Unfair Fight Ukrainian Election Criticized as Votes Counted

As votes are tallied after Sunday's parliamentary election in Ukraine, President Victor Yanukovych's party seems to be the likely winner. But international observers on Monday highlighted flaws in the election process, with the OSCE saying the country had taken a "step backwards" on the road to democracy.

A woman watches monitors showing a representative of jailed former Prime Minister Tymoshenko's party speak.

A woman watches monitors showing a representative of jailed former Prime Minister Tymoshenko's party speak.

It will be days before all the votes are counted from Ukraine's parliamentary election, which took place on Sunday. But already international observers are criticizing the process.

In a report released Monday, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said that the elections "were characterized by the lack of a level playing field, caused primarily by the abuse of administrative resources, lack of transparency of campaign and party financing, and lack of balanced media coverage."

With about half of the ballots counted for the 450 member assembly, the ruling party of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych appears to be the likely winner. His pro-business Party of Regions had about 34 percent of votes and appears to be able to secure a majority. The Communist party, Yanukovych's current coalition partner, has about 15 percent of the vote.

Meanwhile, 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 22 percent of the vote. The UDAR, or "STRIKE" party of former heavyweight boxer Vitali Klitschkohas around 13 percent.

The nationalist Svoboda party has nearly 9 percent of the votes, enough to score a number of parliamentary seats for the first time.

Leading Behind Bars

Tymoshenko has been symbolically leading her party from behind bars after she was sentenced to seven years in prison last autumn on charges of abuse of power. Yanukovych's government accused her of overpaying Russia in a gas deal and she was not eligible to register as a candidate.

Tymoshenko has been a vocal critic of the current Ukrainian government, and both the United States and European Union have also condemned her imprisonment.

The OSCE cited Tymoshenko's imprisonment and that of another prominent opposition candidate, Yuriy Lutsenko, as the key impediments to fair elections in Ukraine.

"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, the Swedish MP who headed the OSCE delegation, in a statement. "One should not have to visit a prison to hear from leading political figures in the country."

rr - with wire reports


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