On June 15, Yulia Tymoshenko launched the start of Ukraine’s presidential election season with a two-and-half hour speech in Kyiv, Ukraine. With twenty-nine percent of voters telling pollsters they haven’t made their minds up for the race slated for March 31, the field is wide open. But it’s not too soon to start worrying about the many ways in which the Kremlin may meddle in the election. The first way to meddle is easy: support pro-Russian candidates. Polls show that in spite of Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea and the ongoing conflict in eastern Ukraine, pro-Russian candidates still enjoy strong approval ratings. Among them are Yuriy Boyko, former vice prime minister and an MP with support at 9.7%, and Vadim Rabinovich, leader of the “For Life” party at 9.5%. Both have over twenty years in politics and their records strongly support the Kremlin.
Articles about voting issues in Ukraine.
Ukraine accused the Russian security services Saturday of planning and launching a cyberattack that locked up computers around the world earlier this week. The Ukrainian security agency, known as the SBU, alleged in a statement that similarities between the malicious software and previous attacks on Ukrainian infrastructure revealed the work of Russian intelligence services. The SBU added that the attackers appeared uninterested in making a profit from the ransomware program and were more focused on sowing chaos in Ukraine. There was no immediate official response from Russia’s government, but Russian lawmaker Igor Morozov told the RIA Novosti news agency that the Ukrainian charges were “fiction” and that the attacks were likely the work of the United States.
Defying peace agreements reached in the Minsk, Kremlin-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine started on Oct. 2 holding“primaries” for local elections in the areas where they have seized control from the Ukrainian government. A final vote for seats on local councils in the areas of Donbas controlled by the separatists is scheduled for Nov. 6. Kyiv views the elections as illegal, as the Ukrainian parliament has yet to adopt separate legislation for them, as required under the Minsk peace agreement. Ukraine has consistently resisted attempts by Russia to short-circuit the Minsk agreements by holding local elections in the occupied territories – a step towards reintegrating them with the rest of Ukraine – before it has removed its servicemen and weapons from eastern Ukraine.
Pilot Nadiya Savchenko on Friday called for early parliamentary elections to “infuse fresh blood” into Ukraine’s politics, a call that could send shock waves across the volatile nation. Savchenko, 35, who has become a national icon in Ukraine after spending two years in a Russian prison, told The Associated Press that the “Ukrainian people deserve a better government that they now have.” She said that the Ukrainian government has failed public expectations raised by the ouster of the country’s former Moscow-friendly president, Viktor Yanukovych, who was driven from power in February 2014 after months of massive street protests on Kiev’s main square, the Maidan.
While most of the nation got results from the Oct. 25 election, Mariupol got a criminal investigation. Ukrainians want to know who is to blame for the cancellation of the elections in the strategic Azov Sea port city of 500,000 people, whose voters were deprived of the right to choose their mayor and city council. The cancelled election has triggered a spate of conspiracy theories, claims and counter-claims and criticism. Parliament has not yet set a date for a new election. What’s clear is that Mariupol voters were the victims of a power struggle between the traditional powers in the region, represented by the Opposition Bloc party and billionaire oligarch Rinat Akhmetov, and the post-EuroMaidan Revolution forces, including Donetsk Oblast Governor Pavlo Zhebrivsky. Anyone found guilty of obstructing the electoral process – in this case, leaving 215 city polling stations without ballots – could face up to seven years in prison if convicted, according to a statement released on Oct. 27 by the Donetsk Oblast Interior Ministry.
The local elections held in Ukraine on the weekend “generally showed respect for the democratic process,” international monitors said on Monday. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) called the elections “competitive” and “well-organized,” while acknowledging that they took place in “a challenging political, economic, humanitarian and security environment,” according to a statement on the organization’s website.
Hopes that a local election could help shift tensions in an eastern Ukrainian city from simmering conflict to the relative safety of politics were thwarted Sunday when voters turned up to find no ballots. The election in Mariupol, a strategically important city, had been called off even as the rest of the country voted. Electoral authorities in the Ukrainian-controlled portion of the Donetsk region said the ballots were flawed and there was no time to print new ones. But critics quickly pointed out that opinion polls had shown that a political party affiliated with Ukraine’s former pro-Russian government had been poised to win the most votes.
Since Petro Poroshenko assumed the presidency of Ukraine, the majority of discussions about the future of Ukrainian democracy have been consumed by external factors. This has been for good reason. Russian troops invaded, then annexed Crimea in early 2014; at the same time, Russia initiated another war front in eastern Ukraine, which claimed over 6,000 thousand lives and has displaced over one million Ukrainians. In addition to a severe human cost, the Russian war carried a huge economic cost by bringing to a halt various industrial enterprises in the Donbas region. However, the political fate of the country is equally dependent on internal factors particularly the improvement of procedural democracy. Ukrainian local elections, scheduled for October 25th 2015, are another important step for the development of Ukraine’s democratic politics. First, local elections will be held according to their regular five-year election cycle; the elections are an important step in the decentralisation process being discussed by President Poroshenko. Second, they will be conducted according to a new set of electoral laws that look to increase representativeness and strengthen the role of political parties. However, this latest round of elections is unlikely to introduce higher levels of transparency into the electoral process or bolster the role or function of political parties in Ukraine.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko on Sunday stressed the need for legitimate elections in the country’s separatist regions in order to eventually re-integrate the pro-Moscow strongholds. Poroshenko said in a televised address that “without elections in these occupied territories, a political solution will be in a deadlock”. The so-called Minsk peace deal between government troops and pro-Russia rebels in eastern Ukraine foresees the withdrawal of heavy weapons from the battlefield and calls for a vote to be held in the separatist regions under international auspices.
Ukraine will on Oct. 25 conduct the most procedurally complicated local elections it has ever seen. Voters can only hope the polls are not also the most chaotic and corrupt ever seen. The complex, multi-system voting procedure will inevitably cause problems with vote counts and distribution of seats, and will likely further reduce the trust of voters in election results, experts have told the Kyiv Post. “Even we don’t totally understand the logic of this law,” said Andriy Mahera, deputy head of Central Election Commission, adding the new election system is already causing some head scratching.