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Nelson-Creston MLA enthuses about Ukraine experience

Nelson-Creston MLA Michelle Mungall says scrutinizing last month’s parliamentary election in Ukraine was  “wonderful” — even though international observers have denounced the overall results as unfair.

“It was a great experience,” she said in an interview. “I definitely feel we had a positive impact, especially at the rural, community level.”

Mungall spent close to two weeks in the country as part of a 430-member Canadian delegation, arriving October 20 and departing Thursday.

She spent the first few days in Kiev being briefed on the Ukrainian electoral process — a combination of proportional representation and first-past-the-post — as well as the political landscape. They were told any problems on the ground would be subtle, so they had to know what to look for.

Mungall was sent to the riding of Drohobych in western province of Lviv province. The university town has a population of about 35,000 and is surrounded by many rural villages.

For three days, along with a driver, translator, and colleague, she toured precincts to see if ballots arrived in appropriate numbers and were handled properly. Mungall says at times there weren’t enough or more of one type than another, but election officials tried to sort out these discrepancies.

Come election day October 28, Mungall says voting was conducted efficiently at the 10 polls she visited, although some things seemed suspicious.

“At one precinct I felt something was going on that may have not been completely above board, but I did not observe anything specific,” she said. “All I could do was report that ‘Four men came out of a car, they had a list, they were on the phone, they never voted, they noted our presence, and left.’“

Other than that incident, Mungall says election workers appeared to be doing everything they could to ensure a free and fair election, and she felt “incredibly welcomed … People running that level of the election were appreciative of the opportunity to show us the job they were doing.”

Once the polls closed, the manual count also went smoothly. But then things fell apart: vote tabulations had to be filled out for the district election commissions, but there were no pre-printed forms.

Every candidate and party had to be written out — 22 of them in the poll Mungall observed. “Five hours was spent writing these things out,” she says. “By the time they were done, everybody was exhausted.”

Results were delivered in the middle of the night to the district commission.

“There was an incredible amount of confusion, disorganization and difficulty in this part of the process,” Mungall said. “From here, the commission would go into a room and input everything into a computer. Very few observers were allowed to observe that process … This is where unfortunately we can’t say if everything went smoothly.”

Official results saw the governing Party of Regions retain the largest number of seats, 187 of 450. Ballots are still being counted, but international observers have noted irregularities and discrepancies at higher levels of the electoral process.

Electoral authorities this week called for recounts in five disputed districts, and hundreds gathered in Kiev to protest what they claim was vote rigging by the ruling party.

“At the end, the will of the Ukrainian people was not respected, and there was considerable intimidation against media freedom,” Mungall said, adding the ruling party was criticized for overusing government resources to bolster its re-election chances.

For all of that, Mungall, who previously served as an election observer in Zambia in 2006, says she would encourage others to try it.

“It was a wonderful experience,” she said. “Being on the ground and seeing what it meant to people on the local level provided me with the understanding that sometimes we take it for granted here in Canada. Most of us never knew what it’s like not to have the right to vote.”

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