There are difficult elections, and then there is Ukraine's election:
This Sunday, voters will seek to legitimize their post-Yanukovych era by electing a new president.
But unbearable pressure from Russia has come very close to scuppering it – first annexing Crimea and then encouraging pro-Russian separatists to destabilize eastern Ukraine by declaring independence, and shedding blood in some parts.
Nine hundred observers from the OSCE (Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe) will be overseeing the election, because a truly free and fair poll will be vital for peace and stability.
“I expect elections in Ukraine to be largely okay in the overwhelming number of districts,” Wolfgang Ischinger, representative of the OSCE for Ukraine, told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour in an interview that aired Friday.
“But there are huge obstacles in the east, principally in two of the districts. And I expect that voting there will be either patchy or maybe impossible for many citizens. So we will not have a totally perfect vote.”
Despite imperfection, he said, the election of a new president represents an enormous opportunity.
“If he or she reaches out to those living in the east and explains to them that he wants to be their president also, I believe that that can change things in a significant way.”
Just weeks ago, there were significant concerns that Russia could launch a full-scale invasion of eastern Ukraine. Now, Ischinger said, he is buoyed by attempts to calm the situation.
“I am extremely excited about the fact that some of the so-called oligarchs in the country are now also finally, you know, waking up and dispatching their workers and using some of their financial resources to help create an atmosphere of calm, an atmosphere that will allow people to go to vote without being intimidated. Intimidation is a big problem here.”
Ukraine remains a very divided country, and chaotic, country. Just this week 16 people were killed on an attack on soldiers in the country’s eastern Donetsk region.
But there is no indication, Ischinger said, that eastern parts of the country genuinely want to break off – a claim backed up by public opinion polls.
“I traveled myself to Donetsk to speak to the mayor and to local oligarchs and other people,” Ischinger said. “I can tell you that I have not found a single responsible person in Ukraine who advocates, who really advocates as a serious plan, a division, a carving of Ukraine. I have only found people who wish to keep Ukraine together.”
“What people in the east are so tremendously unhappy about is that they feel left alone by Kiev. They want a different government. They want different leadership.”
“But I don't believe that people in the east, at least not those that I have had a chance to meet, really want to leave Ukraine.”
What will be critical for the country, he told Amanpour, is that the country’s governance is reformed.
“Constitutional reform in Ukraine, including in particular this item of decentralization, is the key, the principle job for post-election Ukraine.”