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You're reading: US warns that Ukraine risks failing election test

YALTA, Ukraine - Ukraine's parliamentary election next month risks falling short of democratic standards and further damaging the former Soviet republic's ties with the West, a senior U.S. official warned on Saturday.

Just a day after Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich said
the Oct. 28 poll would help Ukraine seal a long-sought
association agreement with the European Union, Deputy Assistant
Secretary of State Thomas Melia said it could receive a “failed”
grade.

“Ukraine could find itself increasingly distant in all
directions rather than integrated in all directions,” Melia told
a conference in the Black Sea resort of Yalta attended by senior
Ukrainian officials including Prime Minister Mykola Azarov.

“The election is another important moment for national
choices, national decision-making and I think that unless or
until some significant steps are taken to improve things like
the election environment you are not going to be able to move as
closely as many of you want to Europe and the United States.”

Analysts expect Yanukovich’s Party of the Regions and its
allies to retain a majority in parliament, even though the
government has taken a hit since his election in February 2010
because of unpopular tax and pension reforms and little progress
in improving the business climate.

EU officials on Friday expressed a similar dim view of
Ukraine’s democratic progress under Yanukovich, saying the case
of jailed opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko remained a
stumbling block to good relations

Yanukovich’s key opponent, Tymoshenko, a former prime
minister, was sentenced to seven years in prison last October on
abuse-of-office charges and cannot stand in the election,
although her party Batkivshchyna (Fatherland) is running.

Brussels and Washington have condemned Tymoshenko’s trial as
an example of selective justice and urged her release but
Yanukovich has refused to intervene.

Speaking at the same conference on Friday, Yanukovich
ignored the Tymoshenko case and said the October poll would help
Ukraine’s integration into the European mainstream, a top
priority in his foreign affairs agenda.

But Melia made it clear that Tymoshenko’s jailing would
affect the West’s judgment on the election as an exercise in
democracy.

“I think with the political prosecution, politically
directed prosecutions against certain opposition candidates,
that has serious consequences on the quality of the election
here,” Melia said.

He said some Ukrainian media were biased against the
opposition in their coverage while others, such as the TVi
television station which has complained about tax police raids
and steps reducing its audience, were under pressure.

“Some of the independent media like TVi are undergoing very
specific, directed harassment,” Melia said.

He also questioned the procedure used to appoint local
election commissions.

“The way that election administration is organised, in a
very strange way that election commissions are being selected by
lottery and major political parties are not participating in the
election commissions that administer the vote and count the
votes, that is going to have consequences for the evaluation of
this election process.”

Melia urged the government to address these issues before
the poll.

“It is time for choices to be made by Ukrainians. Good
choices will work, bad choices will have consequences. There is
a number of things that could be done yet,” he said.

“I think if the international community, the international
observers were to give a grade today on this election
environment and whether it is going to mark a step towards
Europe and the West, I think it failed that test today.”

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