Thursday, December 30, 2004

It ain't over 'til it's over

Updated The Christian Science Monitor's valuable Daily Update for December 29 fills us in on the aftermath of the election of Viktor Yushchenko in Ukraine. And it ain't pretty.

Defeated candidate Viktor Yanukovich, despite pre-election promises to the contrary, refused to concede. Instead, Reuters said, he
lodged complaints with the election commission and the country's top court detailing violations during a re-run of a presidential poll....

Yanukovich's aides also lodged complaints at the Supreme Court, a spokeswoman said.
The heart of the 27-page complaint is the claim that 4.8 million old and sick people had been unable to vote because they couldn't make it to the polls. (The Ukrainian Supreme Court had ruled that changes to election laws which banned so-called "mobile voting," allowing people to vote from home, were unconstitutional.)

However, AP reported on Thursday,
[e]lection officials on Thursday rejected Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych's voluminous challenge to results showing he lost this week's presidential revote, saying he did not prove any widespread violations.
Yanukovich will appeal to Ukraine's Supreme Court, but his campaign sounded pessimistic about the outcome, as reflected in an aide's statement that "In a year, we will change power" - a reference to Parliamentary elections coming in 2006.

The Court could still decide that Yanukovich's claim has merit; but in any event, it is highly unlikely to alter the outcome: Since Yushchenko won by about 2.3 million votes, Yanukovich would need to get 74% of those questioned 4.8 million voters to overcome that margin.

What's actually more important here is that the Sydney Morning Herald (Australia) reports that
[s]ince it became clear that he was set to lose, Mr Yanukovich has accused America and western Europe of engineering his rival's victory.
Reuters echoes that
he has vowed never to acknowledge Yushchenko's victory
and the same aide quoted above called on Yanukovich's supporters "to not recognize Yushchenko as a legitimate president."

Looming in the background of all this is the attitude of Ukraine's powerful - and until now dominant - neighbor: Russia. The Morning Herald says that, again, despite previous assurances, Russia is suggesting it might not recognize Yushchenko's victory and is claiming the European observers who said the election was fair were "not objective." Apparently we're supposed to believe that the observers from the Russian-dominated CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States) were completely unbiased and the fact that the government's own exit poll matched the others in showing Yushchenko winning by a comfortable margin is irrelevant.

Since Yushchenko is already going out of his way to make nice with Russia, calling it a strategic ally, it might not be immediately clear why Russia is threatening to make a big deal out of this. One possible reason was suggested by Dmitri Trenin, Deputy Head of the Moscow office of the Carnegie Endowment for Peace, who was quoted by the Turkish daily newspaper Zaman. He
described the developments in Ukraine as a 'middle range democratic bourgeois revolution' and said that Ukraine has different, but extremely critical importance for Russia, the European Union (EU), and the US. Trenin expressed that the Kremlin perceives the government overturn in Ukraine as a 'revolution threat' and indicated that this was the most serious foreign policy test for Russia since 1991.
By "revolution threat," Moscow means a concern that a similar movement, with Western backing, could develop within Russia. That is,
[s]everal members of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) are anxious following the successes of the 'rose revolution' in Georgia last year and then the 'orange revolution' in Ukraine. ...

Experts tell Zaman that the movement in Ukraine that originally stemmed from internal dynamics, despite its external affects, might lead to concern that it may set an example for all CIS members.
Or, more simply put, it's good, old-fashioned narrow self-interest talking: They're scared that the idea of "people power" being able to overthrow ossified bureaucracies could spread - mirroring, interestingly enough, our Cold War paranoia about the spread of "communist insurrection."

Well, I would hope that people power revolutions do spread. Because if they do, well dammit all, maybe we can have one here.

Footnote: Still, it's important to keep in mind that the victory here is not who won but how, that it was, again, people power that overturned the fraud. Yushchenko himself is no jewel; a former head of the state bank, he is quite enamored of "Western markets." In fact, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroder congratulated Yushchenko by saying: "I am convinced that Ukraine under your leadership will continue to forcefully pursue its course towards democracy and a market economy under the rule of law." And we all know how well those "market economies" have worked in other places in the region - like Russia.

Updated to reflect the decision of the Electoral Commission to reject Yanukovich's appeal.

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