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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Sunday, January 23, 2005

Ukraine vote a victory for democracy

By Frederick C. Schieck

History seldom gives nations a second chance. Yet that is precisely what happened in Ukraine when the voters went to the polls for a second time in five weeks to choose between Viktor Yushchenko and Viktor Yanukovych for president.

Western-leaning reformer Viktor Yushchenko's long and tension-filled drive to become Ukraine's president cleared its final hurdles before dawn on Thursday when government newspapers printed election results and the Supreme Court rejected an appeal by losing candidate Viktor Yanukovych. In the past two years, the U.S. has contributed $17.4 million to support Ukraine's electoral process.

Associated Press library photo • Dec. 27, 2004

I was one of about three dozen election monitors the U.S. Agency for International Development fielded for the Dec. 26 elections, part of a much larger set of international election observers assembled under the auspices of the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe.

Contrary to some reports, we did not support either candidate, nor did we provide financial help to any candidate or political party. Our purpose was to monitor the two parties' adherence to the election rules the Ukrainians themselves had set up in accordance with OSCE norms.

The contrast between the Nov. 21 and Dec. 26 rounds could not be clearer. The Nov. 21 election was claimed by Prime Minister Yanukovych, but was immediately recognized as fraudulent. Widespread demonstrations followed, and the Orange Revolution was born.

But equally important, the Supreme Rada (Parliament) and the Ukraine Supreme Court responded quickly and took steps to invalidate the results, and a new and transparent process was devised for the repeat election.

This was a huge step for the Ukrainian people and the rule of law. Despite Yanukovych's loud objections, his supporters never seriously challenged the new procedures or threatened the Rada's or the court's authority.

Over the course of my observations on election day, I went to a dozen different polling stations and saw for myself how well the process worked. Though many in both parties were suspicious of each other, by and large they respected the rules and worked well together.

Even in Yanukovych's strongholds in the east, the new procedures were followed. The rest, as they say, was history.

Yushchenko's victory was first and foremost a victory for the Ukrainian people. Still, USAID has considerable reason to take pride in the role it played. Since 1992, we have worked to help the Ukrainian people develop the institutions of a modern, prosperous society, responsive to the will of the people, and subject to the rule of law.

U.S. government policies rightfully prohibit us from taking sides in elections. Our programs are required to make a good-faith effort to assist all democratic parties with equitable levels of assistance. Accordingly, we worked with Yanukovych's party as well as Yushchenko's and many others.

Over the past two years, the U.S. government provided $17.4 million to support Ukraine's electoral process. Most of this went through U.S. nongovernmental organizations and focused on training election officials, voter education drives, setting up polling places, and training journalists, judges and poll watchers.

Like Yushchenko, who was poisoned by dioxin in September, Ukraine has overcome a great deal in the 13 years since the breakup of the Soviet Union. As the new president, Yushchenko will face many challenges. Not the least of these is the need to reassure Yanukovych's supporters that the rule of law can serve their needs as well those of the Orange Revolution.

In the meantime, we congratulate President Yushchenko on his victory and wish him success on his inauguration day.

Frederick C. Schieck is deputy administrator for the U.S. Agency for International Development. He wrote this article for The Advertiser.