Ukraine's presidential election represents one of the most important events in the country since independence. Unfortunately, the campaign and first round of voting failed to meet democratic standards.
The first round of voting in Ukraine's presidential election ended in a virtual tie. Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich and Viktor Yushchenko, a former prime minister, each received around forty percent. A runoff will be held November 21st.
One of the most serious election irregularities in Ukraine concerned outdated voting lists. Many names were on the lists that should not have been, including those of dead people. Other names that should have been included were not. Observers reported problems in forty percent of all polling stations. Observers also reported bias by the state media, interference by the government in favor of Mr. Yanukovich, and disruption of opposition campaign events by authorities. Moreover, the government harassed opposition supporters and stifled the independent media.
Bruce George led the observer mission in Ukraine of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. He said, "We have to conclude that this election did not meet a considerable number of O-S-C-E, Council of Europe, and other European standards for democratic elections. Consequently, this election process constitutes a step backward from the 2002 elections."
U.S. State Department spokesman Adam Ereli called on Ukrainian authorities to create the conditions for a free and fair runoff election:
"We see the second round of the election on November 21st as an opportunity for Ukraine to affirm its commitments to democratic principles, and we urge the Ukrainian authorities to allow the people of Ukraine to choose freely and to adhere, and for the government to adhere, scrupulously to internationally accepted standards for tabulating and registering results."
For the runoff to be judged free and fair, it is critical that the government of Ukraine ensure that both candidates have equal access to the media. It is also essential that authorities refrain from interfering in the electoral process. Violations committed during the first round should be prosecuted. The people of Ukraine deserve to participate in an election that reflects their will.