|Tent City in Independence Square,
Kiev, Ukraine, during December’s elections.
Political Science student Bob Winsor got a
front row seat on history when he was selected as one of 467
Canadian observers to go to Ukraine in December 2004.
As a returning officer with Elections Canada for St. John’s
South-Mt. Pearl, Mr. Winsor was selected as one of 100 Canadians
to be part of the Organization for Security and Cooperation
in Europe (OSCE) contingent.
Speaking about his first overseas electoral experience, he
said, “I learned quickly not to expect perfection. It
has only been 14 years since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
It is understandable that things are not quite right, but
they are working on it and making improvements because they
want to make a difference.”
Mr. Winsor’s first introduction to Ukraine was a day
of briefings in Kiev. Following that he traveled by train
to his assigned district, Dnipropetrovsk, southeast of Kiev.
The city now has a population of 2.5 million people, but it
was a closed city during the cold war and the heart of the
nuclear weapons program.
Working with a lawyer from the European Union, Mr. Winsor
worked as part of a team visiting polling stations in the
area, the territorial electoral commission office and party
campaign headquarters. His job was to make sure the set-up
was good, check the voters list, look into problems and check
security. Overall the process ran very smoothly.
“The young people are energized and there was a high
voter turnout. It is obvious that they want a change and they
are politically active – they care and they want to
do something about it.”
When asked how it compared to other democratic elections,
Mr. Winsor added. “The United States held elections
for 125 years, but if you walked into a neighbourhood in Boston
in 1901 the level of corruption was unreal at election time.
In most democracies there are always going to be problems.
The Ukraine will get it right, it just takes time.”
At the end of the day, the election was a success. Thousands
protested, lobbied and Ukraine’s Supreme Court over-turned
the election naming Viktor Yushchenko, the opposition candidate,
as the new prime minister. For Mr. Winsor it was a resounding
“Someone suggested to me when I returned to Canada that
the whole democratic process was a sham, but I say, ‘wait
a second’, they overturned an election without a shot
being fired. That sounds very democratic to me,” he
said with a smile.
“It was by far the biggest political story of the century,
watching a country create a democracy and its future. I encourage
anyone who is interested, who has skills and wants to travel,
to get involved. It is the opportunity of a lifetime and a
life-changing experience, without a doubt.”