Ukraine's run-off presidential election between Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and her rival, former Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich, to be held on 7 February, may decide on the country's future relations with the EU. All eyes will be fixed on the quality of the process as both candidates voice fairly similar views on Ukraine-EU relations and cooperation with Russia. Following the first-round defeat of the anti-Russian, pro-EU and pro-NATO President Viktor Yushchenko, who explicitly differed from both contenders, the manner in which the elections will be held remains of essential importance to the EU.
FEAR OF FRAUD
Meanwhile, some 72 hours before the polls open, the Ukrainian parliament (Verkhovna Rada) approved a number of highly controversial changes to the electoral law, which, according to EU officials, could enable electoral fraud and prompt thousands of Ukrainian voters to take to the streets of Kiev again. "The decision to change the electoral rules in between presidential election rounds now raises serious concerns," MEPs Elmar Brok (EPP, Germany) and Charles Tannock (EPP, UK) said in a joint statement, issued on 4 February. "The law pushed forward by one of the pro-Yanukovich parliamentary factions allows the votes to be counted in places to which the observers of Yulia Tymoshenko might have no access," Tannock explained in an interview with Europolitics New Neighbours. He will observe the election process in Ukraine as a member of an EP delegation. "This could lead to serious electoral fraud, affecting in turn the final result of the election," he added.
Provided the legal changes are implemented, the election commissions will be able to sign off on the results without the approval of commission members nominated by both sides. In other words, the law scraps the requirement for a quorum of observers at the count.
NEED FOR STABILITY
The EU has insisted throughout the campaign that it would work with the winner of the election, but said it expected the process to be free and fair. Irritated by the continuous political turmoil in Ukraine after the 2004 presidential poll, fueled by bitter rows between the political parties and their leaders, EU officials want the election to pass peacefully, bringing a much-needed stability to the country. …