Pre-judging the Ukrainian elections - The Tymoshenko lens

It is no secret to those who read this blog that I have on several occasions during this parliamentary election period, been asked to speak with LTOs (long term observers) from several international monitoring organisations with people in Odessa.

Whilst large sections of recent blog posts cover much of what has been said, lack of political ideology, lack of policy, poor strategy on behalf of certain parties, who is doing what in contravention of election laws etc., not all of what I have discussed for hours with these observes has appeared here - and neither will it - ever.

This is the second set of elections such organisations have sought me out for comment for official reports, and certain “off the record” comments made must remain “off the record” if they are to seek me out again in elections yet to come.

However, the object of this post is to view the Ukrainian elections through a different lens.  An EU lens to be exact.

That EU lens may or may not be tainted by what the election observers report in their final assessments.  As we all know, “political will” has a habit of being blind to reality when it suits.

Here is the latest OSCE interim report and here is the latest, second_interim_report_2012 from CSEOM.  Neither are exactly damning, although both raise the same electioneering issues some of which may very well have serious repercussions on election day itself.

Like so many matters of importance, election observers can only include in their reports what they personally observe.  Hearsay evidence is not evidence - and quite rightly - even if by excluding second hand/hearsay evidence a very ugly picture is sanitised in the process.

Thus, on the basis of what the international observers do observe personally, the results should influence the lens through which those their reports reach actually peer through.  That is indeed the theory.

Now much can change between now and election day on Sunday.  The PECs and DECs may very well get some severe criticism that will radically change the final reports, condemning the elections to a farce.  However if the PECs and DECs manage to do a fairly competent job, the question arises will the elections be seen as free and fair via what is included, rather than excluded, from the international observer reports?

A long time prior to the electioneering, there were serious noises coming from the EU that if Ms Tymoshenko and Mr Lutsenko did not take part due to their jailing, via below par international judicial systems, the elections would not be deemed free and fair - regardless of whether they were technically free and fair or not.

Despite that threat, both have remained in jail.

The last opinion polls prior to the legal purdah over opinion polls being published so close to the election had Ms Tymoshenko’s party polling behind both Party of Regions and UDAR.

Undoubtedly, the EU takes note of the polls.

If only 15% of the nation will actually vote for her party, then naturally 85% of the nation have no desire to see her or her party in power as a result of their votes.  Thus, is viewing the Ukrainian elections via the “Tymoshenko lens” a viable thing for the EU to do?

Should some very robust positions by those looking via the “Tymoshenko lens” change within the EU given the polling figures?

Going by the last released polls, more Ukrainians would want to see Party of Regions continue to run the country than any other political party.  No party has the majority of the nation behind them, but that is not in itself either  unusual or peculiar to Ukraine when governments are formed after elections.   Whether the polls are accurate or not, and what gravity to give polls - I have written about before.  

If Yulia Tymoshenko and her party are as unpopular as the polls would suggest, does keeping the “Tymoshenko lens” firmly to the EU eye when viewing these elections therefore ignore Ukrainian public opinion?

Some recent statements from a meeting of EU leaders past and present that took place in Berlin on 24th October are as follows:

Guenter Verheugen, EU Commissioner for Enlargement 1999 - 2004 - “We should not allow the Tymoshenko case to decide our future relations.”  He also made a very long-winded case that some EU nations are using the Tymoshenko case as a “political instrument” to slow down Ukrainian EU integration.

Former Polish President and current co-leader of the European Parliament’s monitoring mission in Ukraine, Alexander Kwasneiwski:  “While the Tymoshenko case is front and centre, there have been real legal reforms, including a new criminal code”.  He went on to say “Ukraine needs Europe and Europe needs Ukraine”.

Mr Kwasneiwski has a point about reforms.  This year Ukraine has moved up 9 places to 73rd (of 144 evaluated economies) according to the influential World Economic Forum 2012 Report, and according to the World Bank’s 2012 Ease of Doing Business Report, Ukraine moved up 15 places to 137 (of 185 assessed nations).  Not brilliant, but upwardly mobile in no small part due to the reforms taken over the past year.

President of the European Commission 1999 - 2004, Romano Prodi said “Open the door, export democracy and encourage more trade”, going on to say “The Tymoshenko case cannot hinder the future of the country and deeper ties between Europe and Ukraine.  You cannot stop history.  A free and fair election must presage this change.”

Former President of PACE/Council of Europe, Mevlut Cavusoglu stated “The Tymoshenko case overshadows virtually everything, but it should not - the whole country should not be excluded from Europe merely because of Tymoshenko.”  He also went to great lengths to underline that fact that the current election laws under which the elections are taking place were supported by more than 80% of the RADA, including Tymoshenko’s own party.

Probably the most notable comments came from the former Austrian Chancellor, Alfred Gusenbaur who said “If the elections are free and fair, we have to make sure the Association Agreement is signed and ratified successfully.  Europe is dealing with itself at the moment rather than its neighbours.  I say Ukraine should become part of the EU, although this won’t happen overnight.  We should not give up on Ukraine and leave it to Russia.

We used to say Ukraine has to make a choice, but this is not true.  Ukraine has made its choice.  It is us, the EU, who have to make a choice,  We should clearly say that we want Ukraine to become a member of the EU as soon as it meets all necessary standards.”

Thus it appears there are a larger and larger number influential voices within the EU and PACE structures suggesting quite strongly that the issue of Ms Tymoshenko should be seen as exactly that - the issue of Ms Tymoshenko - not the issue with Ukraine.

On many levels they are probably right.  By the time Ukraine ever fully meets the Copenhagen or Maastricht criteria for EU membership, both Ms Tymoshenko and President Yanukovych are likely to be exceptionally elderly, if not pushing up the daisies.

And if the elections are not deemed fair?  The EU still has to deal with the government that will be formed no matter how faulty or manipulated the system was that puts it there.  After all, the EU still deals with China, Russia, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Belarus, Cuba etc - none of which can be said to have free and fair elections or governing bodies legitimised by free and fair public mandate.  Admittedly the Association Agreement probably would not get signed - but it isn’t signed now either.  You would expect the most useful bits of the DCFTA to the EU to somehow splinter off and get signed independently such is political expediency though.

There are issues between the EU and Ukraine that would require on-going cooperation regardless.  Pulling down the iron curtain is not a viable option on so many business, security and policy fronts it would become rather pointless to even try.  The “exceptions” could very well out number the “rule” if that were to be attempted.

It would probably suit both the EU and Ukraine to have these elections deemed free and fair (with necessary critical comment where appropriate) rather than have an additional obstacle put in the way of relations, and through the necessarily strict protocols involved in election monitoring and thus what is included (or not) in reports, if the “Tymoshenko lens” is removed from the EU eye, maybe, just maybe, that may very well just be what happens.