By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife reporting from Uzhhorod, Ukraine
UZHHOROD, UKRAINE (BosNewsLife)– Ukraine’s detained former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko has launched a hunger strike to protest alleged vote rigging in Sunday’s parliamentary election. Western observers have also expressed concerns about the ballot, in which the ruling Party of Regions claimed victory, while a far-right party entered the political arena for the first time.
Though they did well, official results show Ukraine’s pro-Western parties were unable to defeat President Viktor Yanukovich’s Party of Regions and its Communist allies.
Main opposition leader Tymoshenko, wasn’t allowed to run in Sunday’s parliamentary elections as she is serving a seven-year prison sentence that the West claims is politically motivated.
She is accused of abuse of power as prime minister in a 2009 natural gas deal with Russia. Yet, even behind bars the 51-year-old Tymoshenko remains defiant.
Her lawyer, Serhiy Vlasenko read her statement in which she told supporters that she “declares a hunger strike to protest against these fake elections and the illegitimate parliament.”
“If I were with you now and had an opportunity to act freely I would – without doubt –call on you to stage an indefinite protest and together we would show these fraudsters their place as we’ve done many times before,” he quoted her as saying.
International observers are worried too.
Andrea Gross, the head of the parliamentary assembly of the Council of Europe, views Sunday’s vote as “a clear step backward”. “Today Ukraine is in the same situation like in the last years of (Leonid) Kuchma’s regime (of the 1990s),” he told reporters.
“And that was very bad because then, people also felt excluded and alienated from the political organization (process); and they (the government) has to think about how to take back – so to say- the role of citizens in the democracy.”
The government has denied wrongdoing, though President Yanukovich acknowledged late Wednesday, October 31, there were “some irregularities.”
There is also concern in Israel and within the Jewish community that nearly one in 10 voters cast ballots for the far right Svoboda, or ‘Freedom’ party.
Its leader called Jews the enemies of Ukraine, though he later denied anti-Semitism.
Alex Miller, who heads the inter-parliamentary Ukrainian-Israeli committee, is worried about Svoboda’s presence in Ukraine’s 450-seat parliament.
“We don’t understand why they gave them the opportunity to go to the election,” he said. “We understand the democracy of Ukraine, but this kind of party ought to be out of parliament.”
Most votes for Svoboda came from western Ukraine, including in the town of Uzhhorod, where people have been furious about the perceived pro-Russian and anti-social policies of the government. (BosNewsLife’s NEWS WATCH is a regular look at key general developments from especially, but not limited to, (former) Communist nations and other autocratic states impacting the Church and/or other compassionate professionals).