country."

"But that also applies to numerous manipulations that took place during the campaign and on election day itself. This time, too, the same kind of tactics known in other Soviet successor states have played out: intimidation of opposition politicians and voters, hindering reporting by media critical of the government, the buying of votes as well as the unbalanced allocation of the election commission. And a significant number of the so-called independent direct candidates will be able to switch to the government camp by essentially buying seats. Finally, the entry into parliament by the nationalist Svoboda party yet again underscores a characteristic that has been present in Ukraine since its independence and will likely increase in the future: namely a deep divide between the country's east and west."

"So is everything as it has always been? Not entirely. The opposition parties Fatherland of jailed former Prime Minister Tymoshenko and boxer Klitschko's UDAR missed their chance because they failed to agree on common candidates in most cases. Nevertheless, parts of the anti-Yanukovych camp came out of this election in a strengthened position -- not the least of them being boxing professional and political neophyte Vitali Klitschko, who offers pro-European policies and wants to combat corruption and nepotism. He seems fairly capable, and he could become the engine of a political opposition that actually deserves the label. That would mark a step in the direction of democracy."

The conservative Die Welt writes:

"When election results are influenced it tends to happen before or after the election. That's what the election monitors OSCE meant when they talked about a step back for democracy in the country. Despite this the elections in Ukraine, just as in Georgia before, were rated positively for procedure. It was more deplorable that the disappointment of the voters in the country meant that only 58 percent voted, the lowest turnout since 1991. Frustration was extremely strong. The Communists after a long break were again in second place and the nationalists are in parliament for the first time. ..."

"Nevertheless the democratic opposition proved itself across the country. Despite the chicanery and despite the incarceration of multiple politicians it got around 22 percent of votes. And Klitschko is a further actor on the political stage. As a result, Ukraine remains a pluralistic country. Brussels and Berlin will need to reconsider what can be done with the stalled process toward the (pending) EU-Ukraine Association Agreement, which would lead to closer political ties and economic integration with the country."

The center-right daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:

"Following the equally devastating and correct judgement of international observers about the country's election, the path to the West will remain closed for Ukraine -- at least temporarily. If fundamental changes don't take place soon in Kiev, then the already negotiated (EU) Association Agreement ... will be relegated to the archives. The EU can't react otherwise if it wants to remain credible as a community of values."

"This is bad for both sides, and for the same reason. It increases the danger that Yanukovych will lead the country into Russia's orbit in order to stay in power. That would leave the democratic development of Ukraine -- clearly still desired by many Ukrainians, judging from the election results -- dependent not only on the balance of power in Kiev, but in Moscow too."

"It remains open, of course, whether the possible domestic consequences in Ukraine will really play into Putin's hands. ... A possible escalation in the Ukrainian domestic political conflict could quickly weaken Yanukovych to the point that he falls rather than walks into Moscow's open arms. At the same time, it could also strengthen those powers within the regime that for reasons of economic self-interest would rather do business with the EU than Russia."

The leftist daily Berliner Zeitung writes:

"The facts show that one cannot speak of a democracy in Ukraine. It is not even about the buying of votes or election manipulation.....The issue is actually much simpler: An election in which the leader of the opposition and her most important colleague were not allowed to run because her political arch enemy imprisoned her with the help of willing judges is from the outset unfair and not free. It would be a scandal if the EU were to open itself up on this basis to the authoritarian regime in Kiev. There should be no lazy compromises with Yanukovych, who either doesn't understand or doesn't want to understand the playing rules of democracy. That would not help the people in Ukraine who have deserved a European future."

The Financial Times Deutschland counters that opinion, writing:

"It would nevertheless be a mistake for the European Union to take the judgment (by election observers) as an opportunity to turn its back on Ukraine and cancel the already finished Association Agreement. What would be gained by this? If Europe rejects Ukraine, the country will be able to do nothing but turn to Russia. This wouldn't just be democratically dubious, but also economically and geopolitically problematic."

"Despite all of the criticism that can be heaped on the election in Ukraine, the country is still more democratic than its neighboring countries. The election observers from the OSCE and PACE know this. … Naturally, there cannot be an impression that the EU cooperates with countries regardless of how they approach democracy. It will be a difficult balancing act for the diplomats to express their criticism without alienating Ukraine. ... But the EU should be experienced at this by now."

 -- Renuka Rayasam with wire reports

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