Ukraine’s Election and the Future of Democracy


This is a guest note by Kalie Pierce, a research intern at the New America Foundation/American Strategy Program.
The parliamentary elections in Iraq began tragically last Thursday with a series of attacks in Baghdad on security officers. Two suicide bombers and a hidden bomb killed 12 people, including 7 soldiers, and wounded at least 55 other people. The violence continued over the weekend and into Sunday, the day of the vote; the New York Times reported that as many as 100 explosions rocked Baghdad during the early days of the election. The Washington Post reported that at least 38 people were killed and 89 wounded Sunday morning alone.
This rocky affair can be compared with Ukraine’s most recent presidential election which took place only a few weeks ago. Like the Iraqi vote, the Ukrainian one was closely watched by international observers and domestic officers. For Ukraine, the elections were peaceful and smooth. International monitors declared the poll clean and observers around the world applauded Viktor Yanukovich’s peaceful transition to power, hailing his inauguration on February 25, 2010, as a symbol of Ukraine’s strengthening democracy.
However, just as with Iraq, it is difficult to wholeheartedly embrace Ukraine’s election. After all, it was Viktor Yanukovich’s campaign team, back in 2004, which committed mass electoral fraud in a bid to make him president. Although the 2010 democratic election process itself can be considered a success, it is hard to celebrate democracy, as an institution, when it brings back the man who tried to cheat Ukrainian citizens of their vote only six years ago.
These struggles with democracy remind me of a Freedom House article which summarized the findings of Freedom House’s 2009 “Freedom in the World” survey, an annual assessment of human rights and liberty existing in the world. Freedom House’s 2009 survey reported that democratic states are decreasing in number while authoritarian states have become not only more numerous, but also more self-aware and more influential. This is hardly surprising, considering the attention authoritarian states have been receiving in the last decade. More and more, countries around the world are taking note that states such as China and Iran have managed to grow economically and exert their power abroad without becoming democracies.
In 2009, even states not typically dubbed authoritarian reduced freedoms. Italians saw increased media concentration under Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and Macedonians experienced parliamentary elections distorted by violent harassment of party members. The government of Singapore meddled in the judicial handling of defamation cases. The Vietnamese government repressed political opposition, persecuted human rights advocates, and refused to create an independent judiciary. Although citizens typically value democracy for its principles, governments have long viewed democracy as a means to gaining economic aid and trading partners. In the face of alternative routes to prosperity, countries may now be discarding the democratic model for other systems.
The elections in Ukraine and Iraq are two examples of democracy’s struggle to remain dominant in today’s world. In Ukraine, the government’s inability to produce the needed changes caused a tired Ukrainian public to discard the leaders of the Orange Revolution and return to the politician who provoked the revolution in the first place. This rejection is discouraging because experts and organizations like Freedom House consider the Orange Revolution to be the most enduring of the so-called “color revolutions” that peacefully overturned fraudulent elections in the 2000s. Iraq’s election, jolted by bombs, demonstrates the dangers of introducing democracy to a country with still-developing institutions. It could well be that democracy’s allure is weakening.
But in a world increasingly darkened by authoritarian regimes, Ukraine’s presidential election offers some hope. The run-off demonstrated one of the greatest goods of democracy, an institutionalized, peaceful transition of power. During a time when other countries experience regime crackdowns, sudden disruptions of human rights, and violence in the streets whenever power changes hands, Ukraine’s fraud- and violence-free election is, in itself, a strong case for democracy everywhere. Indeed, occurring so soon after a deeply fraudulent and turbulent 2004 election, Ukraine’s recent one may give hope to nations such as Iraq still struggling to exercise a peaceful vote.
— Kalie Pierce


11 comments on “Ukraine’s Election and the Future of Democracy

  1. Prince says:

    This was a very well constructed essay.
    -The Prince


  2. erichwwk says:

    And a more recent (March 12, 2010)
    The Revolution Will Not Be Assisted By The ICNC (The Counter-Revolution Is Another Matter)
    After reading these, I understand why you felt driven to respond. On another bog, that tactic might have been successful. Here readers are a bit more astute.


  3. erichwwk says:

    I’ll let the readers judge exactly whether or not your “International Center on Nonviolent Conflict” is involved in “freeing the world to death”.
    Here are some places to start:
    Overthrow Inc.: Peter Ackerman’s quest to do what the CIA used to do, and make it seem progressive
    By Stephen Gowans Word Press Monday, Aug 10, 2009
    Editors’ Note:
    “Removing the authority of the ruler is the most important element in nonviolent struggle.” – Robert Helvey
    This is a long read, but a fruitful, perhaps vital one for anyone interested in overthrowing a government – be it the overthrow of a foreign government in the crosshairs of the U.S. imperialists – or the overthow of an imperial government. It appears to be the new way of doing foreign policy business in Washington. Robert Helvey and Gene Sharp met with the Venezuelan opposition for training for a ¨non-violent” overthrow of the Chávez govenment in 2003 – after their 2002 violent coup proved unsuccessful. There is also a powerful message in this article for anti-war activists and the anti-war movement in the west. One of the methods of guerrilla warfare is that of entering the enemy camp, taking their weapons for use against them. Ackerman’s “non-violent resistance” could be just such a weapon.
    – Les Blough, Editor


  4. Jack DuVall says:

    The post above by “erichwwk” contains a misstatement about the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict. As we said at the time that the factually mistaken Financial Times article was published four years ago, our Center has not “organized discreet ‘workshops'” in Dubai “to teach Iranians the lessons learned from east European movements.” Our Center was invited by the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center (IHRDC) at Yale University on one occasion in 2005 to provide two days of generic information on nonviolent action used to seek or defend human rights, to Iranians invited to Dubai by the IHRDC. In an earlier letter to the FT, we had clearly stated the scope of our work:


  5. erichwwk says:

    So what does the fact that Yanukovich won tell us about U.S. influence in the so-called “Orange Revolution”?
    I’d also look into the “Freedom House’s” claim to be “independent”. I would classify them them as rather hawkish, and biased for the US (from whom they get 2/3 of their funding). They hold the Chinese to be “non-free” relative to the US, despite the fact that the US incarcerates at about seven times the rate of the Chinese. Also I believe, at the time of the Orange Revolution, freedom house was headed by former CIA director James Woolsey. It certainly has supported both the Iraq invasion and the occupancy, not signs I would take indicate a support of “freedom”. Even Donald Rumsfeld,Paul Wolfovitz, Kenneth Adelman have been trustees.
    From the Financial Times (March 30, 2006):
    “Few in the Washington audience on Wednesday realized that Freedom House, an independent institution founded over 60 years ago by Eleanor Roosevelt, former first lady, is one of several organizations selected by the State Department to receive funding for clandestine activities inside Iran. Peter Ackerman, chairman of the board of trustees, who introduced Mr. Bush, is also the founder of a separate organization that promotes non-violent, civic disobedience as a form of resistance to repressive regimes. His International Center for Non-Violent Conflict has organized discreet ‘workshops’ in the Gulf emirate of Dubai to teach Iranians the lessons learned from east European movements. … Mr. Ackerman, who is very wealthy from an earlier career as a financier, says he does not accept government money. Questioned by the FT, Freedom House confirmed it had received funding from the State Department for activities in Iran. It declined to give details but said it was not involved in Mr. Ackerman’s work in Dubai.”


  6. Dan Kervick says:

    Ukraine’s economy has been devastated by the global economic downturn, and their currency nearly collapsed entirely. When that happens in democracies, the people usually turn out the old government.
    This seems like a good time to watch this again:


  7. DakotabornKansan says:

    BBC News has an interesting info graphic about worldwide internet access, showing the percentage of people in each country with access to the internet from 1998 to 2008.
    Interesting observation – in the Ukraine, with a population of 46 million, only five million had internet access, or ~10%. In contrast, neighboring Belarus with a population of just 10 million, three million, or ~30%, had internet access.
    Why does an authoritarian nation like Belarus have more internet access than the Ukraine?
    What role does internet access, or the lack thereof, have in the Ukraine’s struggle for democracy?


  8. JK says:

    We should also consider the idea that Ukraine’s has been pumped with donor money last years, not only in technical aid, but also with IMF and other IFI’s funds on conditionality of reforms or to stimulate reforms.
    There were no reforms in Ukraine as we can judge from the short-term economic risks in Ukraine and the money seems to have disappeared. Thus, the aid from the West just helped ailing Ukrainian institutions to linger on in the malpractices.
    Perhaps recognition of the problem with institutions endangering the attractiveness of democracy to population should lead to a review of strategy towards Ukraine. Pumping them with money with hopes of change is a vain undertaking.


  9. b says:

    What nonsense to compare the Ukaraine to a – wreaked by the U.S. – Iraq.
    Yanukovich did win this year just like he won in 2004 when the U.S. arranged for a fake “color revolution” to disregard the results and to let the lunatics into the Ukrainian government.
    The neoconed Freedom House should look at the U.S. and into a mirror before saying anything about “democracy” or the will of the people.


  10. WigWag says:

    This is an excellent essay; it’s great to see someone at the New America Foundation is paying attention to the Ukraine.
    While it may be a little disappointing to see Viktor Yanukovich back in power, the election was very close and he defeated his major opponent, Yulia Tymoshenko by less than three percent of the vote. In fact, Yanukovich won less than fifty percent of the popular vote.
    It’s hard not to be disheartened that the Kremlin’s favored candidate won, but the election was fair and although it is still very early in his term, so far Yanukovich has gone out of his way to prove that he’s not kissing up to the Russians.
    Besides, more often that not, revolutions are followed by counter-revolutions. It’s just the way of the world.
    I do think Ms Pierce is a little unfair about one thing she said. Talking about the rolling back of freedoms, Pierce suggested,
    “In 2009, even states not typically dubbed authoritarian reduced freedoms. Italians saw increased media concentration under Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and Macedonians experienced parliamentary elections distorted by violent harassment of party members. The government of Singapore meddled in the judicial handling of defamation cases. The Vietnamese government repressed political opposition, persecuted human rights advocates, and refused to create an independent judiciary.”
    I think it’s a little over the top to compare Italy with Macedonia (which has been mired in ethnic conflict for generations mostly centered around IMRO), Singapore (which has been a one party state since independence was declared) or with Viet Nam (which is a communist dictatorship).
    Yes, Berlusconi’s behavior is bizarre and his media empire has too much power, but Italy has had 61 democratically elected governments since 1945. Italy is no Viet Nam, Singapore or Macedonia.
    Despite this glitch this is an excellent and informative post.
    Thank you for it.


  11. Mr.Murder says:

    We’ve got so much room to boister about election fraud. The color revolution cxame to America, but we’ve yet to encounter substantial change….


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