Wednesday, December 22, 2004

The Ukrainian Election

If you've been following the news at all of late, there has been a fascinating sage ongoing in the Ukraine as freedom and democracy strive to express themselves in the face of mass corruption and intimidation. The resilience that has been displayed by the Ukrainian people during the entire scenario has been absolutely inspiring. I'm normally sympathetic to people taking to the streets, as the causes that this is normally done on behalf of are the realms of paranoia, conspiracy theory, anarchy and the odds and ends of leftist drivel which doesn't fit into the first three categories proffered.

I've been following this story more closely than some perhaps, given that its a country I'm only two generations removed from. Although perhaps quintoxicly its one I know very little about given that our country was once far more integrationist than it is now. But the Ukraine and many other countries in that region of the old East Bloc have been making the transition to democracy and the free market in fits. The problems have partially arisen to the corruption that was endemic in the old Soviet system, where "everyone was equal, but some people were more equal than others". That particular status was transferred to the new system through the sale of state assets and some former party insiders had the connections to secure these assets for themselves and to become "oligarchs" in the new system. The amount of blatant cronyism in these countries would make even the worst patronage and partisan ship in Canada pale. In Russia, the Ukraine and all the former East Bloc countries corruption is seen to be rampant.

These problems with the transfer to a Western style economic and political system have been overcome for the most part in Poland and the Czech Republic and Slovakia, whom had a far better method of distribution for former state assets in their country. That has avoided some of the problems now seen in Russia.

The Ukrainian election which was first held several weeks ago was subject to rampant fraud. The dead found there way onto the voters list and voted, ballots were uncounted, voters were left off the voters list, ballot boxes were stuffed, some people voted more than once and various other irregularities have been reported. In a way its fairly standard stuff for the way democracy operated more than a hundred years ago. Bribery, bussing people in to vote from other districts and even the United States, patronage and intimidating people you knew didn't mean to vote for you were standard practice in Canada's early elections. The United States was no better, and the 'election' shown in Gangs of New York serves as a good example of such practices. All democracies experience their growing pains.

To briefly recap the election thus far the two Victors are the candidates seeking offices, Yushchenko and Yanukovych. (Or as I like to think of them good Victor and bad Victor) Yushchenko is the populist candidate in the election, he's taken a pro-democracy, pro-west stance and means to clean up the government to some degree. While Yanukovych is the oligarchs candidate in this particular race and he's taken a pro-Russian position. Putin has been actively backing Yanukovych during the entire election. Both candidates were reportedly within several percentage points of each other during the first round of the election, given that there were a number of other parties running candidates. However, the runoff election showed Yanukovych winning by a few percentage points and there were widespread reports of fraud such as those described above.

The state election office announcing that Yanukovych was winning brought, thousands of people into the streets of the capital Kiev. Its estimated 200,000 people or so took to the streets to protest that decision. People stayed in the streets for a number of weeks, peacefully protesting in downtown Kiev, demonstrating but occasionally blockading state buildings. Given Yushchenko's campaign colour was orange it was a veritable sea of orange there for several weeks.

Several foreign governments have condemned the run-off vote, thankfully Canada's voice was among those expressing the unacceptable practices that occurred during the election. In the Ukraine a plurality of the parliament there swore in Yushchenko unofficially as President. The Supreme Court in the Ukraine heard arguments about the election and eventually mandated a new election on the 26th of December. Canada currently has 600 observers in place to monitor the election, being lead by former prime minister John Turner.

The scandal of the whole affair has been that Yushchenko was poisoned with dioxen. A poison that has long been thought to be extremely poisonous. However, its potency has been rather mythical as unless its utilized in ridiculously large dosages is not fatal. However, he did suffer significant scaring to his face as a result of the poisoning. I hope for his speeding recovery. During the entire campaign the media coverage was decidedly pro Yanukyovch, as the media there is controlled by the oligarchs. However, during the protests thereafter much of the media announced that they were going to begin fair and honest coverage of the matter.

Recent polls have given Yushchenko a 15% point lead over Yanukyovch, 53 to 38% respectively, with a small number of undecided and a few who disliked both candidates. Reportedly all the momentum is on Yushchenko's side indicating his success may well be imminent in the next few days.

Discoshaman is in the Ukraine and has been providing excellent coverage of the entire Orange Revolution since late November. Check out his blog for all the details this somewhat brief post hasn't covered.


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