Remarks on the October 28 Parliamentary Election

September 21, 2012
Anthony Salvia, Director,
American Institute in Ukraine

Many Western commentators proceed on the assumption the elections will be less that "free and fair." They seem determined to find fault.

Let's see what happens.

The fact is: "free and fair" is often more a political calculation than a judgment on the election per se. If Western governments want to find fault and hold Ukraine to account, they will.

Or they may chose to gloss over any electoral shortcomings, as many governments did following Russia's 1996 presidential election, which returned Boris Yeltsin to power, and after our disputed presidential elections in 2000, 1960,1876, etc.

Whatever the degree of freeness and fairness on October 28th, there is every reason to believe the PoR will do well, in part, because it has delivered on many of the key campaign promises it made in 2010.

That has to be taken into account when assessing the current government’s attachment to democracy. Keeping your campaign promises strengthens democracy, and is this regard, the government has done well.

As promised in the 2010 electoral campaign, the government

  • Has conducted a multi-vector foreign policy and maintained a balance between Russia and the West;
  • Improved relations with Moscow compared to the Yushchenko years, even if tensions remain over such issues as the price of imported oil and gas.
  • Delivered at least partially on its promise to regularize the status of the Russian language by liberalizing laws on language rights along European lines.
  • Presided over an economy that has shown remarkable resilience even in the face of economic malaise throughout Europe, although the price of imported gas remains a major problem for the government.

So, if PoR does well, what will Western governments do?

I believe their response will be measured.

They will criticize the results, but will refrain from calling for and supporting a mobilization to overturn them. In any case, the results themselves are unlikely to warrant it. If those results are broadly in line with tracking and exit polls, the West will have a hard time overturning them.

In view of the West's profound economic and political problems -- including Washington's shrinking relative power -- the West is less able than it used to be to foment optional crises in other parts of the world.

Finally, to the extent the West still sees Ukraine as the object of competition with Russia, it will not want to gear up for an unsuccessful challenge that would only push Kiev further towards Moscow.