Election monitors in Ukraine on lookout for signs of ‘intimidation’

Updated May 26: IRI issued a report Monday saying militants in Donetsk and Luhansk kept people from voting, but elsewhere in Ukraine turnout was high. “IRI observers visited more than 100 polling stations in Cherkasy, Chernihiv, Dnipropetrovsk, Kharkiv, Kyiv, Mykolaiv, Odesa, Ternopil and Vinnitsya,” the group said in a statement. ” IRI observers reported only minor irregularities and none that would impact the outcome of the election.”

Billionaire president-elect Petro Poroshenko has indicated a need to normalize ties with Russia, and Moscow officials appear receptive to his willingness to begin talks.

Original Story:

When Ukrainians vote in Sunday’s presidential elections, monitors will be wary of any signs of intimidation or voter suppression — a consequence of the violent clashes that preceded the vote.

On Thursday, 16 Ukrainian soldiers were killed in eastern Ukraine when rebels attacked a checkpoint. A PBS NewsHour team was reporting in Donetsk when separatists overran an election office.

Ukrainian officials have said there will be voting throughout the country, even in separatist-controlled areas in eastern Ukraine, said Mark Green, president of the International Republican Institute (IRI), a democracy advocacy and election monitoring nonprofit. “We hope so as well.”

But “the Russian presence is still very much there informally if not formally, so we do worry about efforts to suppress voting or intimidate” voters or poll workers, he said. “And that is something we will be monitoring through a wide range of sources.”

Those sources won’t include IRI’s own election monitors, however. Green said, “out of an abundance of caution,” their observers won’t be in Donetsk and the far eastern part of the country where the U.S. Embassy does not have a presence. Instead, IRI intends to collaborate with other observer missions, including those from Canada and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which do plan to have monitors there.

IRI will deploy two dozen observers in Ukraine for Sunday’s vote, and hundreds more will come from OSCE, Canada and Japan, among other countries, said Green. With more than 33,500 polling stations in Ukraine, including in separatist-held areas, “I think there will be more than enough observers around the country to be able to verify the results and hopefully certify that we have a free and fair election,” he said.

“We know that there are some forces — well-publicized forces — that seem to be aligned with separatists and Russians who would rather not see high turnout, and so we’ll all be watching carefully.”

Besides watching for signs of intimidation, the monitors will be ensuring that people are following Ukraine’s voting laws and that there are no signs of campaigning at polling sites, said Green. He said IRI plans to issue a statement about whether the election met national standards the day after the vote.

Related Resource: Reuters has profiles of the leading presidential candidates.

A candidate in Kiev’s mayoral race takes a “force-full” approach: