Ukranian woman places vote in ballot box

Ukrainians in Bila Tserkva cast their votes at the 2014 Presidential Election. / Julie Ota, USAID

Elections are generally the single largest civilian mobilization that any country undertakes. In a country the size of Ukraine this effort involves hundreds of millions of dollars of local resources and the deployment of nearly 300,000 poll workers, along with associated police and security.  Despite having only three months to prepare, ongoing violence in the eastern regions, and cyber-attacks on the election commission’s server, the Ukrainian elections on May 25th were conducted fairly and in accordance with Ukrainian legislation and international standards.

Millions of determined Ukrainians turned out to vote in the pre-term presidential elections and reaffirm their desire for a more democratic country. Nationwide, 60 percent of registered voters participated, despite security issues in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions. The high turnout reflected a belief in the importance of voting and in the fairness and credibility of the elections system.

Ukrainians in Bila Tserkva cast their votes at the 2014 Presidential Election. / Julie Ota, USAID

Ukrainians in Bila Tserkva cast their votes at the 2014 Presidential Election. / Julie Ota, USAID

Voters and poll workers seemed to take much pride in these elections. Many voters, understanding the historic nature of the elections, donned traditional national costumes and brought their children with them. An unprecedented number of young people participated in polling election commissions or as election observers.  Poll workers diligently administered ballots throughout the day and worked overnight to tabulate the votes.

I was honored to participate in this historic event as a volunteer observer with the U.S. Embassy and found it inspirational to witness firsthand the real impact of U.S. and USAID support for Ukraine’s democratic development.

The successful election reflects both the strength of the elections system in Ukraine and the impact of USAID activities and cooperation with the Ukrainian people, which contributed to these free, fair and credible elections in Ukraine.

Ukrainians in Bila Tserkva cast their votes at the 2014 Presidential Election. / Julie Ota, USAID

Ukrainians in Bila Tserkva cast their votes at the 2014 Presidential Election. / Julie Ota, USAID

For example, the Ukraine Electoral Law Reform Program has provided in-depth updates and analysis on the Ukrainian government’s ongoing process of election reform, encouraged local organizations and Ukrainian citizens to participate in public dialogue, and enhanced the Central Election Commission’s capacity to deliver credible, competent elections.

USAID has also successfully fostered the capacity of local election observation organizations, such as OPORA and CHESNO, to ensure the legitimacy and transparency of the election process. Both are successful models for how the U.S. Agency for International Development is empowering local civil society organizations.

USAID’s support for OPORA’s work has helped the local NGO become one of the most respected election monitoring organizations in the country. During the elections, OPORA presented the largest domestic election observation effort in Ukraine and successfully organized and implemented a parallel vote tabulation. CHESNO, meanwhile, has focused on developing mechanisms to maintain accountability of public officials and engage citizens to increase voter turnout.

Today CHESNO and another prominent NGO, IFES, are advocating for a new draft law on campaign finance, which is currently moving through Ukraine’s Parliament and is expected to provide impetus for more comprehensive campaign finance reforms later. Importantly, CHESNO’s efforts to promote public disclosure of candidate revenues this year resulted in some of the presidential candidates publicly disclosing the funding sources for their campaign expenses for the first time ever.

In the run up to the election, USAID activities strengthened independent media to report on the electoral process in a balanced, informed and independent manner, promoted election-related civic activism and voter education, and worked with political parties to become more inclusive and representative. USAID also supported televised candidate debates, which sparked much interest and discussion.

USAID has long been an important partner in Ukraine’s democratic development. In fact, over the past 20 years, we have invested close to $2 billion to help build a stronger more stable economy, develop and strengthen democratic structures, bolster civil society and provide better healthcare.

And yesterday, we announced an additional $10 million in U.S. support – largely for corruption fighting measures.

Now that the May 25th election is over and a winner identified, Ukraine has reached a hopeful milestone in its turbulent transition to democracy. On behalf of USAID, I want to congratulate the Ukrainian people on their successful election and reconfirm USAID’s commitment to supporting a fair, open, and participatory democratic process that truly reflects the will of the people.