A priest kneels next to the grave of a soldier at a Ukrainian military camp near the eastern Ukrainian town Kramatorsk Oct. 26. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko claimed a landslide victory for pro-western parties Oct. 26 in the country's key parliamentary elections. CNS photo/Roman Pilipey, EPA

Observers see Ukrainian election as concrete step toward reform

By  Cindy Wooden, Catholic News Service
  • October 29, 2014

VATICAN CITY - With international observers reporting largely free and fair parliamentary elections in Ukraine, hopes increased that promised reforms would follow, including an end to high levels of government corruption.

The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, which sent hundreds of observers to Ukraine for the Oct. 26 election, said the voting "marked an important step in consolidating democratic elections."

U.S. Archbishop Thomas E. Gullickson, the Vatican's nuncio to Ukraine, said Oct. 29 the international observers' positive assessment of the election "gives reason for rejoicing in another step forward in the democratic process."

"Despite the hesitation of many to go and vote given all the disillusionment of even the recent past, I would have to see the results at the polls as an affirmation on the part of the country to set a course for rule by law and democracy," the archbishop said in an e-mail response to questions from Catholic News Service. "There is an evident hope that justice will have its day for the people of Ukraine.

"My hope is that the new parliament and government, in co-operation with the president of Ukraine, will set a reform course for the country," Gullickson said. "Even though 'Rome wasn't built in a day,' I hope people will soon enjoy some of the fruits of the democratic process."

With almost all of the ballots counted Oct. 28, the pro-reform, pro-West parties of Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk each had about 22 per cent of the votes. As soon as polls closed the two men began talks to form a coalition.

For the first time since Ukraine's independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, the pro-Russian Communist Party reportedly did not win the five per cent of votes needed to take a seat in the parliament. However, the Opposition Bloc, which includes allies of the ousted pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych, was said to have garnered more than seven per cent of the votes. Some two dozen parties put up candidates for the 450 parliament seats.

Meanwhile Oct. 27, a group of hackers believed to be pro-Russian militants shut down the Ukrainian religious information web site operated by the Ukrainian Catholic Church. The hackers go by the name "Cyber Berkut," referring to the Ukrainian special forces charged with violently ending pro-reform demonstrations in Kiev last February.

In the run up to the elections, leaders from the Roman Catholic and Eastern Catholic Churches in Ukraine, as well as the patriarch of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Kievan Patriarchate and representatives of the Ukrainian Orthodox in communion with Moscow all urged their faithful to vote in the elections and to elect parliamentarians who would fight corruption.

Voter turnout was reported to be above 50 per cent although millions of Ukrainians were unable to vote either because they live in Crimea -- annexed by Russia in March -- or in areas of Donetsk and Luhansk controlled by pro-Russian separatists.

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