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Ukraine 28 October 2012 Parliamentary Election

Campaign season for the 28 October 2012 Ukrainian parliamentary elections officially kicked off 01 August 2012. The contest was a key moment for Ukraine and the Viktor Yanukovych administration, as it was the first major election of Yanukovychs presidency and measured just how much popular discontent over his and the ruling Party of Regions rule had grown. The Yanukovych regime earned scorn for what critics said was a steady lurch toward authoritarian rule. Its drive to centralize power and crackdown on public and political opposition helped galvanize popular discontent with the government, leading to a dramatic slide in support and the piecemeal consolidation of the opposition.

A senior U.S. official warned September 15, 2012 that Ukraine's parliamentary elections risk falling short of democratic standards and further damaging the country's ties with the West. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Thomas Melia, speaking at a conference in Ukraine's Black Sea resort of Yalta, said significant steps were required to ensure the October 28 poll would free and fair. A day earlier, EU officials in Yalta expressed a dim view of Ukraine's democratic progress under President Viktor Yanukovych, saying the case of jailed opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko remains a stumbling block to good relations.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych said he was confident his country's parliamentary elections next month will allay concerns in Europe about Ukraine's democratic course. Speaking September 15, 2012 before EU officials at a conference in the Black Sea city of Yalta, Yanukovych said the October 28 vote would cause EU anxieties over Ukraine to "disappear" and clear the way for the "full integration" of the two sides.

On 02 September 2012 Ukraine's Foreign Ministry criticized the outgoing European Union ambassador for his recent comments on the country's political situation. In an interview on August 30 with the "Ukrayinska Pravda" newspaper, Jose Manuel Pinto Teixeira, who spent the last four years as the EU's chief diplomat to Kyiv, criticized the government's continued jailing of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and recent changes to the country's election law. Foreign Ministry spokesman Oleh Voloshyn dismissed Teixeira's remarks as "loudmouthed," noting that "an absolutely different person" will soon be acting as the EU's ambassador to Ukraine.

On September 13, 2012 Ukraine's TVi television channel, one of the country's few remaining independent media outlets, lost its court battle over charges of overdue taxes. Known for its critical coverage of Yanukovych's government, TVi had been in the crosshairs of the Ukrainian authorities for some time. In 2011, it was denied a digital broadcasting license, forcing it to rely on cable networks instead. The penalty follows a raid on the station in July. A separate tax-evasion case against Knyazhytskyy has since been dropped. The onslaught against TVi, right in the midst of the election campaign, sparked an outcry. On September 8, thousands of people took to the streets across Ukraine in defense of the station.

With Ukraine's parliamentary elections just over two months away, In August 2012 opposition campaigners in eastern Ukraine said their voices are being muffled -- in one case by taking down political billboards featuring gigantic cats. In the eastern city of Dniprodzerzhinsk, local council deputy Vitaliy Kupriy is crying foul after 15 election billboards he ordered were simultaneously removed from city streets. Kupriy is running for parliament for the opposition Svoboda Party and his billboards had criticized Ukraine's ruling Party of Regions with slogans like "Are you tired of abuses by the authorities?"

The OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights Election Observation Mission reported 19 October 2012 that "The election campaign is thus far active overall, with significant variations within most regions. In urban areas, there are outdoor rallies, small-scale meetings with voters, tents for the distribution of leaflets and party/candidate newspapers, and political advertising by means of billboards, posters and local media. In rural areas, campaigning tends to be limited to billboards, posters, and occasional meetings with voters. In some electoral districts the campaign is scarcely visible except for a few billboards and posters.

"The abuse of administrative resources by some official bodies is the subject of widespread allegations and has been observed or verified ... in more than 20 instances in a dozen regions. In most cases, instances of abuse of administrative resources have been in support of the Party of Regions or its candidates. This has taken the form of the organization of events by local and regional authorities at which flags, campaign tents or other materials of the Party of Regions are in evidence or where its candidates figure prominently; campaign appearances by the partys candidates together with local officials;18 and teachers and hospital staff being required to attend meetings with candidates. "Party of Regions billboards are dominant in some areas, such as Odessa and Zaporizhzhya, with few for any other party. Opposition parties as well as the Communist Party have claimed that in some areas companies refuse to sell them space or have returned payment after signing rental contracts for billboards or light boards, allegedly due to pressure from local or regional officials."

Olga Shumylo-Tapiola, visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe in Brussels, noted on 25 October 2012 that "According to the latest opinion polls, only five parties will pass the 5 percent threshold and make it into the new parliament (see figure 1). The ruling Party of Regions is leading the polls with 23.3 percent of the vote and is followed by two opposition parties. Boxer Vitali Klitschko's Udar (Punch) Party is expected to win 16 percent of the vote, and the united opposition party, Batkivshchyna (Fatherland), led by the former speaker of the parliament Arseniy Yatsenyuk, 15.1 percent. The Communist Party and the right-wing nationalist Svoboda (Freedom) Party are polling at 10 and 5 percent, respectively. About 24 percent of voters remain undecided, with many disillusioned and likely to stay home this Sunday."

On 28 October 2012 Ukrainians voted in parliamentary elections seen as a test of the democratic credentials of a nation that seesaws between European democracy and Russian authoritarianism. The election came halfway through the five-year presidency of Viktor Yanukovych. Ukrainians voted to renew all 450 seats in parliament. Ukraines new electoral law, enacted late in 2011, handed the Party of Regions an unfair advantage. Half the parliament was elected by established party lists, and half chosen by majoritarian constituencies. Critics and opposition members slammed the manipulation of the latter, by installing dummy and clone candidates to fool voters and funnel votes away from the opposition.

International election monitors gave a strongly negative assessment of Ukraine's parliamentary vote. Walburga Habsburg Douglas, the head of the short-term monitoring mission for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), maintained that the vote had dealt a severe setback to Ukraine's democratic gains: "Considering the abuse of power and the excessive role of money in this election, democratic progress appears to have reversed in Ukraine," she said. The observers criticized the pre-election media coverage as unfair, and also pointed to a lack of transparency in campaign finances and the abuse of administrative resources. They slammed what they called the inordinate campaign spending by the Party of Regions and its financial backers, many of them wealthy businessmen from the partys support base in southern and eastern Ukraine.

With about 70 percent of the votes counted, Yulia Tymoshenko's pro-Western Fatherland Party trailed President Viktor Yanukovych's ruling Party of Regions, 34 to 23 percent. Initial results indicate the Communist Party of Ukraine, Yanukovych's parliamentary ally, finished in third place with about 15 percent of the votes. The initial results showed some newer opposition parties making some gains, including the pro-Western UDAR, or Punch, party, led by world heavyweight boxing champion Vitaly Klitschko. Punch drew about 13 percent of the vote, but even Klitschko was uncertain how much impact his party will have. The nationalist Svoboda - Freedom - Party appeared to have won nearly 9 percent of the vote.

There will be 225 deputies that make up half of the 450-seat parliament elected [in single-mandate districts, many of them] as independents, and many were afraid these people will join with the Party of Regions and the Communist Party and build a strong faction in the parliament. Traditionally, many of those running nominally as independents in the single-mandate districts end up supporting the ruling party. Those districts were abandoned after the 2004 Orange Revolution -- but reinstated with legislation initiated by the Party of Regions in 2011.

Election observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe chastised authorities in Ukraine for their handling of the elections. OSCE mission coordinator Walburga Habsburg Douglas said the vote constituted "a step backwards," in some ways. "Considering the abuse of power and an excessive role of money in this election, democratic progress appears to have reversed in Ukraine," she said.

Jailed opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko announced 29 October 2012 she was launching a hunger strike to protest the vote. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is questioning the credibility of Sunday's parliamentary elections in Ukraine, where initial results show the ruling party maintaining its legislative majority. Secretary Clinton said the vote was a step backward for Ukrainian democracy. "The people of Ukraine deserve so much better," Clinton said. "They deserve to live in a country with strong democratic institutions that respect the rule of law. And these elections did not advance those goals."

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and EU foreign-policy chief Catherine Ashton had expressed concern over political trends in Ukraine in a joint opinion piece in the "International Herald Tribune" newspaper. The two said they were "concerned about reports of the use of administrative resources to favor ruling party candidates and the difficulties several media outlets face." They also wrote about the need to address "selective prosecutions, including the case of former Prime Minister Yulia V. Tymoshenko and other former senior officials."

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