Tymoshenko on hunger strike over 'falsified' poll
JAILED FORMER Ukrainian prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko has gone on hunger strike to protest against elections that western monitors called a setback for democracy in the ex-Soviet state.
Incomplete results from Sunday’s ballot showed the Regions Party of president Viktor Yanukovich was set to retain power and could secure a majority in parliament with help from its current Communist Party allies and some independent deputies.
Opponents of Mr Yanukovich could also form a strong bloc in the new parliament, however, if the second-placed Fatherland party of Ms Tymoshenko could forge an alliance with the liberal Udar (Punch) group led by boxing champion Vitali Klitschko and the nationalist Freedom party.
“Free and democratic elections have been conducted,” declared prime minister Mykola Azarov. “We’ve won in an absolutely honest fight.”
That verdict was challenged in a scathing report by election monitors from the 56-nation Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), chaired this year by Ireland and led in 2013 by Ukraine. “Ukraine’s parliamentary elections were characterised by a tilted playing field,” said the head of the OSCE mission, Walburga Habsburg Douglas. “Considering the abuse of power and the excessive role of money in these elections, democratic progress appears to have reversed.”
The OSCE’s report noted “abuse of administrative resources, lack of transparency of campaign and party financing and lack of balanced media coverage”.
It also highlighted the plight of Ms Tymoshenko and other opposition figures who have been jailed since Mr Yanukovich came to power in 2010, as a result of what the EU and US call politically motivated prosecutions.
“One should not have to visit a prison to hear from leading political figures in the country,” said Ms Habsburg Douglas.
Ms Tymoshenko’s lawyer said she had started a hunger strike yesterday in protest against elections which “were falsified from start to finish”. She was jailed for seven years last October for abuse of power, in connection with a 2009 gas deal that she signed with Russia which prosecutors claim is cripplingly expensive for Ukraine.
She denies the charges, and rejects other allegations of tax evasion and an investigation into her possible involvement in the murder of a business rival and his wife in the 1990s.
Ms Tymoshenko (52) is undergoing treatment for back problems in a state hospital, where relatives say she is kept under constant audio and visual surveillance, even when receiving physiotherapy, meeting lawyers and using the bathroom.
The damning OSCE assessment of the election not only puts a cloud over Ukraine’s forthcoming chairmanship of the organisation, but throws more doubt on the future of relations between Kiev and the EU.
Ukraine hopes to sign landmark political and trade deals with the EU in the coming months, possibly under Ireland’s presidency of the bloc in the first half of 2013.
Brussels has put those agreements on hold, however, due to Ukraine’s prosecution of opposition figures and broader fears over its democracy.