MILEAGE MAY VARY:

Ukraine’s new, bumpy path: Its embrace of democracy contrasts with Belarus, this week’s elections show. (Fred Weir, 3/24/06, The Christian Science Monitor)

In contrast to the tight government control that largely squelched opposition forces in Belarus ahead of last weekend’s elections, Kiev’s main square is a veritable bazaar of competing voices. Nearly 50 rival political parties are heading into the final leg of parliamentary polls slated for Sunday. The roughly 2,000 foreign observers here have noted no serious irregularities, and Ukrainian experts say these are the freest and most open elections in the country’s history.

“There is absolute transparency, and an equal playing field for all parties,” says Alexander Chernenko, an analyst with the Committee of Ukrainian Voters, a grass-roots monitoring group. “There is no fear, no coercion. People feel this is irreversible.”

That Belarus feels compelled to have elections just to convey some faint patina of legitimacy suggests that its path is irreversible too.

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