Wednesday

24th Apr 2019

Opinion

EU shouldn't recognise results if Ukrainian election is rigged

  • Europe's misguided policy of backing Petro Poroshenko is based on a false premise: that he is a pro-Western president. (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

For Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko, Sunday's (31 March) presidential election is an issue of survival.

He may lose not only the election but also his freedom and wealth, since an attempt to investigate him over alleged corruption would be popular with voters under a potential new government.

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With the stakes being so high, he may have to resort to extraordinary measures.

The reason is that Poroshenko is unlikely to win without voting fraud.

It is not even clear if he will get into the run-off in a fair vote.

According to the latest poll by the Rating agency, comedian Vladimir Zelensky is the leader with 26.6 percent, while Poroshenko and ex-prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko share the second place with 17 percent each.

Another polling agency, the Democratic Initiatives, puts Zelensky first at 28.5 percent, while Poroshenko is runner-up with 18.8 percent, and Tymoshenko ranks third with 13.3 percent.

And if Poroshenko does get to the run-off, both Zelensky and Tymoshenko will beat him by a wide margin, according to recent polls.

Poroshenko's victory without vote-rigging will be very difficult because his disapproval rating stands at 49.3 percent.

Tymoshenko's disapproval rating is 28.5 percent, while 14.1 percent disapprove of Zelensky, according to the Rating Group, KMIS and Razumkov Center polling agencies.

Moreover, Poroshenko is fuelling the ethnic and religious divide by betting almost exclusively on the nationalist and Ukrainian-speaking electorate, and parishioners of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine.

This may give him votes in the first round but non-nationalists, Russian speakers and supporters of the Russian church's Ukrainian branch will be less likely to vote for him in the run-off.

Poroshenko is apparently getting frustrated with this: people have been regularly beaten by his security guards and hired thugs, or 'titushki', at his campaign rallies after asking inconvenient questions.

Vote-buying scheme

In February interior minister Arsen Avakov exposed Poroshenko's alleged vote-buying scheme in an interview with the Dzerkalo Tyzhnia newspaper.

Avakov, who has a conflict with Poroshenko, said it involved 200,000 paid campaign workers, was expected to cover from 700,000 to 6 million voters, and would cost $56 million [€50m].

Poroshenko denies the scheme's existence. The scheme is being investigated by the police.

It has been confirmed by numerous other independent sources and video footage of voters admitting that Poroshenko's campaign workers have promised to pay them. The scheme's existence has also been confirmed by journalist investigations, including one by the Bihus.info project.

Ironically, Poroshenko has found an ingenious way to save his money: he is buying taxpayers' votes with taxpayers' funds, according to the national police.

Avakov alleges that Poroshenko's campaign workers had been asking his supporters to fill in applications for local government benefits, as a form of vote buying.

Meanwhile, the prosecutor general's office and the security service of Ukraine, which are loyal to Poroshenko, are investigating his rival Tymoshenko over alleged vote buying as well.

However, she lacks administrative resources that would make the scheme function smoothly.

Potential fraud?

One of the dangers is that the pro-Poroshenko Central Election Commission may not notice voting fraud.

According to various different assessments, Poroshenko has a majority, in the 17-member commission, ranging from eight to 10 members.

The commission has already shown its bias in favour of Poroshenko. In February it published an interpretation of the law according to which legal entities can get money from presidential candidates to finance campaign workers' expenses.

However, Ukrainian law says that paid campaign workers are banned.

Presidential candidate Anatoliy Grytsenko and his lawyer Ruslan Chornolutsky believe this interpretation to be an unlawful attempt to legalise Poroshenko's alleged vote buying.

Meanwhile, the security service of Ukraine and the state service for special communications and information protection have been invited by the Central Election Commission to guarantee the "security" of the electronic vote counting system.

Both agencies are loyal to the presidential administration and there are concerns that they will interfere in the election on Poroshenko's behalf.

The commission has also said no video cameras would be used to monitor voting in what many saw as yet another way to conceal voting fraud.

Meanwhile, the Central Election Commission is stacking district election commissions with Poroshenko loyalists. That's one of the reasons why a record breaking 44 candidates are running: a lot of them are now nominating pro-Poroshenko commission members.

One of the candidates, Yuriy Tymoshenko, was fielded just because his name sounds very similar to that of Poroshenko's major competitor - Yulia Tymoshenko - and he's expected to take votes away from her.

His name is next to his namesake's one on the ballot.

Western policy

European and US ambassadors had until recently almost unanimously backed Poroshenko and abstained from criticising the corruption of his inner circle and the sabotage of reforms.

Europe's misguided policy of backing Poroshenko is based on a false premise: that he is a pro-Western president.

In fact, he is nothing of the sort.

While spouting platitudes about Ukraine's integration into Europe and Nato, Poroshenko has consistently spurned Western values.

The evidence for this includes corruption in his inner circle, widespread human rights violations, the persecution of Poroshenko's political opponents and anti-corruption activists and his sabotage of anti-corruption reforms.

Despite ostensibly opposing himself to Russian president Vladimir Putin's dictatorial regime, Poroshenko has copied many of its features.

Moreover, his close relations with Putin's right-hand man in Ukraine, Viktor Medvedchuk, show that his anti-Russian stance is more of a rhetorical tool than actual policy.

The first signs of the West's awakening regarding Poroshenko came on 6 March, when Marie Yovanovitch, the US ambassador to Ukraine, lambasted vote-buying, the cancellation of the illicit enrichment law, defence corruption and botched judicial reform, and called for firing the country's discredited anti-corruption prosecutor.

Anyone who wins in a free and fair vote should be recognised by the European Union.

However, if the election is rigged, Europe and the United States should refuse to recognise its results and demand a fair repeat vote.

If Poroshenko manages to win the election by fraud and vote buying with Europe's acquiescence, Europe risks not only betraying its principles but also creating a chaotics situation on its eastern border.

A presidency won through vote rigging and lacking legitimacy may lead to two scenarios: an entrenched kleptocratic authoritarian regime that will turn Ukraine into a Venezuela-style banana republic or a bloody revolution that will oppose such a regime and will wreak havoc.

Oleg Sukhov is a journalist at the Kiev Post, Ukraine's leading English-language newspaper. He used to work at the Moscow Times, an independent English-language newspaper in Russia, and has written stories for New Europe and the Atlantic Council

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