Nelson-Creston MLA Michelle Mungall is headed for Ukraine next week as part of a Canadian team that will observe the fairness of that country’s parliamentary election.
“I’m really excited,” Mungall told the Star. “The concept of democracy is a huge passion of mine and being able to contribute to increasing democratic fairness around the world is a wonderful opportunity.”
Mungall will be part of a 430-strong delegation led by federal multiculturalism minister Jason Kenney monitoring the October 28 vote.
Eighty-seven parties are seeking seats in the parliament, known as the Verkhovna Rada. Presently the Party of Regions, led by prime minister Mykola Azarov, holds the largest number of seats — 195 of 450.
The election will use a combination of proportional representation and first-past-the-post, with each system to account for 50 per cent of the seats. (Something similar but not identical was used in 1998 and 2002 elections.)
Mungall has been an international election observer before, in Zambia in 2006. Following that experience, she added her name the registry of Canadem, the civilian reserve that oversees such delegations.
She was invited to apply for the Ukraine mission and learned this month that she had been chosen from among over 2,000 applications.
She will be away for about two weeks, first attending training sessions in Ottawa before heading to Ukraine ahead of the election.
Mungall says observers are there to report whether the election result reflects the democratic will of voters, but not to interfere or intervene.
“It’s really important to be neutral and focus on how the election itself is being conducted,” she says. “We go in without any bias towards any candidate or party and look at ‘Is this process being conducted freely and fairly?’”
However, concerns have already surfaced from long-term observers around vote-buying and pressure tactics. The former Soviet republic has a chequered electoral history, with widespread allegations of corruption.
The 2004 presidential election between Viktor Yanukovych and Victor Yuschenko in particular resulted in the political crisis known as the Orange Revolution after Yuschenko’s supporters and international observers claimed the vote was rigged. A supreme court decision voided results from a run-off ballot and ordered a new vote, which Yuschenko won.
Mungall said she’s not sure exactly where she’ll be assigned, but expects it will be to one or several polling stations. In Zambia, she was stationed at the country’s largest poll, in a university.
“It was neat because people there did not take their right to vote for granted at all,” she says. “They lined up for three hours before the polls opened.”
One other eye-opener was presidential candidates campaigning in the polling stations on election day. “That’s illegal [in Canada] but all three of them did it,” she says.
The final observers’ report concluded the election was free and fair overall, but made several suggestions for streamlining the process — such as multiple booths at each polling location — which have since been adopted.
Mungall isn’t sure if any of her fellow MLAs will join her in Ukraine — Mike Farnworth was asked to apply but may not be able to go.
Canadem covers the cost of accommodation, airfare, and meals for observers.