Ukrainian Elections and Openness Offer New Opportunity to Europe

Ukraine completed its parliamentary elections to a pronouncement of free and fair elections by those who actually monitored the voting, and to displeasure by those few who disregarded poll procedures and fairness and only focused on Yulia Tymoshenko. The election totals and the processes themselves, before and after the elections, offer Europe not only the proof it needs that Ukraine’s democracy is moving in the right direction, but the opportunity to re-assess the troubled relationship between Kyiv and Brussels.

The move beyond Tymoshenko as the sole arbiter of Ukraine’s democracy is already underway in Ukraine. It is time to take that move into the larger world.

First, it is necessary to look at the election results themselves. The final totals — with the governing Party of Regions gaining ten seats, the United Opposition losing 55 seats, and its allies Svoboda and UDAR picking up 77 between them — are broadly in line with the months of national polling done prior to the elections themselves. (Regions actually slightly underperformed, as did UDAR; Svoboda overperformed.) More importantly, out of 450 seats, in only 5 constituencies was the voting so fouled that the Central Election Commission has ordered a re-vote. While not the best result in history, for a nation broken under the Communist yoke until just two decades ago, this is a remarkable achievement.

Second, all of this came while former Prime Minister Tymoshenko was imprisoned. Counterfactuals make for poor policy — something Brussels should realize — but it seems fairly clear that based on the results, Tymoshenko’s Batkivshchyna party lost overwhelmingly to its coalition partners, who in turn are in no small part composed of former Batkivshchyna members. Some international organizations have adopted the line that Batkivshchyna was doomed because of Tymoshenko’s imprisonment; a more logical view appears to be that Batkivshchyna was doomed because even its own Members of Parliament left to join new parties.

Kirill Kulikov, a member of UDAR, touched on this some weeks ago by noting that many Ukrainians wanted an alternative to the Party of Regions — but not Batkivshchyna, which has become entirely about and for Tymoshenko all the time.

It is time for Europe to see this truth as well. At a recent roundtable at the École Militaire in Paris, led by former President of Poland Aleksander Kwasniewski, a group of senior statesmen said as much themselves. Kwasniewski, the co-head of the European Parliament’s Monitoring Mission to Ukraine, put if best when he said, “If Europe wants to share its values and standards, it should engage more actively with Ukraine.”

Engagement with Ukraine has already helped draw it down the European path. For all of the noise about Tymoshenko, her case is currently on appeal to the European Court of Human Rights, whose decision Kyiv has promised to honor. Whatever the shortfalls with Ukraine’s new election law — passed overwhelmingly by both parties in Parliament and drafted with the aid and guidance of the Vienna Commission — Ukraine has committed not only to improving the law, but to working with Europe to do so.

As the participants at the same conference noted, this is the future for which Europe should be striving, rather than indifferently pushing Ukraine into Russia’s waiting arms. “We look forward to when Ukraine will be deeply rooted in the EU, rather than moving into the other direction,” Hervé Maurey, a French senator and member of the Inter-Parliamentary Association with Ukraine, said.

As of this writing, the Opposition pact (Batkivshchyna, UDAR, and the fascists) are protesting the election results, even though they closely match the poll results and even though UDAR and the fascist Svoboda party initially praised them. (Their phenomenal gains at those same elections were likely the cause of their initial approval.) Western observers generally do not understand this, but this is nothing new for the Opposition. When Tymoshenko was unable to parlay her office as Prime Minister into a winning Presidential bid in 2010, she promptly declared the election results tainted, ignoring the fact that it was her Government running the elections.

As the Opposition coalition’s temper tantrum is nothing really remarkable (based on Ukrainian reactions, the only Ukrainians protesting are the protesters), it is time to look beyond the election to the larger issues.

The foremost of those is Europe. It is time to bring Ukraine in from the cold. It is time for the fear of Russia and the political currents created by the eurozone’s never-ending meltdown to be put aside. It is time to move beyond Tymoshenko — whose appeal before the European Court of Human Rights Kyiv has agreed to honor — and for Ukraine’s sake and Europe’s, chart a new path, together.

Image Copyright Shutterstock.com/Alexander Kalina