Troubling Pre-Election Developments in Ukraine

Troubling Pre-Election Developments in Ukraine

Hon.
Ben Nighthorse Campbell
United States
Senate
108th Congress Congress
Second Session Session
Tuesday, January 20, 2004

Mr. President, as Co-Chairman of the Helsinki Commission and the sponsor of the 2002 Senate-passed resolution urging the Ukrainian Government to ensure a democratic, transparent and fair election process in advance of their parliamentary elections, I find recent developments relating to upcoming presidential elections in Ukraine deeply troubling.

 

Ten months before these critical elections, a constitutional amendment is making its way through the Ukrainian parliament designed to ensure that the current, corruption riddled powers-that-be retain their grip on power, neutralizing the leader of the biggest democratic fraction in parliament and Ukraine’s most popular politician, Victor Yushchenko. The amendment calls for abbreviating the presidential term for the October 2004 elections to two years, with the election of a president by the parliament in 2006, notwithstanding opinion polls indicating that the overwhelming majority of Ukrainians support preserving direct presidential elections. This amendment had been approved by Ukraine’s Constitutional Court in a decision which has led many observers both within and outside of Ukraine to question the independence of the Court. The Court’s decision a few weeks ago to allow President Kuchma to run for a third term - despite the 1996 constitution’s two-term limit, has only raised more questions.

 

Media repression continues, including the issuance of directives sent to media by the Presidential Administration on what and how issues and events should be covered, especially in the electronic media. A recent Freedom House report concludes that "the current state of affairs of Ukraine’s media raises serious questions as to whether a fair and balanced electoral contest can be held." Newspapers critical of the authorities are subjected to various methods of repression, including attacks against journalists, arrests of publishers, "special attention" via tax inspections, administrative controls over distribution and pressure on advertisers.

 

Mr. President, at the same time, administrative measures are being taken to prevent lawful political activity, the starkest example of which was the disruption - instigated by the authorities - of a national congress of the Yushchenko-led Our Ukraine bloc in Donetsk last November. Most recently, a presidential decree dismissed the elected Our Ukraine mayor of Mukachevo - despite a ruling by the Supreme Court which confirmed that he had been elected in a legitimate way. In a telling twist, an acting mayor from the political party led by the head of the Presidential Administration, Victor Medvedchuk, has been installed.

 

As Co-Chairman of the Helsinki Commission, I share the concern of colleagues on both sides of the aisle that the presidential election in Ukraine scheduled for October be free, fair, open and transparent and conducted in a manner consistent with Ukraine’s freely-undertaken commitments as a member of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). The Helsinki Commission, consistent with our mandate to monitor and encourage compliance with OSCE agreements by all participating States, will continue to follow the situation in Ukraine closely.

 

Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the text of a recent Washington Post editorial on troubling pre-election developments in Ukraine be included in the Record. Thank you, Mr. President.

 

There being no objection, the material was ordered to be printed in the Record, as follows:

 

[From the Washington Post, Jan. 12, 2004]

A Resolution for Ukraine

 

According to Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, the Bush administration's first foreign policy resolution for 2004 is "to expand freedom." And not only in Iraq and the Middle East: In an op-ed article published in the New York Times, Mr. Powell promised to support "the consolidation of freedom in many new but often fragile democracies . . . in Latin America, Europe, Asia and Africa." We hope that support will extend beyond the rhetoric that too often has substituted for genuine democratic advocacy during President Bush's first three years, and that it will be applied even where the United States has interests that make toleration of autocracy tempting.

 

One region where such U.S. engagement, or its absence, might prove decisive is the band of former Soviet republics to the west and south of Russia. Several are struggling democracies; others are ruled by autocrats. Almost all are under threat from Moscow's resurgent imperialism. As the tiny state of Georgia recently demonstrated, democracy is the best defense against Russian President Vladimir Putin's attempts to create a Kremlin-dominated sphere of influence. Countries that have held free and fair elections have tended to gravitate toward strengthening their independence and seeking good relations with the West, while unstable autocrats are more likely to yield to Mr. Putin.

 

The country closest to a tipping point may be Ukraine. Like Russia, Ukraine has an electoral democracy tainted by corruption and strong-arm tactics and an economy warped by clans of oligarchs. Much of its population, however, aspires to integration with the West. President Leonid Kuchma has been linked to corruption and serious human rights violations. In recent months he has been moving steadily closer to Mr. Putin, allowing a Russian takeover of much of Ukraine's energy industry and signing an economic integration treaty.

 

Now Mr. Kuchma appears to be looking for ways to curtail Ukraine's democracy so that he can prolong his own hold on power when his term expires this year. Last month his allies in Parliament pushed through the first draft of a constitutional amendment that would cut short the term of the president due to be elected in October and provide that future presidents be chosen by Parliament, where Mr. Kuchma's forces retain control. Then the judges he appointed to the Supreme Court ruled that the constitution's two-term limit does not prevent Mr. Kuchma from serving again. The president's cronies protest that they are only moving the country toward a more parliament-centered system, and Mr. Kuchma coyly says he has not "yet" decided to seek another term. But the effect of his moves would be to neutralize the country's most popular leader, Viktor Yushchenko, who, polls say, would win the next presidential election if it were fairly held.

 

More than Mr. Kuchma's quest for continued power is at stake. Mr. Yushchenko is popular precisely because he is associated with those Ukrainians who seek to consolidate an independent democracy and move the country toward integration with Europe. Mr. Putin surely will be sympathetic to Mr. Kuchma's subversion of the system. The question is whether the Bush administration will work with Western Europe to mount an effective counter. Freedom could be consolidated this year in Ukraine or slip away. The outcome may just depend on how well Mr. Powell keeps his resolution.

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