Clinton: Ukraine Vote a ‘Step Backward’

Posted October 30th, 2012 at 3:10 pm (UTC-5)
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U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is adding her voice to the chorus of international observers criticizing Sunday's parliamentary elections in Ukraine.

Speaking to reporters in the Bosnian capital, Sarajevo, Tuesday, Clinton called the elections a “step backward” for Ukrainian democracy.

Official results show the ruling party of President Viktor Yanukovych maintaining its legislative majority. With more than 95 percent of the votes counted, his Party of Regions leads jailed former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko's pro-Western Fatherland Party by a margin of 31 percent to 25 percent.

Election observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe say the president's party used state funds to finance its campaign and improperly controlled the flow of information.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov has dismissed criticism of the elections for the 450-seat unicameral parliament, citing what he described as “positive” assessments from a number of election observation missions.

“We already know statements from the whole range of election observation missions. Every single one of them is positive. And we hope that as a whole, all those international observers will finish their work with such a positive conclusion.''

Ms. Tymoshenko announced Monday that she is starting a hunger strike to protest the outcome of the elections. The opposition leader was unable to take part in the vote, as she is more than one year into a seven-year prison sentence for abuse of power.

Speaking in Sarajevo Tuesday, Clinton called the Tymoshenko conviction “politically motivated” and urged Ukraine to put an “immediate end” to “the selective prosecution and detention of political opponents.”

“We call upon the leadership to stop the backwards slide that Ukraine is in and start once again living up to the aspirations of the Ukrainian people.”

Victory for the ruling party will likely cement Mr. Yanukovych's leadership status. He is midway through a five-year presidency marked by an accumulation of presidential powers and antagonism with the West.

Still, the results show some newer opposition parties making gains, including the pro-Western Udar, or Punch, party, led by world heavyweight boxing champion Vitaly Klitschko. Udar drew nearly 14 percent of the vote, while the nationalist Svoboda, or Freedom, Party had just over 10 percent. Ukraine's Communist Party also received more than 13 percent of the vote.

Voters cast ballots to select party lists to fill half of the parliament seats. The other 225 seats were filled by individual races in geographic constituencies.