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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Ukraine Set to Toss the Die of Democracy

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Millions of Ukrainians will cast votes on Sunday for dozens of political parties running for the 450-seat parliament. They also will choose the deputies to regional and municipal councils. The thousands of newly elected officials, while expected to continue moving Ukraine in a pro-European direction, will change the face of government throughout the country.

Opinion polls show six political parties easily passing the 3 percent threshold for seats in the parliament, the Verkhovna Rada. Voters appear to be lining up behind the same political forces that battled for the presidency in 2004. Then, pro-Russian supporters of Viktor Yanukovych, who was the prime minister, acquired the blue label. Pro-democracy supporters of the election winner, Viktor Yushchenko, became known as the orange bloc. While both blue and orange represent the dominant political forces in the country, more than 40 parties are competing for voter sympathy and support.

International attention will focus on how Kiev handles this election. Much like the presidential election held in Belarus last weekend, past elections in Ukraine have been less than democratic. In the 2004 presidential race, the government censored journalists, denied the opposition access to the mass media, and broke up peaceful gatherings. Opposition leaders and activists complained about being followed and harassed by police. Law enforcement agencies were mobilized to falsify the vote results at local election committees. Evidence of the fraud was compiled during a later investigation, and close to 5,000 people were eventually punished.

After the runoff vote, millions of people came out onto the streets of Kiev to defend their rights and freedoms against a discredited regime that had falsified the election results. For weeks, they stood in freezing temperatures demanding justice, until a Supreme Court ruling annuled the results and ordered a new vote, the results of which were widely recognized by society and international observers as a fair expression of voter will.

Ukraine withstood an important and peaceful test of freedom and democracy during the Orange Revolution. Since then, the new leaders have begun to show that government in Ukraine can be made to serve its citizens, that its police can be custodians of the law, not of power. Steps have been taken to untangle the web of government favors and crony business practices to help create a more level playing field for business. While much remains to be done in the battle against corruption, there has been some progress toward ending the pillaging of state assets.

A key step in the battle to rebuild public trust in government has been ending government censorship of journalists and ensuring freedom of the press. During this election campaign, the media have shown that they can be objective and fair. Evening television news programs present various points of view, giving airtime to opponents of the current government as well as to its proponents. Commentators weigh in on all sides. It's up to readers and viewers to decide who they believe is right and who is wrong.

Major changes are occurring in the country. Recent decisions by the United States and the European Union to recognize Ukraine as a market-based economy reflect the impressive economic developments that have occurred since the Orange Revolution. Ukraine's record in securing individual freedoms and democracy led the U.S. Congress to lift the decades-old Jackson-Vanik trade restrictions, and joining the World Trade Organization this year appears within reach.

But the most telling sign of change is this: No one knows how Sunday's elections will go. No one can predict how political forces will align after the elections to form a parliamentary majority and a new coalition government. Everything depends on voter turnout.

For the first time in independent Ukraine's 14-year history, free, fair and transparent elections are being held. Campaigning and political rallies are occurring without interference. Censorship and the suppression of press freedoms are things of the past. Law enforcement agencies have not created an environment of fear or hysteria, and instead have offered rewards to citizens who blow the whistle on officials who break the law. Borders are open, and the incumbent government has welcomed election monitors.

During the Orange Revolution, Ukrainians firmly chose the course of democracy, economic freedom and political compromise. Political competition has been the tool used to stimulate discussion in society so voters can chose the party that best represents their views. And while election shenanigans occur everywhere, this round of elections appears to be void of official interference or intervention.

While not all agree on the meaning of the Orange Revolution, one thing's for certain: Normalcy is in the air in Ukraine. And this bodes well for democracy and regional stability.

Myron Wasylyk is senior vice president of the Kiev office of The PBN Company, an international communications consultancy. In the past, he has advised a number of candidates and parties in Ukraine. The opinions expressed are his own.