BRUSSELS, March 28, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Ukraine won extraordinarily high praise from European Parliament monitors for its elections.
Charles Tannock, a British deputy, said he thought the procedures followed by Ukrainian authorities surpassed those of Britain.
Tannock said Ukraine had passed an important test of democracy in an "exemplary" fashion.
"The exemplary fashion does in my view confirm the status of Ukraine now irreversibly as a fully fledged member of the democratic family of European nations. I think that has to be accepted. Nobody can claim it's a sort of a country which doesn't really understand or practice democracy," Tannock said.
With over 75 percent of the vote counted, the pro-Russian Party of Regions, led by former Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, has the biggest single share of the vote. But the party is unlikely to be able to form a government. The bloc of former Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko is in second place, and Our Ukraine, which backs the president, is in third place.
Marek Siwiec, the head of the European Parliament's seven-deputy observation mission, said he was not aware of any major irregularities in the elections. He, too, said Ukraine has successfully passed a crucial test of its political system.
Siwiec dismissed suggestions by some Ukrainian parties that "massive fraud" took place on election day. He said the fact that just five parties or blocs managed to clear the relatively low 3-percent threshold for parliamentary representation showed Ukrainian voters acted with great deliberation.
Siwiec said the elections bore no comparison to what he described as the "rigged" presidential election of fall 2004. That election was widely criticized by international monitors.He also said the European Parliament's observer mission is keen to identify remaining weaknesses in Ukrainian electoral arrangements.
Siwiec said improvements are needed in three areas. First, many polling stations were crowded and overall, 40 percent of the voters had to endure standing in long queues. He said some voters never got to vote at all.
Second, he said local election commissions suffered from organizational difficulties. He said they were unable to open the polling stations on time and had trouble maintaining voter lists.
Third, people who were for some reason left off electoral lists, had no simple way of registering themselves as voters, and had to undertake a lengthy court procedure.
However, Siwiec made clear these criticisms take nothing away from his overall positive assessment of the elections.
Support For EU Entry
There is widespread support within the European Parliament for Ukraine's ambition to move closer to the EU. Siwiec said the parliament wants to continue "pushing" for improved ties with Ukraine. He said the parliament's plenary session in Strasbourg next week (April 3-6) will hold a debate on Ukraine. Siwiec noted the EU must be ready to continue its dialogue with the country as soon as a new government is in place.
However, both he and Tannock were careful to note that the EU was not a significant campaign issue. Tannock said that Ukrainian voters were concerned about other things.
"I think it's worth pointing out as well that during the whole of the election campaign, the EU was not really figuring very highly on the radar screens as an issue. NATO was a much bigger issue, they are much more pro or against NATO, largely against NATO membership," Tannock said.
Tannock said other divisive issues were relations with Russia -- including gas deliveries and the status of the Russian language -- the devolution of power to the regions, and the tax system.
Addressing the outcome of the elections, Tannock said he believes "the most likely scenario is the reconstitution of the original Orange bloc" involving the forces behind Tymoshenko and President Victor Yushchenko.
Siwiec, however, said that with the official count not yet finished, he understands President Yushchenko's reticence in addressing the issue of possible future coalitions.
BEHIND THE IMAGES: Click on the links below to read RFE/RL's profiles of some of the key players in Ukraine's March 26 legislative elections:
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