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Kanerva "not optimistic" about a fair election in Eastern Ukraine

Ilkka Kanerva, Finnish MP and Director of the OSCE delegation observing the Ukrainian crisis, says he's not optimistic about the prospect of a fair presidential election in the country on Sunday. Speaking from an undisclosed location in Ukraine on Saturday, Kanerva said the security situation clearly worsened overnight and that armed men have now occupied several polling stations.

Näkymä Kiovan Itsenäisyydenaukiolle perjantai-iltana 23. toukokuuta.
View from Kiev’s Independence Square on May 23. Image: Jakub Kaminski / EPA

Kanerva, a veteran MP and former foreign minister in Finland, says there are now clear signs that Sunday’s elections in Ukraine will be interfered with. In a phone interview Saturday morning, Kanerva said security concerns prohibited him from revealing his current location in Ukraine.

“Unfortunately, the security situation here has taken a turn for the worse over the course of yesterday evening and last night. Both the Ukrainian activists and Pro-Russian separatists have occupied polling stations in armed takeovers. Many weapon-heavy roadblocks have also been built, making travelling very uncertain,” Kanerva said.

Kanerva, who is the longest-serving MP in Finland's Parliament, is director of the OSCE delegation charged with observing Sunday’s presidential elections in Ukraine. He was elected in 2013 to serve as a vice-president of the OSCE's Parliamentary Assembly. He served as foreign minister for just under a year before being forced to resign in 2008.

The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has its origins in the 1975 Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe (CSCE) held in Helsinki. The organisation is concerned with early warning, conflict prevention, crisis management and post-conflict rehabilitation. Its 57 participating states are located in Europe Asia and North America.

Election a possible game-changer

Sunday's elections are widely considered to be a game-changer in Ukraine, as they have the potential to either calm the crisis or drive part of Eastern Ukraine further into chaos.

“Particularly in the areas of Luhansk and Donetsk it can be expected that the elections will not go by the book. This does not mean that an election shouldn’t be held here, however. Turnout is going to be significantly higher in the presidential elections than in the European Parliament elections, which will take place on the same day,” Kanerva continues.

He estimates that 1,200 people from around the world are assisting with the observation of the Ukraine elections.

“It is odd that armed people from East Ukraine are moving throughout the area. They appear to be from other areas: they don’t seem local. They are walking around the polling stations, making sure that the elections cannot be carried out as planned,” Kanerva added.

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