Congratulations to the people of Ukraine for turning out in impressive numbers—close to 63 percent, higher than in the 2014 election—to vote in the first round of the country’s presidential election. With the upcoming second round runoff set for April 21 and then the parliamentary (Rada) elections in the fall, Ukrainians have additional opportunities to send a strong message to the world that they themselves will determine their country’s future, not outside, destructive forces.
The OSCE’s highly respected Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), the leading observer of elections in the OSCE region, assessed Sunday’s first round in mostly positive terms. “Sunday’s presidential election in Ukraine was competitive, voters had a broad choice and turned out in large numbers,” it said in a press release issued the day after the election. “Fundamental freedoms were generally respected, and candidates could campaign freely…The media landscape is diverse, but campaign coverage lacked in-depth analysis and was often biased,” according to ODIHR’s observers. Other reputable monitors offered similar assessments.
Among the successes, there were also areas for improvement. “While the existing legal framework offers a sound basis for holding democratic elections,” ODIHR noted, “it was often not implemented in good faith by many stakeholders in the run-up to election day. This negatively impacted trust in the election administration, the enforcement of campaign finance rules, and the effective resolution of election disputes, the international observers concluded in a preliminary statement released today…[N]umerous indications of vote-buying and the misuse of state resources undermined the credibility of the process.”
Equally important, the ODIHR press release acknowledged the challenging conditions under which the election was conducted. “The election is taking place in the context of ongoing armed conflict and other hostilities in the east of the country and the illegal annexation of the Crimean Peninsula by the Russian Federation,” it stated. “As a consequence, the election could not be organized in Crimea and certain parts of Donetsk and Luhansk regions that are controlled by illegal armed groups.”
As the International Republican Institute explained in its Preliminary Statement issued on April 1, Russian occupation of Ukrainian territory “effectively disenfranchised approximately 12 percent of the country’s electorate, around six million voters, and displaced an additional 1.4 million, or 4 percent.”
While the Ukrainian authorities were on high alert this time around to defend against possible cyberattacks aimed at the Central Election Commission, as happened in 2014, Russian propaganda tried to discredit the legitimacy of the vote all the way up to election day. As described by our partner Detector Media in their weekly monitor, Russian propaganda outlets falsely claimed that NATO applied “psychological pressure on Ukraine” ahead of the election and that the vote would exacerbate the “civil war” in Ukraine. In reality, Russia’s invasion of Ukrainian territory and violation of its sovereignty spawned the war in eastern Ukraine. Russian propaganda cannot erase those facts.