Delays in Ukraine ballot counting distressing, Canada says

Canada is expressing its concern as the counting of ballots in Ukraine's Oct. 28 parliamentary elections drags on.
A supporter of the Ukrainian Opposition party carries a poster depicting jailed politician Yulia Tymoshenko at a rally outside the Central Elections Commission building in Kyiv Nov. 6. Ukraine's opposition parties are protesting alleged election fraud in last month's parliamentary election. (Sergei Chuzavkov/Associated Press)

Canada is expressing its concern as the counting of ballots in Ukraine's recent parliamentary elections drags on.

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird and International Co-operation Minister Julian Fantino issued a statement Monday calling on election officials and party leaders in Ukraine to ensure that the millions of people who voted Oct. 28 are heard.

"Canada is distressed by the lack of openness, transparency and timeliness that has characterized vote tabulation," the statement said.

"Sadly, this is just the latest in the series of irregularities that has characterized the campaign overall and confirms reports that Ukraine’s parliamentary elections did not meet the democratic standard that Ukrainians have the right to expect."

President Viktor Yanukovych's party claimed victory in the parliamentary elections, which were marred from the start by the jailing last year of former premier Yulia Tymoshenko, who finished second to Yanukovych in presidential elections in 2010.

Final election results have not been released.

Canadian observers

Canada sent about 500 observers to monitor the elections. It was the fifth consecutive election in Ukraine to which Canada sent observers.

Sen. Raynell Andreychuk, who headed up Canada's election observer contingent, known as Mission Canada, complained of "worrying signs" the day after the vote.

Andreychuk said she was concerned about a regression in Ukraine's electoral process and in the democratic environment in the country, saying monitors had seen vote buying and campaigning at polling stations, which is a violation of Ukrainian law and international standards, as well as a lack of freedom of the press and for parties other than the governing party.

Mission Canada has already complained of serious problems in the tabulation of votes, including long delays, manipulation of electronic results and counting taking place in "crowded, tense and often terrible conditions."

In a statement released Nov. 2, Mission Canada said its observers had noted cases of pressure and intimidation on elections authorities that, along with the tabulation delays, amounted to "evidence of attempts to purposefully manipulate results, particularly in competitive races" in areas such as Kyiv.

In a speech to Canada's election monitors on the eve of their departure for the country Oct. 26, Prime Minister Stephen Harper pointed to Ukraine's political struggles.

"As our own all-party parliamentary committee recently concluded, and I quote: 'There is serious cause for concern about Ukraine’s democratic development and respect for the rule of law,'" Harper said.

"We continue to call upon President Yanukovych to respect judicial independence, to cease the harassment of opposition voices and to conduct an election that is indeed free and fair," he added.