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(HOST) Observers from many countries traveled to Ukraine in December to witness the election process. Commentator Dick Mallary was among them.

(MALLARY) I just returned on December 29 from a week in Ukraine where I served as an official observer of their recent election.

This was the third election in Ukraine in three months to select their new president. The second vote, held on November 21, was tainted by many sorts of electoral fraud and extremely unfair media coverage. After the election, Viktor Yanukovytch, the candidate of the current government and the one favored by Russia, was swiftly declared the winner by the Central Election Commission. Meanwhile, exit polls and the reports of impartial election observers indicated that Viktor Yushchenko, the anti-corruption candidate who favors closer relations with Europe, had actually won.

Immediately, thousands of orange clad Yushchenko supporters thronged to Independence Square in Kiev to protest the vote. They camped on the main street and maintained a peaceful blockade of government buildings to insist on an honest vote. After a brief, tense and perilous standoff, the Ukrainian parliament declared the vote to be fraudulent. And shortly thereafter, the Supreme Court ordered a third election between the two candidates to be held on December 26.

The December election became a test of whether democracy could emerge and thrive in the post-Soviet states of Eastern Europe. After only 13 years of independence, Ukraine has become governed by a small elite that has fabulously enriched themselves through their questionable acquisition of public property.

I went as one of many international observers to monitor this election and do all that we could to assure that it was free and fair. It is heartening to report that this election was conducted fairly, with no evidence of fraud or violence or serious violation of the voting laws. I was assigned to Cherkasy, a city of 300,000 in central Ukraine where we monitored the voting in more than 12 polling places on December 26. We observed no serious problems in the fair and open conduct of the vote. We found the local voting commissions to be conscientious and dedicated, and the populace to be passionate about their right and duty to vote. Countrywide, over 77% of the eligible voters cast their votes in this election.

I fervently hope that the thousands who participated in this peaceful protest and the millions who voted in this election will set a precedent for other formerly Soviet republics to emerge from despotism and corruption to become free and democratic.

I also hope that we, here in the United States, will be reminded by this event of how precious are our democracy and our free press and open government.

This is Dick Mallary in Brookfield.

Dick Mallary has served extensively in state government and is a former U.S. congressman from Vermont. He spoke from our studio in Norwich.

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