In December 2004 some 500 Canadians were involved in monitoring the Presidential
Election in Ukraine. This election was called after the results of the
previous presidential election were declared invalid by the Supreme Court
of Ukraine. This article offers some reflections from one of the many
present and former Canadian legislators who served as election observers.
The Canadian contingent of election observers was co-ordinated by Canada
Corps and was divided into 17 teams of approximately 20 observers. Team
logistics were coordinated by a team leader and a Canadian liaison officer.
Every effort was made to be non partisan and we were cautious to not wear
Yanukovych Blue or Yushchenko Orange. Our mission was to focus on the
election process. We familiarized ourselves with the pertinent sections
of Ukrainian Electoral law so that we could comment objectively and impartially
on whether legal processes were followed and whether there were observable
violations of the electoral procedures.
We were welcomed at virtually every turn by a population eager to show
the world that Ukraine can conduct a fair and transparent election, and
that Ukraine wants to be known as democratic as well as independent. For
the actual observations we worked in pairs with the support of a driver
and an interpreter.
On Christmas Day, we drove to polling stations to check for suitability
of location, accessibility and election preparedness. We found that the
ballots had all been secured in safes, and the revision to voters lists
had been legally completed and secured as of 8:00 p.m. that night. Being
eight hours ahead of Saskatchewan time, we had an opportunity to make a
telephone call home to assure our families wed be back for New Years
Eve and Ukrainian Christmas.
Polling stations in Ukraine are run by Precinct Electoral Commissioners
(PEC) made up of equal numbers of members from each side to a maximum of
16 people. Leadership for the PEC was comprised of two people, the head
and the secretary, one representing each candidate.
Election day monitoring, which included taking notes and photographing
the election process, began at 7:15 a.m. on December 26th. We arrived
at a precinct to observe the PEC take the ballots and voters lists out
of the safe, count the ballots, seal the boxes, give final instructions,
and open the doors to the polling stations at 8:00 a.m.
Ballots were distributed to voters by commission members working in pairs.
For each ballot, the voters list was cross-checked, and the tear-off
portion of the ballot was signed by a commission member and by the voter.
Voters took their ballots to private voter booths as they would in Canada
and then proceeded to drop their ballots into the transparent, sealed boxes.
A local observer kept count of each ballot as it was dropped into a box.
The balloting process I saw was well organized and orderly. As we traveled
from poll to poll, we noticed a steady turnout at the polls, with no last
minute rush before the 8:00 p.m. closing time. The voter turnout at approximately
77% was enviable by Canadian standards.
Ukrainian law provides for mobile boxes to be taken to those who are unable
to walk or travel to polling stations. Most of these polling stations
are not wheelchair accessible. To vote by mobile ballot, disabled voters
must be pre-registered.
Two commission members, one for each side, plus observers travel to the
addresses of the pre-registered voters with a mobile ballot box. About
40 ballots of a total of 2,000 were cast in this manner in the precinct
Access to the mobile balloting process is a current political issue. Ukrainian
electoral law was amended after the first run-off to restrict mobile balloting
to only those most severely handicapped. This amendment was done to reduce
the incidence of abuse, alleging excessively large numbers of votes were
recorded through the mobile votes. Opponents to changes say that the new
law restricted large numbers of voters from their right to vote.
A last minute ruling of the Supreme Court moderately relaxed the eligibility
requirements for access to the mobile ballots.
Once the polls were closed, the PEC first went through a routine procedure
of dealing with complaints filed to the PEC. Then they counted the total
number of ballots, compared that with the numbers on the voters list and
the tear-off portions of the ballot. The Commission Chair, together with
the Commission Secretary, then examined each of the ballots and placed
them on one of four piles: for candidate A, candidate B, none of the above,
or the spoiled ballot pile.
In this precinct, the counting lasted for four hours. After the results
were tallied, report sheets were completed and signed by all 16 Precinct
Commission members. This report, along with the packaged ballots, was
delivered to the Territorial Electoral Commission who double checked the
tallies. The TEC sent three out of one hundred PEC reports back for technical
corrections. Even though the counting and tabulation process took all
night and in some cases part of the morning, the Electoral Commissions
took great care to be accurate and to demonstrate transparency.
The combination of revised electoral law, detailed administration of
electoral law and presence of international observers assured the integrity
of this election re-run.
My personal observations are consistent with statements made by the Rt.
Hon. John Turner (official head of Canada Corps) that the Ukrainian presidential
re-run was conducted in a fair and free manner and that flaws observed
were of the human-error type one might see in our own nation.
To Ukrainians it was important to show the world they could conduct a fair
election. The presence of Canadian, Russian, OSCE (Organization for Security
and Cooperation in Europe), U.S., and partisan Ukrainian observers probably
helped to deter falsification of the election results.
I believe this Canada Corps mission not only helped Ukraine develop her
democracy, but it also served to refocus our Canadian foreign policy onto
worthwhile activity. Canadas role as a nation willing to help other nations
build peaceful and democratic communities was advanced with this mission.
The newly elected President can truthfully say he has the mandate to govern.
He faces high expectations from the voters to adopt fair, transparent
governance processes. In 1991 Ukraine started the process of being independent.
In 2004, Ukrainians embarked on the journey of developing a civil democratic
Reflecting on this experience, I am reminded of the aims of the Commonwealth
Parliamentary Association comprised of elected Legislators throughout the
Commonwealth. The CPA is dedicated to the promotion and development of
democratic processes and institutions. The CPA has assisted many developing
nations to evolve democratic customs and institutions. As a longstanding
CPA member I felt both duty bound and honoured to have taken part in this
election observation mission to Ukraine.