#Ukraine – What price for future liberty?

| March 13, 2019

On 12 March, within the the walls of the European Parliament in Strasbourg, a campaign of activists from Ukraine took place. The purpose of the action was to draw attention of European deputies to the problem of vote-buying before the presidential election in Ukraine, which is due to take place at the end of March 2019.

Responding to the questions of the correspondents of our editorial about the goals of the action, one of the activists who directly deals with the disclosure of the facts of bribery and has a lot of information concerning this situation, Oleh Kishchuk, shared with us the following:

“We are requesting the deputies of the European Parliament to join the electoral process in Ukraine as international observers with the view to preventing massive payoff of voters and to ensuring fair and transparent presidential elections. We are present here on behalf of all the people of Ukraine who strive to hold fair and democratic election. Currently, the vote-buying scheme has a clear structure and is closely bound to the constituencies represented within the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine. In many cases, the scheme in the separate districts and constituencies is headed and fostered by deputies of the Verkhovna Rada. In case when the district is not attached to any of the People’s Deputies, the President and his close associates appoint a person with a vested interest from among the local elites to carry out the bribery scheme.

“The ‘Stop Falsification’ NGO team and I, personally, have carefully investigated these breaches, and we now possess the footage proving the facts of bribery of voters in favour of Mr. Petro Poroshenko’s candidature. This evidence will, hopefully, be provided for the European audience in this article.”

“I have faced political repressions and persecution for my public activism and, specifically, for my precise coverage of corruption and bribery during the elections in Ukraine. It happened after the detention of a group of people that had been buying votes in one of the districts of the Kyiv region. In Ukraine, active civic stance may be sometimes punishable by different kinds of repressions and may even cost life. That is why we have to go up to the very heart of political Europe, so that we could be finally heard,” said Anna Hoholina, co-founder of the ‘Stop Falsification’ movement.

This whole situation got us very engaged and interested. So, we decided to conduct our own investigation concerning the way the main presidential candidates are preparing for the upcoming elections. The most potential candidates for the key post in the country are the current President Petro Poroshenko, famous comedian Volodymyr Zelensky, former head of the Ukrainian Armed Forces Anatoly Hrytsenko, opposition politician Yuriy Boyko, and former Prime Minister of Ukraine Yulia Tymoshenko.

According to the recent polls, Yulia Tymoshenko appears to be the leader of the presidential race.

Ukraine has come a long way and has managed to make a rather big change since the Revolution of Dignity of 2014, in many ways due to the great support of its European partners. This back has brought enormous benefits to the economy through association and free trade with EU countries. Preserving headway will be a major challenge for the new president, who is to keep the progress up rather than diminish it.

Ukrainian politicians often speculate on the issue of joining the European Union. However, this Eastern European country, at the current stage of development, does not fall under any of the requirements of the Copenhagen criteria vital for accession to the European Union.

Oleh Kishchuk believes: “Democratic government should ensure equal right of all citizens of the country to participate in political processes at all levels of power, from local up to the national one. Participants of the political process should not put pressure on the voter, resorting to all kinds of manipulations or fraud. Their politically correct neutrality should allow citizens to freely form their opinions prior to the voting day. In Ukraine, on the contrary, we can observe massive pressure towards the electorate through all possible means of communication. The operating systematic methods of a con of the public are based on several factors: the unequal access of candidates to the media resources, phenomenon of vote-buying and control set over the electoral commissions.

“President Poroshenko, abusing the status of the acting Head of State, is de facto running his electoral campaign without spending money from the candidate’s official fund, and since the media are controlled by him they regard it just as a coverage of Mr. President’s activities in the role of a civil servant and a governmental official. The presence of pro-government media implies, in fact, the lack of equal opportunities for all candidates to participate in the electoral process.”

Misusing the administrative capacities

The circles, loyal to the current president, frequently hold high positions in regions and are directly involved into the global scheme of systematic bribery of voters. This situation is typical for such large cities as Odessa, Kharkiv and Dnipro, where the municipal government has publicly expressed its support towards Mr. Poroshenko.

Ukraine of today is the poorest country in Europe with the highest levels of corruption on the continent. Budgetary means from the special funds created prior to the elections are being spent on the single-time payments, providing material assistance to marginalized citizens and people who, according to the conducted opinion polls could be considered as potential supporters of President Poroshenko. Due to the high level of poverty, especially in rural areas, financial assistance of 1000 hryvnia (which is equivalent to approximately 30 euros) is a significant help for a large number of citizens.

At the national level, such political measures as an ‘urgent’ pension indexation, monetization of social subsidies and providing privileges for socially vulnerable groups of the population are being taken in the wake of the election. At the same time, the military personnel have received the additional payments. All these steps may be considered as a system of indirect voters bribing.

Ukrainian political technologist Kateryna Odachenko said: “Unfortunately, the situation with vote-buying in the upcoming presidential election in Ukraine still remains critical. During my travels with public lectures throughout the country, I personally witnessed numerous violations of the electoral law. I may mention some of these incidents. For instance, in the city of Lutsk, residents are offered to fill out a ‘supporter application’ for which they receive a ‘bonus payment’ of UAH 500 (approximately €18). When further spreading the word and attracting other persons into the fraudulent scheme, the abovementioned ‘opinion leaders’ are promised to be provided with a material bonus in the amount of 1000 hryvnia per week (€30 per week).”

‘Tendering’ seats in electoral commissions

44 candidates for the post of President of Ukraine have been approved by the Central Election Commission (CEC) and are now competing for the key position in the country. Of these, only 15 do have certain real political weight. All other competitors basically play the roles of write-in candidates.

The exclusive right to political will is now brought ad absurdum. Ukraine has formed a huge market for shadow ‘transfers’ of official election observers. The result may be that polling stations simply will not include mandated observers from all the candidates. This will lead to a high probability of falsification and fraud during the election due to the inability to control the voting process and the process of votes tabulation.

The price for a place in the District Electoral Commission (DEC) in differing regions may reach up to $10,000. Such electoral frauds lead to the erosion of the very core of an independent collegial body. Voting in districts, where up to 80% of the DEC representatives will be governed by the state-run structures, will be held strictly according to the template provided by the bigwigs.

Taras Zavgorodniy, Ukrainian political expert, said: “If we want to build a strong country with the democratic institutions in its basis, we must stop the shameful practice of buying places at polling stations throughout the country. Unfortunately, such a market is in great demand today. Candidates strive to increase their representation in the Local Electoral Commissions with the view to further controlling and influencing the voting outcomes. It’s turning into a real family-run business. At one polling station, we may even see relatives representing different candidates… but as we understand, they work together, de facto supporting the vested interests of the third parties.”

Stalking horses in the elections

Another dirty method of conducting a political struggle in Ukraine has become the engagement into the election of candidates with the first, the last name and even the patronymic that are almost identical to the corresponding characteristics of their real and more backed political challengers.

This way, Yuriy V. Tymoshenko appears in the thick of the electoral scandal in Ukraine, which is accompanied by court proceedings. He has the surname and initials identical with the ones of the main political opponent of Petro Poroshenko – Yulia V. Tymoshenko. According to expert evaluation, Yulia Tymoshenko may lose up to 2% of the vote as a result of mistakes during the very voting process.

The campaign for Mr. Tymoshenko’s nomination, according to the journalistic investigations of our Ukrainian colleagues, was organized by a confidant of the incumbent President. The nomination of Yuriy Tymoshenko to run for presidential post seems to have been supported by farmers and agrarians, who, all in all, appeared to be just marginalized persons with no political stance. For a ‘song’ of several euros, they agreed to indicate their names in the document that was supposed to identify the sponsors of Yuriy Tymoshenko’s presidential campaign.

Kostiantyn Matviyenko, Ukrainian political expert, said: “In Ukraine, the direct vote-buying – same as vote-flogging – is subject to prosecution. However, there are many bypasses such as paying money to citizens in the form of salaries for active participation in the organizing campaign, in the forms of various compensations and material assistance. Such actions are difficult to qualify as criminal wrongdoings, so they are actively applied by dishonest and shameless candidates. The campaign headquarters of the sitting president also fall back on the similar technologies, when concluding the de jure illegal agreements with numerous citizens.”

Europe should give an accurate response to the reports of activists concerning the violation of electoral law in Ukraine. In order to draw the attention of European politicians to the status quo and to penetrate through the wall of unheard voices, a group of Ukrainian human rights activists from the ‘Stop Falsification’ NGO had to come to the political heart of Europe in their own persons. In case of confirmation of all the above mentioned facts, the European Parliament should initiate an efficient monitoring system to democratically control the carrying out of the electoral campaigns in Ukraine and, hopefully, direct the European official representatives as independent international observers to monitor the very conduct of the elections.


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Category: A Frontpage, Politics, Ukraine

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