News / Europe

Analysts See Notable Differences Between Ukrainian, Russian Elections

Ukrainian voters
Ukrainian voters
Peter Fedynsky

Political observers have praised the recent Ukrainian elections, saying the outcome of Sunday's second round contest between Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and one of her predecessors, Viktor Yanukovych, is not predetermined.  That's in stark contrast to neighboring Russia, where the 2008 election of President Dmitri Medvedev was a forgone conclusion.  VOA Moscow Correspondent Peter Fedynsky contrasts presidential elections in two former Soviet republics.

About 3,000 foreign election observers declared that, despite a few irregularities, the first round of Ukraine's presidential election on January 17 met international standards for honesty.

Joao Soares, is President of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, which facilitates dialogue among members of the Organization for Security Cooperation in Europe.

"This election was a very good election,said Joao Soares. "It was election of high quality. It offered the voters genuine choice between candidates, and it showed significant progress over previous elections."

The OSCE did not send observers to monitor Russia's 2008 presidential vote citing restrictions imposed by the Russian government.

Liliya Shibanova is head of the independent Russian monitoring group, Golos. She says the organization received a steady stream of complaints about ballot box stuffing, false voter registration and use of multiple ballots.

"What we've observed at polling stations is a lack of control, dependence of the election commissions on the authorities, on the election organizers, massive violations of the political competition and of the election procedure on the whole," said Liliya Shibanova.

Media access before the election was a problem too.

During the Russian presidential campaign, Dmitri Medvedev, in his  capacity then as deputy prime minister, was featured almost daily on state-controlled news programs but opponents were largely excluded.  

The Kremlin's media grip has prompted several prominent Russian journalists to move their programs to Ukraine.

They include Savik Shuster, who now hosts a political talk show from Kyiv. 

"Look, the program runs live, all political parties are present, and the lawmakers are talking, arguing, debating," said Savik Shuster.

In Ukraine, presidential contenders Tymoshenko and Yanukovych have been seeking the support of candidates they defeated in the first round, especially Serhiy Tihipko.

The businessman and former Economics Minister finished third with 13 percent of the vote.

Ms. Tymoshenko has offered him the prime minister's job, if she wins,  in exchange for an endorsement.  Tihipko says he is willing to serve as prime minister regardless of who wins. 

Many Ukrainians say the choice is difficult. Tymoshenko  opponents express fears of what they perceive as her authoritarian streak and poor economic skills.

Mr. Yanukovych's detractors cite his criminal record and say he would serve the interests of oligarchs.  He explains his two prison sentences for assault and robbery as errors of youth more than 40 years ago.

In Moscow, civil servant Yuri Traftov says Ukrainians need not worry.

"Well, what can one say, Ukraine has democracy," said Yuri Traftov. "They are electing a president and this is good. If they are not satisfied, they will elect another one."

No so for Russia.

Russia and Ukraine both prohibit more than two consecutive presidential terms,  

Neither Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin nor President Dmitri Medvedev has ruled out another presidential bid.

But Mr. Putin has also said they would decide between themselves who would run.

And whoever it is, hardly anyone doubts he will win.

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