It was 3:12 a.m., a full seven hours after the polls closed and the vote count began, when my Canadem partner and I received our official copy of Volia-Yakubova polling station’s election results, known as “the protocol” in Ukraine’s election system. As international election observers on Canada’s largest mission to date, we were observing the count and process of transferring results to official documents in this tiny village of 216 registered voters.
Most observers stick to urban centers, but our team decided that we would conclude election day at a village poll so that the rural story would be included into the final report. So there we were, huddled by the wood stove in the village hall/theater/mayor’s office/community centre/polling station watching Ukraine’s election process unfold.
After receiving the protocol, I looked over at a young woman who was the local English teacher and said, “Democracy isn’t glamorous, but it sure is great.”
We were all exhausted. Most of us had already been awake for 24 hours and still had several hours to go before we could get some rest. Five hours had just been spent handwriting out almost every word of 40 copies of protocols. The local women’s makeup was starting to smear, we all had bags under eyes, and the sleep deprivation caused for easy laughs to bad jokes.
Snapshots of momentous speeches, rallies and victory dances were far off. But there wasn’t a doubt in anyone’s mind that it was worth it. And it is here where Ukraine’s journey for democracy has hope.
Outside of this village, there were many electoral problems that caused international bodies to summarize 2012 as a step backwards in Ukraine’s democracy. Documented cases of vote-buying, intimidation and financial corruption of the press, harassment and threats of opposition candidates, and the political imprisonment of opposition party leader Yulia Tymoshenko all contributed to pre-election attacks on the democratic process.
After the votes were counted, transfer of results was lengthy, problematic and secretive. Some reported violent clashes between police and opposition members. Several ridings saw outright fraud.
While the presence of international observers do not cause the observed election to be free and fair, we do shed light on how the election is conducted so that the local people working for democracy have impartial and objective information about what needs to change. This is happening right now in Ukraine. In the days following E-day, protests erupted calling for recounts and investigations. As a result, five elections will be re-contested.
On E-day, I watched parents take children to the polls to show them how voting is done. I saw an elderly man with a cane in each hand labour over every step as he crossed a field and climbed the steps to the polling station. Blind, elderly grandmothers arrived guided by their children so that they could cast their ballots. My driver spent over three hours on the road to cast his ballot. Each of these people knew the importance of the electoral process because much of their lives were spent without it. Nothing was going to stop them from voting.
Without a doubt, the seed for democracy is planted. The people will make it grow.
Michelle Mungall is the member of the legislative assembly for the Nelson-Creston provincial riding, and is the Opposition critic for advanced education, youth and labour market development.