Magazine article Newsweek International

Counting the Vote; in Pursuit of Democracy, Citizens Use Their Time off to Monitor Elections

Magazine article Newsweek International

Counting the Vote; in Pursuit of Democracy, Citizens Use Their Time off to Monitor Elections

Article excerpt

Byline: Walter Alarkon

Viktor Shevchenko, a technology consultant based in Ottawa, had planned to spend last Christmas on the beach. "I could have gone to sunny Florida or Mexico," he says. But he opted instead for Ukraine, where the average December temperature is minus 3 degrees Celsius.

Shevchenko, a Canadian citizen born in Ukraine, had seen news reports questioning the legitimacy of the country's recent presidential election and the alleged poisoning of opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko. So he signed up to be one of the 500 election observers sent by CANADEM, a nonprofit agency funded by Canada's Department of Foreign Affairs, to watch the Dec. 26 revote. "[It was] my modest input into spreading the cause of freedom and democracy in the world," he says.

Shevchenko, 41, joins a small but growing contingent of conscientious citizens willing to give up their vacation time in the name of political freedom. Democracy can be messy, as it has been in Ukraine and, to a greater extent, Iraq in the past year. It depends on free and fair elections, which in turn require independent monitors. In Ukraine, a staggering 12,000 people showed up to monitor the revote. While smaller national agencies such as CANADEM sent their own observer missions to Kiev, international bodies such as the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the United Nations lead most missions, which have fewer but more experienced monitors. As for expenses, the countries providing the monitors to the international missions generally foot their bills. …

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