Ukrainian Foreign Minister Kostyantyn Gryshchenko: Elections underlined Ukraine’s commitment to democracy and the West

KIEV — Ukraine just completed parliamentary elections that, while imperfect, were credible, free and competitive. They fully reflected the will of the Ukrainian people. 

Now Ukraine’s parliament must work to further our democracy and usher in needed reforms — work that will include listening to voices that are critical of our political progress.

Those voices haven’t been shy. 

On the eve of our Oct. 28 national parliamentary elections, a number of world leaders made statements questioning the health of Ukraine’s democracy. As soon as the polls had closed, and in the days afterward, more concerns were voiced. 

But let me offer a few facts that suggest the dire predictions about our elections were premature and overly negative. 

First, an important facet of any democracy is openness, and Ukraine actually asked for international scrutiny. The government invited in election observers, and by Election Day, there were nearly 4,000 on the ground, in addition to tens of thousands of domestic observers. No matter how one ultimately felt about the campaign and how it was waged, one cannot suggest that Ukraine shrank from tough, honest scrutiny. 

Meanwhile, voters and members of Ukrainian political parties could file complaints against perceived election abuses, and international election assessments found that the authorities processed those complaints in a timely way. Cases were often won by the complainants. 

Second, everyone agrees that we had a calm and orderly Election Day. The voting process and vote counting were well-organized with only minor problems, and was “assessed positively” by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in no fewer than 96 percent of the polling stations it observed. And the 34,000 webcams installed in our precincts showed no systemic violations.

Results from 90 percent of precincts were reported within 24 hours. Importantly, the proportional vote results announced for the national parties corresponded directly with pre-election and exit-polling data, as well as the parallel vote tabulation done by the opposition. Save for a handful of districts that will see a re-vote, we can say with certainty that the choice a citizen made in the voting booth was the choice that was recorded.

Finally, election assessments have concluded that the contest was competitive. Monitoring of TV news reports in the immediate run-up to the vote showed that opposition parties received more than 65 percent of the coverage, though concerns have been expressed about a dearth of reporting over the entirety of the election period. Print media coverage of the government was often highly critical, and our Internet and social media has remained uncensored and among the freest in the world.

The election’s results reflected an electorate that had real choices in front of it. The opposition parties were elected to over 40 percent of the national party list seats and will be well-represented in the new parliament.  

All this is not to suggest that the parliamentary elections were flawless. No election is. The problems that have been uncovered in five of the first-past-the-post districts, for example, are unacceptable, and the results are being thrown out. Still, we’re talking about roughly 10,000 votes out of 21 million cast.

This government is prepared and willing to respond to constructive criticism, and as a young democracy, we recognize that there’s more work to do to strengthen the entirety of the election process. But I absolutely believe, alongside many international observers who saw the vote firsthand, that the reality turned out to be much better than some of the negative predictions. 

Election by election, Ukraine is becoming a more serious democracy; its institutions are growing stronger. That trajectory is clear. 

We are a strong partner for the United States and Europe, with a clear commitment to the NATO partnership and a desire to become a full member of the European Union. 

That’s not going to change. 

Kostyantyn Gryshchenko is foreign minister of Ukraine.