by Ollie Richardson for The Saker Blog
Of course, it comes as no surprise that both state and independent media are currently interested in the 2019 Ukrainian presidential election, scheduled to take place on March 31st. But if we are to be honest, this interest isn’t so much caused by an eager anticipation vis-a-vis the result. After all, nothing will change much in Ukraine after the election, or rather – the IMF will continue to pick the flesh from the state’s rotten bones. Concerning the more actual reason for this interest, the March 28th episode of the RT show “World’s Apart”, hosted by Oksana Boyko, is very indicative indeed.
Here we see the least pro-“Ukrainism” politician in Ukraine, Viktor Medvedchuk (take note: I don’t use the expression “pro-Russia” for a reason – there is no actual political opposition in Ukraine) explain to the host: “Ukraine’s authorities are using their resources to bribe voters in preparation for the March 31 election! Everyone knows it, including Russia and the US!” Of course, Medvedchuk is telling the truth here – the presidential election is a competition between oligarchs, where law enforcement, Banderist militants, and the judicial system are willing to sell their services to the highest bidder. But what Medvedchuk doesn’t mention is HOW this is happening. Let’s try to address this question – briefly, but by no means exhaustedly, since this is an article and not a book – using facts.
Absolute basics of the voting system
The Ukrainian electoral process is governed by the “Law On the Presidential Election”, which stipulates that both state and private media must provide balanced coverage of candidates. In addition, the law stipulates that state media should provide free airtime and print space for all participants in the pre-election race. The actual voting process is managed by the Central Election Commission, which in turn manages the District and Precinct Election Commissions. The members of these commissions are nominated by political parties and voted on. Voter registration takes place on the basis of the centralized State Voter Register (electronic). The preliminary list of voters for the 2019 presidential election totalled 35,602,855 citizens (as of December 31st, 2018).
Internally displaced persons
As is known, the government in Kiev, in violation of international treaties ratified by Ukraine, shut down the voting stations on the territory of Russia. This means that 3,000,000 Ukrainians who currently live in Russia will not be able to participate in the presidential election on March 31st unless they travel to the Embassies of Ukraine in Georgia, Kazakhstan, or Finland. In other words, voter abstention will be quite high. Why was this done? Because Poroshenko understood that they wouldn’t vote for him and he could thus falsify the ballot and “vote” for himself on behalf of these people.
This is illegal: the right of citizens to participate in political life is enshrined in Article 25 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and in Article 38 of the Constitution of Ukraine, which guarantees citizens the right to take part in the administration of state affairs and in nationwide and local referenda, and also to freely choose and elect state authorities and local governments.
Voter bribery schemes
The next flagrant act of electoral fraud is known in Ukraine as “webs” (concerning Poroshenko) or “pyramids” (concerning Tymoshenko). During the electoral campaign Petro Poroshenko and Yuliya Tymoshenko have exchanged mutual accusations of voter bribery, in a battle for “legitimacy” in the media space. The essence of this multi-stage scheme is that, under the guise of carrying out a “sociological survey” (more info here), voters are given financial incentives to vote for this or that candidate. The fine details are not really important and for most are probably boring, but what’s most important here is that the Interior Minister Arsen Avakov (who, before Maidan, supported the Russian world) issued an artificial public warning against the use of these schemes as a warning to Poroshenko, as if to say “I am negotiating with Tymoshenko concerning my role in any post-election government, so if you can’t trump what she is offering me, I will continue to send my ‘titushki’ to your campaign rallies” (more about this later).
In retaliation, Poroshenko used his ally Yury Lutsenko – the Prosecutor-General – to put pressure on Tymoshenko’s party by summoning its members for interrogation in the SBU. Poroshenko also suddenly started to promise to pay people their owed pensions and subsidies, as well as other financial hooks.
This is illegal: Part 6 of Article 64 of the Election Law stipulates that the conclusion of paid contracts for electoral campaigning with voters at the expense of the election fund is banned. In this case, under the guise of sociological research, hidden campaign activities are actually carried out outside the framework of the expenses of the electoral fund.
Election commission oddities
Perhaps the most shocking, yet least visible aspect of illegal electoral activity in Ukraine is the work of the District and Precinct Election Commissions. As I alluded to above, the Central Election Commission (whose members are biased in favour of Poroshenko) appoints the District Election Commissions, which in turn appoints the Precinct Election Commissions. The composition of District Election Commissions should include at least 12 members. The formation of 199 District Election Commissions did take place before the deadline established by law – February 18th. But this is where the “correctness” of the commissions’ work ends. Firstly, according to the information released by the Central Election Commission, about 65.7% of the persons nominated by political parties to work in commissions have previous experience in the election commission (in the previous presidential election it was 71%).
Secondly, members nominated by a number of election candidates worked for other candidates in the previous elections. Thus, several members of District Election Commissions who in 2014 worked for Yuliya Tymoshenko, in the elections of 2019 were submitted by the little-known candidates Nikolay Gaber and Andrey Novak – 7 and 5 people respectively; 4 out of 8 new members of District Election Commissions nominated by Roman Nasirov worked at the District Election Commissions as representatives of Petro Poroshenko in 2014; 8 members of District Election Commissions from the “UDAR” party (the “Bloc of Petro Poroshenko” was created on its foundations in 2014) represent the interests of the candidate Yuliya Litvinenko in the 2019 elections. In other words, there are a lot of fake candidates who are in cahoots with the main candidates and serve as proxies. The most vulgar example of this is the fact that a Mr Yury Tymoshenko, who evidently is a stooge of Poroshenko, was registered by the Central Election Commission (also a stooge of Poroshenko – more on this later) as a candidate for the presidency, meaning that on the ballot paper there will be the initials “Y. Tymoshenko” for Yuliya Tymoshenko and “Yu. Tymoshenko” for Yury Tymoshenko, which will confuse voters a lot, especially the elderly. This also applies to billboards, where Yury Tymoshenko also tried to troll Yuliya Tymoshenko.
Thirdly, Nazi groups who take orders from the highest bidder (either Kolomoisky, whose is behind Vladimir Zelensky and Yuliya Tymoshenko, or Poroshenko) have already come to election commissions and threatened the staff. For example, on February 21st in Dnepropetrovsk Nazis from the “C14” group came to district election commission No. 24 and obstructed its work. As a result, a significant amount of the DEC members refused to or simply did not take part in the meeting. “C14” did not allow the commission’s Chairperson to perform any actions with respect to the commission. “C14” said that the head of the commission is “pro-Russia” and has a “separatist” position. Another example: Nazis from the “National Druzhina” group – who somehow were given “observer” status by the Central Election Commission – openly threatened to use force at voting stations on election day against alleged “threats”.
Fourthly, district commissions sometimes refuse to let official election observers attend meetings, which is illegal. For example, in Kharkov a member of the commission actually confiscated the observers ID card and rudely told him to leave.
Fifthly, the members of district election commissions don’t fully understand how the electronic voting system works nor do they understand the process of including SBU officers in special working groups. In simple terms, the fact that members of the SBU – which is close to Poroshenko and harasses Tymoshenko – by law have to take part in the electoral process is worrying in itself and raises questions about the objectiveness of the election itself. The video below from Zaporozhye simply serves as proof of the district commission’s incompetence, and it’s not expected that the reader learns Russian and understands every single detail of a district election commission meeting.
Sixthly, concerning the work of precinct election commissions, the picture is no less grim. The process of forming these commissions and distributing leadership positions is riddled with problems – the main one of which is the frequent change of their composition and the absence of members at the first meeting and is caused by the record high number of candidates (39), many of which are fake proxies. Concerning the high volume of commission staff resignation and replacement (mostly due to the lack of salary), the Deputy Head of the Central Election Commission (CEC) Evgeny Radchenko stated at a press conference on March 15th that “this means that both the presidential candidates and members of commissions don’t have a very responsible approach to their duties. In fact, the number of changes we have is glaring. Our leaders have been changed 139 times in 199 territorial districts, deputies were replaced 79 times, and more than 120 secretaries were replaced. This does not allow the district election commissions to properly perform their duties”.
Another problem encountered in precinct election commissions is when the head of the DEC, before approving precinct commissions, reports that some candidates for precinct commissions put forward their candidature from two presidential election candidates at the same time, which is a violation of the law. Here is another video (Kharkov) that simply serves as proof of the incompetence of the precinct commissions – even the counting of raised hands is botched:
Besides the battles during TV debates on in the media, there is also the battle of billboards. What’s most interesting here is that Poroshenko’s campaign billboards remain mostly untouched (I am not aware of any incidents where his outdoor adverts have been damaged), whilst everybody else’s are either set on fire or simply defaced. As usual, it is the Nazi groups like “C14” (pro-Poroshenko) and “National Corpus” (pro-Avakov/Kolomoisky) that are the culprits, and they even brag about it on social media. The following are merely a handful of examples:
Candidate Evgeny Murayev:
In this example “National Corpus” actually boast on social media about setting fire to Vilkul’s billboard:
Of course, in some cases it might look like just a minor blemish, but the fact remains that it is a crime and the police should (most of the time they don’t, election observers have to force them to come to the scene and document it) record it and find the culprit.
Poroshenko’s campaign rallies
Over the past 4 weeks Petro Poroshenko has made many visits to different regions for the purpose of carrying out pre-election campaigning. Normally the agenda for these visits consists of the following: a) participation in a Regional Development Council meeting; b) a walk to a stage prepared for his speech; c) a walk back to his transport. Details about what happens during his walks and speeches can be found here, but what is most flagrant here is the way in which he uses his position as president to carry out his electoral campaign. In addition to this, information of a promotional nature about Poroshenko’s visit is posted on the website of the respective regional state administration (here is an example from the Zhytomyr regional administration).
This is illegal: according to part 15 of article 63 of the Election Law, for candidates for the post of the President of Ukraine who hold state positions, it is forbidden to use office or production meetings for electoral campaigning; according to part 1 of article 64 of the same Law, the implementation of campaigning by representatives of executive authorities and local government, law enforcement bodies and courts, and their officials during working hours is not permitted; and according to part 20 of article 64, it is prohibited to use the premises of state and local government bodies for electoral campaigning and to place campaign materials and political advertising inside of them (part 21 of article 64).
I have also heard reports of the police preventing official election observers (Ukrainians, not foreigners) from attending Poroshenko’s pre-election rallies.
This is illegal: according to part 1 of article 157 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine entitled “Obstruction of the exercise of the right to vote or the right to participate in a referendum, as well as the work of an election commission or a referendum commission, or the activities of an official observer” stipulates criminal liability for the obstruction of the activities of an official observer in the exercise of their powers.
Of course, the US Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch will never speak about these violations, nor will Washington D.C. as a whole, since doing so would further bring their tale about a “democratic, post-Maidan Ukraine” into disrepute. After the constitution was violently raped in February 2014 there is no going back now. One violation of the law must be committed in order to cover up the next one. One more debt must be taken out in order to pay off the last one. And after all, what is an election today, in 2019, in the framework of so-called “liberal democracy”? It is a competition to see who can look the most cute and fluffy in the media. The outcome is always the same though. The illusion of “independence” and “sovereignty” shatters the moment the US Embassy dismisses the “son of a bitch” Prosecutor-General.