WASHINGTON – “Given Ukraine’s democratic backsliding under Viktor Yanukovych, we have reason to be concerned about the pre-election climate and watchful for attempts to skew the conditions in which the campaigns will be conducted,” said Congressman Chris Smith (NJ-04) at a May 17 hearing he chaired of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe.
The hearing addressed the electoral framework and events that are already shaping, and potentially skewing, Ukraine’s scheduled October parliamentary elections. “Especially disconcerting – and disgusting – is the unjust imprisonment of political opposition leaders, former Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko and former Interior Minister Yuri Lutsenko, removing their participation in the elections and casting a shadow over the entire election process,” said Smith. “Unless they and other senior former government officials are released from prison and restored to their full political and civil rights, the October elections will, by the very fact of their imprisonment, be tainted.”
Testifying at the hearing from Kyiv via skype was Yevhenia Tymoshenko, daughter of Yuliya Tymoshenko, who told the Commission of fears for her mother’s life in the hospital where she is currently receiving treatment and called for continued pressure on the Ukrainian authorities to release political opposition figures.
Also testifying at the hearing were David Kramer, President, Freedom House, Stephen B. Nix, Regional Director, Eurasia, International Republican Institute (IRI), Katie Fox, Deputy Director, Eurasia, National Democratic Institute (NDI), Gavin Weise, Deputy Director, Europe and Asia, International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES).
Witnesses examined the potential impact on the upcoming elections of Ukraine’s democratic backsliding, including the consolidation of power in the presidency, pressures on the media, civil society, and the opposition, especially selective prosecution of political opponents. Witnesses also discussed the legal framework and administration of the elections, ways to restore credibility to the electoral process, gave recommendations for policymakers, and described the work of their organizations with civil society and political parties in Ukraine.
To read Chairman Smith’s opening remarks and the testimony of witnesses, please click here.