The Ukrainian Canadian Congress (UCC) organized an Election Observer Mission for a large number of Canadians to monitor the parliamentary elections in Ukraine on March 26, 2006. This Mission followed in the footsteps of the extremely successful Observer Mission for the Dec. 26, 2004 presidential election in Ukraine.
In Alberta, the campaign was spearheaded by the UCC-APC. They organized fundraising events, cajoled Ukrainian organizations to send representatives, encouraged individuals to go as election observers and set up orientation seminars. Each individual was responsible for costs of plane travel to and from Ukraine, while UCC would pick up the costs of the mission within Ukraine. I volunteered to go as one of four representatives from the Ukrainian Self-Reliance Association (USRA = TYC) of Edmonton. There were 36 observers sent from Alberta and some 100 from all of Canada.
UCC-arranged buses met arrivals at Boryspil airport and transported us to the Sport Hotel (near Kyiv Dynamo Stadium). Next day at 4:00 p.m. Mar. 20, 2006, there was a reception/pep talk featuring the UCC organizers -- Paul Grod, Olya Grod, Markian Schwec -- and the Canadian Ambassador to Ukraine, Abina Dan, who amazed everyone by speaking some 10 minutes in rather good Ukrainian despite being of Irish origin. I attended the orientation seminar (in Ukrainian) that evening. Each observer was given a green Official Observer card on a neck strap, a JVC video camera and, later, a mobile telephone. I was one of 20 observers scheduled to go to Kharkiv.
Signs of the election campaign were everywhere -- Kyiv was festooned with colourful signs, people distributing campaign literature, tents side by side all the way down Khreschatyk and all over Maidan Square. Certainly, it eclipsed anything I had seen in Canada. Although we ate breakfast at the Sport Hotel, my foursome tried to eat out as much as possible -- all at reasonable cost. We even walked up to the Andriivski Sobor. The stores were bursting with merchandise from all over the world -- but probably beyond the financial capabilities of the average Ukrainian.
Our group took an overnight train to Kharkiv -- 4 bunks per compartment, smooth quiet ride -- such that we were bussed and installed in the Sanatorium Roscha (southwest outskirts of Kharkiv) by 9:00 a.m., Wed., Mar. 22, 2006. (Unfortunately, the facilities were rather primitive, served by friendly Russian-speaking personnel and far from civilization. I had to climb to higher elevations to utilize my mobile telephone. But the 7:00 a.m. hearty breakfasts could keep you going till evening.)
At 10:00 a.m., we had an orientation meeting with our organizers and the 15 university students, who were to act as "journalists from the press". We were later organized into 15 teams and sent to various constituencies in the Kharkiv oblast. My team consisted of a pretty 21 year old blonde, Anja Maydanova, and a middle aged chauffeur, Serhii Zhura, with his 1991 Toyota Camry and excellent knowledge of the area. Needless to say, they were indispensable for the efficient operation of our observer mission.
That afternoon, we were bussed into Kharkiv to attend a lecture by a female judge on the election laws of Ukraine. Supper was on the second floor of a restaurant near the University from which we watched a huge election rally on Kharkiv Square featuring Victor Yanukovich of the Party of Regions.
On Mar. 23, 2006, my team registered in two constituencies -- Lyubotin #183 (20 km. west of Kharkiv) and Valky #182 (60 km west), as well as visiting 4 precincts. Over the next two days, we visited 15 precincts in # 183 and 7 precincts in constituencies #177 and # 173. The secretary would usually ask us to register in their logbook and often took the opportunity to discuss Canada-Ukraine contacts. As far as I could tell, they were completely open and never hostile. Most of the personnel spoke Ukrainian.
We had a set of questions to ask -- such as number of commission (DBK) members; number of regular, mobile or absentee voters; number of voters added or deleted from the original voter lists, number of voting booths, large ballot boxes, small mobile ballot boxes; etc. Although I would normally start the conversation, Anja took notes and would continue the questioning, especially if the speaker spoke Russian. I would videotape the entrance displaying the constituency/precinct numbers, the interior, the first and last pages of the voter list and usually some of the personnel working in the office.
In several of the precincts there were complaints of lack of financing, people quitting and the tremendous amount of work required to correct the initial voter lists. We noticed that some of the voting areas were below requirements (got special permission), voting areas still in preparation, official literature not yet up (on Friday), campaign posters outside still up on Saturday, difficult access to voting premises in rural areas (mud, streams of water, etc.). On the other hand, some of the voting setups were absolutely excellent. The impression we got was that everybody was acting in good faith and trying very hard to meet the requirements to ensure a fair and successful election.
Anja, my "journalistka", was obliged to obtain an absentee certificate from her home precinct on Friday, to be registered by noon Saturday in Lyubotin #183 to allow her to vote in a precinct there.
Election of March 26, 2006:
We arrived early in Lyubotin #183, precinct #16 (Bezlyudivka) to observe the preparation for the vote from 6:15 to 7:00 a.m. The DBK chairwoman very methodically and efficiently went through the required procedures to verify the number of ballots and voters by 7:00 a.m. (They had 2829 ballots, 21 mobile and 0 absentee voters, 5 voting booths, 5 large and 3 small mobile ballot boxes.)
After recording the first three voters, we went on to visit 14 other precincts (with a sleep break from about 1:00 to 4:00 p.m.). We noted that early in the day there were long lineups. It was suggested that some people simply gave up and it was hoped that they would return later in the evening. However, in the two precincts that we ended up at after 9:00 p.m. there were no lineups. We noted no irregularities.
In one precinct, we calculated that if there were 100% turnout, each voter would have to pass through the voting booth within 1.67 minutes; whereas we measured typical voting times from 2.5 to 5.0 minutes. There were 5 separate ballots up to 78 cm in length and containing up to 45 party names. Fortunately, the voters had been instructed to vote by the number assigned to the party rather than by its name, which undoubtedly speeded the voting procedure.
Vote Count; 10:00 p.m. Mar. 26 to 1:00 p.m. Mar. 27, 2006:
We ended up in Lyubotin #183, precinct #82 which had been issued 1320 ballots for 1511 voters (including 10 mobile and one absentee) and which had 20 DBK members, 7 voting booths, 3 large and 1 small mobile ballot box. The premises was a large hall with a stage on the second floor of a large school from which many of the commission members had been drawn. The DBK chairwoman was a translator, who spoke Ukrainian, Russian, English and French.
At 10:00 p.m. the doors were locked and the long tedious ballot verification and vote count began. The ballot verification indicated an exact balance of ballots issued, used, spoiled and unused (1320 = 989 + 5 +326). The results of 989 voters are tabulated below for 3 of the 5 ballots:
I will not describe the vote count procedure, except to note that it was complicated by the requirement to count each of the 3 ballot boxes separately and to first separate the Verkhovna Rada ballots from the others. (Although this provides an extra check against vote falsification, I would have preferred the contents of the 3 ballot boxes combined and the 5 ballots separated before vote counting began.) Nevertheless, as the night-morning progressed the DBK members became more efficient and less "po zakonu" oriented. Two women were sorting and counting ballots on the stage before the new count started; new "talons" were being counted as the old ballots were being packaged; etc. In my opinion, the DBK members did a marvelous job carrying out the vote count.
We asked for and received "protocols" of the first three ballots signed at 3:30 a.m., 7:35 a.m. and 10:00 a.m. April 27, 2006 (see table above). Counting of the fourth ballot was completed about 11:30 a.m., but then the DBK members were required to count some ballots from outside constituencies (which I did not understand). Thus, counting of the fifth ballot had not yet commenced, when Anja Maydanova and I left at 1:00 p.m. to be driven back to Roscha by Serhii Zhura. It was indicative of the mood of the election that the Matriarch of the school scolded us for leaving early as she unlocked the main doors to let us out.
On 26 March 2006, the Ukrainian people democratically elected and legitimized the 450 "criminals" (with immunity from prosecution for criminal acts) to the Verkhovna Rada. In other words, although the election procedures were fair and legitimate, the legitimacy of the politicians ranked in the "party lists" of the various Parties is questionable. I hope to expand on this issue at a later date.
A nice anti-climax to the election was a reception in the early evening of Mar. 28, 2006 at a restaurant near the village of Marefa for the Canadian election observers and the Kharkiv students arranged by the head of the Kharkivska Raiona Rada, Vitali Zbukar. As could be expected, there was an abundance of food, toasts, good wishes and souvenir gifts for all of us.
Later that night, most of the Canadian contingent took the overnight train back to Kyiv for a reception at the Canadian Embassy, while I stayed in Kharkiv for a couple of days with a physicist friend before heading to the Carpathian mountains to visit family.
Will Zuzak; 2006-05-02
Archived as zuzak20060326UkrElection.doc