- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 13, 2004

Observing the Ukraine elections

As former members of Congress and former members of the European Parliament who have spent considerable time in Ukraine as official observers of the election process, we write with concern and alarm in response to the article “Ukraine vote panned, praised,” (World, Nov. 2).

We commend The Washington Times for covering, what we believe, to be the most important, after the United States, election in 2004. However, we disagree with a report of another delegation — which was not affiliated with our group of former members — that states that the election met international standards for fairness and transparency.

We were participants in four nonpartisan delegations sent since July 2004 to various regions in Ukraine to monitor and report on the presidential election campaign. The monitoring program is hosted by the U.S.-Ukraine Foundation and the U.S. Association of Former Members of Congress and were funded by the United States Agency for International Development.

Delegations are not linked to any campaign, candidate or party. As officially registered election observers, our sole mission is to promote free, fair and transparent elections in Ukraine.

Based on our visits to Ukraine, we have serious concerns about the fairness and transparency of the election process, under way since July 4. In total, we visited 34 towns in nine oblasts in Ukraine, where we met local citizens, nongovernment organization representatives, local media outlets, political party representatives and local election officials.

Violations, media oppression and administrative abuses were repeatedly reported across the oblasts visited. Everywhere we heard citizens voice their concerns that their votes will not be counted correctly and that authorities have already determined who will win. We also heard reports that opposition candidates are harassed by the authorities and that citizens are threatened with loss of jobs unless they sign petitions for Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych. The list of violations goes on and on.

Few would dispute that there is not a fully free and independent press in Ukraine. The national and local media is generally owned and controlled by the government and by oligarchs who support the regime in Kiev.

Independent media studies have shown the media to be heavily biased toward the ruling regime candidate. Setting aside the administrative abuses, the overwhelming presence of government-controlled media brings into question how free and fair the election can and will be.

Our concerns have been joined by other delegations hosted by respected organizations: the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, International Republican Institute, Council of Europe, and the European Network of Electoral Monitoring Organizations, a group comprised of civic groups from 16 countries in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.

As a matter of fact, all delegations that we are aware of, except those sponsored by organizations tied to the ruling politicians in Kiev or to Moscow, have stated that the election, including the campaign period, was well below international standards and a significant “step back” from democracy.

The preponderance of evidence pointing to the absence of a free and fair election is huge. We are therefore very concerned — and alarmed — that a group of former members of Congress have called the election free and fair. We cannot imagine how any observer can come to that overall conclusion based on watching ballots cast at a few polling stations on election day.

The problem with this is that it fails to appreciate the distortions that a managed press and patterns of illegality, harassment and intimidation of voters have entered into the democratic election equation.

We believe that the presidential election now under way will determine the course of the country for the next decade or more. It is essential that the presidential election be free, fair and transparent, giving legitimacy to whomever is elected as the new president of Ukraine.

If the new president, whoever that might be, is elected in an election failing to meet international standards for fairness and transparency, he will be isolated from the community of democracies, which are so critical to Ukraine’s economic and political well-being.

A stolen election has the danger of casting Ukraine into the Belarus model, which includes visa restrictions and an uneasy diplomacy that marks state officials as “pariahs.”

The U.S. State Department has already warned that if the election does fail to meet democratic standards, the United States “would [also] need to re-examine our relationship with those who engaged in election fraud and manipulation.”

We hope that our reporting of what we and many others observed in Ukraine will support the forces of democracy. We invite others to join us to stand and speak the truth to Ukrainians and to a world that is closely watching this election. Now is the time to stand boldly and unyieldingly for free and fair elections in Ukraine — the Ukrainian people deserve no less.

MIKE KOPETSKI (Oregon Democrat)

ANDREW MAGUIRE (New Jersey Democrat)

JIM SLATTERY (Kansas Democrat)

JOHN CONLAN (Arizona Republican)

LARRYDENARDIS (Connecticut Republican)

JOHN J. RHODES(Arizona Republican)

DON RITTER (Pennsylvania Republican)

DAN MILLER (Florida Republican)

RICHARD BALFE (European Parliament, United Kingdom)

JOSE POSADA (European Parliament, Spain)

MAARTJE VAN PUTTEN (European Parliament, Netherlands)

Beware Arlen Specter

I agree with Thomas Sowell’s analysis that Sen. Arlen Specter’s voting record is based on the senator’s own political agenda and has little to do with whether a judge is in the “mainstream” or not (“An ominous Specter: Part III, Commentary, Friday).

Mr. Specter expects us to believe that the firestorm surrounding the Robert Bork’s nomination in 1987, with Mr. Bork’s negative poll numbers, played no role in his vote against Mr. Bork. (The nation was more evenly divided during the Clarence Thomas hearings, and Mr. Specter needed to redeem himself with his party.)

Also, Mr. Specter claims that he will not impose a litmus test on judicial nominees. However, he said something entirely different in his book, “Passion for Truth.” In the chapter dealing with Mr. Bork’s nomination to the Supreme Court, Mr. Specter wrote, “In my judgment, the Senate should resist, if not refuse, to confirm Supreme Court nominees who refuse to answer questions on fundamental issues.”

Are we to believe that this pro-choice senator wants judges to take a stand on “fundamental issues,” such as abortion, out of curiosity? Mr. Specter at the helm of the Judiciary Committee is a dangerous proposition for Republicans.

HIRBOD RASHIDI

Los Angeles

‘Saving Private Ryan’ an honorable honor

ABC’s unedited presentation of Steven Spielberg’s “Saving Private Ryan” Veterans Day evening is not a matter of indecency or immorality (“ABC, McCain help save ‘Private Ryan,’” Nation, Friday). “Ryan” is a matter of battlefield reality where our young GIs are forced to finish what the politicians in Washington start.

Yes, the language is rough. If viewers are offended by the stark reality of battlefield conditions, change channels and watch some inane sitcom.

Perhaps a network movie such as this, which ordinarily would be aired for cable programming, will inspire some GI-mom in Iowa without HBO to begin her crusade to get our men and women out of Iraq.

Don’t think for a moment that what America saw Thursday night in terms of violence, mayhem and death is something that was reserved only for our World War II GIs along Omaha’s bloody beach and tidal water.

This movie was presented to honor us, the veterans, on our reserved and hallowed day, Veterans Day. Any fines assessed against ABC, or its affiliate stations for broadcasting “Ryan” would be an egregious affront to us, the true American heroes, the American GI.

EARL BEAL

Terre Haute, Ind.

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