Many hope Ukraine's presidential election will stabilize the country. Barbara Weiler was there as an election observer for the European Parliament - in this DW interview, she describes her impressions of election day.
DW: What were your first impressions on election day? Is everything proceeding in an orderly fashion?
Barbara Weiler: Yes, at the polling stations that I saw, everything is moving along in an orderly fashion. When voting began I was near Kyiv, then we travelled on to Bila Tserkva, around 80 kilometers to the south. We visited a few polling stations there, and everything was totally quiet. Bila Tserkva is a huge city, and participation - although I don't have any percentages yet - was so high that people were standing in line there. At all of the polling stations, people were waiting to get to vote.
What are your tasks as an election observer?
When I come into a polling station, I talk with the head official – they're usually women here. I ask to see the electoral register and ask whether any irregularities have emerged. I take a look at the ballot boxes, the polling booths and the general environment - to see whether there's any illegal advertising. The norm here is that all candidates are displayed on posters of the same size, but without any campaign materials. Then I talk with a few people who can speak English, but I also have an interpreter with me, and I ask how they think the vote has been going. Since we also have observers drawn from the Ukrainian population, a double check takes place.
Whose invitation brought you to Ukraine?
The European Parliament sent a small delegation of seven people. During the last elections, there were at times twice as many of us. We work very closely here with the OSCE [Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe], which has more than 1,000 election observers at work in Ukraine. Additionally, representatives from NATO and the Council of Europe are here.
Are there election observers in eastern Ukraine, too - in Donetsk and Luhansk?
Yes, but those are the long-term OSCE observers, who have already been here for two months. Then there are a few in Donbas. We, the politicians or former politicians - and, by the way, there are a lot of national parliamentarians here: the German parliament is strongly represented, as is Lithuania's, Canada has a delegation - were stopped, told definitely not to go into the East. That includes Odessa, where I would have really liked to have gone. It was also eliminated because of the shootouts there.
You named a lot of Western groups among the election observers. Are there any from the Russian side, as well?
A couple of days ago, we heard on the radio that Russia would send election observers. But official accreditation comes from the OSCE. Everyone said they were in agreement with that, but no Russians sought an accreditation from them.
The separatists in eastern Ukraine seem to be doing everything in order to boycott this vote. Do you think that a free election can take place at all under these circumstances?
Everyone has been waiting for this election: the international community as well as the citizens. When I see how engaged people are on the issue of voting, there's no doubt about that. It's unfortunate that Crimea isn't voting with them. There are citizens who could list themselves as being elsewhere and then vote, but that will be very difficult in practice. The residents of the two oblasts [administrative districts in Ukraine] in the East are intended to have the opportunity to vote outside of their districts if too much danger is at hand.
We'll find out tonight, though, how that actually played out. I cannot imagine that residents will really turn out there in light of the threats by separatists and terrorists. Presumably these two regions will be omitted. The Ukrainian constitution would, however, still allow for the election result to be valid, depending on how high the percentage of discounted votes actually is.
Do you think this vote can help thwart the threat of Ukraine splitting up?
That's what people are hoping here. They're hoping for a new beginning. When it comes to this new beginning starting next week, hopefully the same mistakes won't be made - including from our side - involving relying on a certain exclusionary approach. It probably won't work other than having everyone sit down at the same table to negotiate how things should continue in the future.
Barbara Weiler has been a member of the European Parliament for Germany's Social Democrat Party. She has often served as an election observer in the EU.
Interview: Marcus Lütticke / gsw