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Whilst in a state of purdah – security for polling day

October 26, 2014

Whilst Ukraine enters a state of purdah, and all electioneering has thus ended, in keeping with the spirit of an official and lawfully required end to campaigning, there will be no mention of the election – as far as voting, outcomes, infringements and speculative coalitions are concerned.

However, related in the current circumstances is the issue of security.

As if proof were required of that last tweet, the SBU in Odessa last evening arrested 11 people, including 2 serving members of the Primorsky (the central rayon) police department.

All allegedly part of the “Odessa Liberation Army”, with SBU sources claiming these 11 were the “Duma” – by which it is inferred inner council responsible for the organisation and planning of subversive activities in Odessa, prior to, on, and beyond election day.

It would seem quite clear that the arrests have been left as close to polling day as possible to cause maximum disruption within the “OLA” and prevent a renewed, connected and capable leadership structure being reinstalled had the arrests occurred earlier.  An attempt at effectively decapitating the organisation – temporarily at least – in the most timely and effective manner with regard democratic outcomes.  Somewhat textbook counter-terrorist policy, not to mention decent intelligence work.

That is not to say polling will go without incident tomorrow.  Single mandate seat 136 looks a possible candidate for problems – albeit not necessarily “separatist/Kremlin backed”.  Seat 136 issues, if they occur, will be due to bad blood between candidates and the crescendo of a dirty campaign for that particular seat.

Nevertheless, whilst external interested parties may rightly fret over the possibilities of subversive actors and actions (externally or internally sponsored) – the local populous and security services, if somewhat expectant of problems, seem quite determined not to be deterred.

Naturally, it is hoped that tomorrow runs without illegal incident – but as hope is not a strategy, there at the very least appears to be some tactics in play from the security services.

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An unusual course of events

October 25, 2014

One of the few benefits of spending 10 minutes a day, most days over the past few years, churning out less than erudite rumination more often than not, is that when Ukraine and/or Odessa are for some reason internationally interesting, approaches are made by journalists wanting either an interview (most requests refused), or a “fixer” to facilitate interviews, or meeting requests are made by NGOs, academics, think-tankers, observers of various sorts, the occasional wandering politician, and  flocks of passing diplomats for (mostly) off the record chats.

All interesting people, or people doing interesting things – sometimes both.

Notwithstanding that, the blog is read by many embassies in Kyiv – particularly those without consulates or honourary consuls in Odessa.  Indeed some blog entries are quite deliberately written for that audience – despite the usually corresponding drop in reader figures on such occasions.

This is one of those entries that will be read, and is intended to be read, by those in Kyiv, and those with whom this blog meets later today, and yet others tomorrow.

Over the past few weeks several diplomats based in Kyiv known fairly well to this blog, and from several different embassies, have been in contact asking specifically about campaign intimidation and/or violence in Odessa relating to the elections on Sunday.

Aside from the much reported incident relating to Nestor Shufrych and the “Opposition Block”, and an explosive devise putting breaking the windows at a small Batkivshchyna office, there have been a few minor incidents with regard the single mandate (first past the post) campaigns.  A candidate from Arseniy Yatseiuk’s People’s Front was threatened some time ago.  A man employed by a candidate, Mr Golubov, was assaulted putting up posters by men associated with another candidate, Sergei Strashnyi.  Mr Kivalov has on-hired some goons to intimidate others – primarily, it appears, the people of Mr Rondin who is perhaps his main competitor.  This is sadly nothing unusual from previous election years in Odessa, particularly so when it comes to those competing for single mandate seats.  The single mandate seats are historically far more dirty in their campaign tactics than the tactics of the proportional representation party vote.

As such, nothing unusual  is occurring regarding the form of intimidation or violent incidents according to information known personally to, or received from reliable sources across all party lines and within numerous candidate camps.  Neither are the number of these incidents any higher than previously associated with elections in Odessa.

Currently there are at least 15 cases (and rising) of electoral infringements under investigation in Odessa – the majority however, relate to voter bribery, and then misuse of administrative resources, rather than intimidation or violence.

However, there appears to be something of an upturn in allegations/notifications/complaints of violent or intimidation incidents being made to the international diplomatic community from people closely associated to – but not necessarily  by – certain candidates.

And so the question arises, why are the number of allegations of violence and/or intimidation undergoing official investigation in Odessa, significantly less than the number of reported incidents to several embassies in Kyiv – to the point those embassies have been in contact to put these claims into perspective via a local (and hopefully trusted) sources?

What is to be gained by a significant amount of such claims/reports being made to several diplomatic centres in Kyiv, that fail to correspond to official complaints with the domestic investigative authorities, or are known to the local media (whether the story was run or not)?

Such claims are surely going to be checked by even the most junior of diplomats – and junior diplomats don’t get out of their Kyiv offices and down to see the likes of this blog on the coin of their State.  Senior diplomats that do get out of their offices are even less likely to accept the unusual and unexpected without sufficient investigation to ease their minds by way of corroboration.

In short, a very unusual course of events for elections in Odessa is/has occurred – and a course of events for which, as yet, the reasons have thus far not become apparent.

The point of making so many spurious/uncorroborated and domestically unofficial claims?

 

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Modest desires

October 24, 2014

The currently self-declared – and if there is a local “election”, rubber stamped – “Prime Minister of the Donetsk People’s Republic” (otherwise known as occupied Ukraine to many) Alexander Zaharchenko, today stated that the “army of the Donetsk People’s Republic” intends to recapture Kramatorskaya, Slavyansk and Mariupol.

Unsurprising rhetoric of course.  As has previously been written, Mariupol would be required for any “republic” to have the slightest chance of realistic independent economic survival years hence, without 100% reliance on a Russia that really doesn’t need, nor necessarily want, these “republics” other than to use as a lever and weight upon the rest of Ukraine.  That strategy only works with any certainty as long as they remain an integral part of Ukraine.  The moment Ukraine states it heads west casting adrift these regions, The Kremlin leverage and anchor upon Ukraine is dramatically reduced.  That would then mean letting Ukraine go, or creating another region to act as a weight/anchor upon Ukrainian western aspirations.  Ukraine is now far more organised than it was back in March.  Creating any new “protectorate” region will be much harder to create.

It may (eventually) be dawning upon those within the “republics” that the possibilities of annexation are extremely remote, and recognition of independence from Ukraine is not likely in the current climate either.  Ergo, it doesn’t take the greatest of intellects to work out that  having Mariupol within its territory would be a significant boost to any unrecognised independence.  The port city and its existing infrastructure provides opportunities otherwise lost.

All the above states nothing new, and nothing that could not be read here, and probably elsewhere, many times before during the preceding months.

Naturally, none of that is what catches the attention.

What does, relates to  Zaharchenko’s statement of desired territorial gains.  It is a far cry from the lofty projections that were originally “Novorussiya”.  Not only does it cover only a percentage of The Donbas, but any ambitions relating to other Oblasts are no longer mentioned.  It is now clear that the Donetsk and Luhansk “People’s Republic’s” have little intention of joining together and becoming “Novorussiya” either on a formal basis between them.  At present “Novorussiya” seems likely to become little more than a collective name for two, distinctly separate, “republics”.

This raises several questions.

Is Zaharchenko’s statement as “Prime Minister of The People’s Republic” purely his own personal view of the territory over which his expects to lord?

Have the sponsors behind the “people’s republics” made it clear just what the limits of territorial expansion they are prepared to finance, support and be sanctioned over are?

If not, are Zaharchenko’s territorial desires commensurate with the “republic’s” sponsors?

The “republic’s” political structures are simply not strong enough to take, control, police and administer with dramatic further expansion.  It is already clear that those political structures are having difficulty controlling all of the separate fighting factions within the collective “army of the republic”.  It seems that the Cossack contingent have every intention of coming out as top warlord/crime syndicate.  Numerous fatal clashes with other fighting groups have been noted over the past month or so.  Can the political leadership of the DPR strike a deal with all the warlords?  Will it be forced to pay them (very well) to remain passive?  Can it gain enough political strength to overcome and control the warlordism?

It is certainly clear that if these declared territorial designs are the extent of Zaharchenko’s plan, many of the ideologically driven fighters will not accept such a limited vision.

Territorial gains expected before the very cold weather – or the sum territory desired?

It seems unlikely that Zaharchenko is aware of the plans of his sponsors.  Many within The Kremlin will not be aware of them – and that presumes there is a plan, rather than sporadic act and react opportunism influencing/controlling Kremlin thinking.

Perhaps it is that fighting need continue, simply due to the fact that the republic’s political structure is not capable of delivering on anything much within the region it already controls.  When the fighting stops, people expect those in authority to deliver – if you have nothing to deliver, it follows that continued fighting may be preferable.

Whatever the case, Zaharchenko’s statement regarding desired territorial gains, whilst containing the usual concerning rhetoric with regard to a return for front line fighting in full, seem rather modest in comparison to all that has been said historically.

As no gains will be accomplished without significant Kremlin help now Ukraine has reorganised, there is a question over whether The Kremlin is prepared to swallow further sanctions that would seem almost certain to come if Mariupol fell.

Anyway, something a little more interesting and/or intriguing tomorrow – the limited scope for territorial gains stated simply caught the eye today.

 

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Vulnerable voters and voting vulnerability

October 23, 2014

As has been mentioned recently, the number of internally displaced persons due to the undeclared war in eastern Ukraine is a particularly sad, and is going to be an enduring social issue for Ukrainian society and government alike, for some considerable time to come.

Notwithstanding what will undoubtedly prove to be a humanitarian calamity at best, disaster at worst, over the winter months, there are also the elections on Sunday to consider and the ability to the displaced to vote.

Normally if voting outside a person’s registered home rayon polling station there are procedures to follow that allow for it.

It would also be foolish to expect that a registered IDP will automatically appear on an accessible voters list in their current temporary location.  In any circumstances that would be too much like joined up government in Ukraine, and these are exceptional circumstances.

However, a law was passed allowing the possibility of a temporary change in the voting place (at the time of the election or referendum) of the voter, who on the day of voting for a good reason not to vote on his election address, without changing the electoral address.

But this clearly has certain problematic issues and does not seem to provide any mechanisms to prevent carousel voting on election day.

If voters without being registered to an address, or a relevant constituency address, can vote on the production of a passport, how does that stop them registering at and then voting at, several polling stations across several different city rayons that day?  We are, after all, talking about traditional paper ballots and not e-voting whereby a computerised system may detect the same passport number voting twice or three times at different locations on polling day.

Needless to say, with a little organisation and a dash of criminal intent, some local electoral outcomes could indeed be perverted to the point of changing outcomes – and any appeals are not going to be dealt with in a timely manner when trying to find added passport numbers to electoral lists across an entire city and numerous polling stations within.

Perhaps effecting actual results is less of a problem that a rumour/propaganda mill may simply employ such a possibility enough to undermine the entire process, when the actual effect was minimal.  Perception warping reality and thus corroding legitimacy.

There are thousands and thousands of historical cases where legitimate and registered voters have found themselves to be missing from the electoral register and have thus been prevented from casting their vote.  There have been occasions when those who have lawfully and dutifully completed the procedures to vote in a different city, who have then found themselves to be able to unconsciously and unknowingly carry out quantum physics and vote in two places at the same time.  That is not withstanding entire legions of the dead, that despite having passed on into eternal slumber, have not only remained on voters lists, but managed to cast their ballot too.

Whilst there is clearly an attempt being made to facilitate maximum democratic inclusiveness in the current circumstances, what potential price to the integrity of the democratic outcome with a seemingly lacking mechanism to prevent carousel and/or simply fraudulent voting?

If such mechanisms exist, then they are proving very difficult to find and cite – and even if they do, how could any such mechanism be effectively implemented on voting day?

Thus, as we ponder whether the metaphorical glass is half full, or half empty, after this legislative change, it is probably necessary to acknowledge that it is actually the wrong glass – albeit the only one that could be found in an emergency.

 

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Points make prizes – but is the prize worth having?

October 22, 2014

With the RADA elections now only 5 days away, some thought should perhaps be given regarding any new coalitions and cabinet of ministers that will follow.

Way back on 24th/25th July an entry was published that stated Volodymyr Groysman would become Prime Minister after the forthcoming RADA elections as long as he didn’t drop the ball – and he hasn’t.  President Poroshenko will naturally want one from his stable as PM – and one he trusts, despite Arseniy Yatseniuk doing a decent job in very difficult circumstances.

Ergo, how effective that crystal ball gazing so many months ago will prove to be, is about to be seen in either illuminating and prophetic glory, or embarrassingly poor light.  That such an old entry has been resurrected so close to the elections may be rightfully inferred as that belief remaining – on the assumption that Volodymyr Groysman would want and accept the role of Prime Minister.  It remains something of a poisoned challis that demands an effect first 100 days when all is said and done.

However, Block Poroshenko is not likely to come anywhere close to a RADA majority – a coalition will be required to hold a robust majority.

The question is then not only with whom, but which party would accept a coalition in which the party leader does not become Prime Minister?

It is almost guaranteed that Ms Tymoshenko and Batkivshchyna will not be invited into any Block Poroshenko coalition.  You either work for Ms Tymoshenko, or against her – you do not work with her.  A more zero sum politician is hard to find, making her an extremely difficult partner.  Ergo any coalition involving Ms Tymoshenko could be expected to find her demanding to become Prime Minister and thus leading to a repeat performance of the feckless and wasted Yushenko/Tyoshenko years notable for in-fighting and squandered opportunities.

A coalition with the “Opposition Block” is simply out of the question for more reasons than it is necessary to list.

Gritsenko’s Civic Platform?  Probably not – even if he would be content to fill a Cabinet roll such as that of Defence Minister, which he has previously held.  Would he demand something more lofty?  Probably.

Would Arseniy Yatseniuk’s Popular Front form a coalition with Block Poroshenko, even when Yatseniuk himself would suffer a perceived demotion?  It is a possibility, but what position to offer Yatseniuk?  He is certainly a very clever man and capable of holding numerous positions.  A return as Speaker?  Deputy PM with a European integration port folio?  He is certainly well known and liked amongst those who will continue to financially and politically support Ukraine.

Tellingly, Yatseniuk refused the Block Poroshenko mandate, preferring the Popular Front run alone – a sign perhaps that a longer term view with future presidential elections are a consideration.  A case of being close, but not close enough to Block Poroshenko to be indistinguishable for future leadership contests.

What of Sergei Tigipko’s Strong Ukraine?  Such a coalition would certainly be perceived as reaching out to the eastern regions in a tangible way.  Tigipko is also a capable man.  Whether he would settle for a role other than Prime Minister is the question.  Deputy PM with a social policy port folio?  It would tick many boxes for him personally and instill a little more confidence in the east.

Ukraine’s version of Vladimir Zhirinovsky – the bellicose populist but otherwise empty shell that is Oleh Lyashko and the Radical Party?  He certainly believes that he will be King Maker – but will he?  Could a suitably airy and apparently important title be found for a man incapable of holding a serious and/or sensitive role?  Could a glorious title for a position of little influence be found?

The Self-Help party?  If it gets over the 5% threshold, it seems a realistic contender as a coalition partner.

Will a coalition of Block Poroshenko and one other party be enough to secure a robust majority – or will it require a trilateral coalition?  If it takes 3 parties for a sturdy majority, which 3 can work together effectively?

What of the shadow power building spanning party lines?  How much of a consideration will the generous – but not evenly applied – sprinkling of Sergei Liovochkin’s people throughout most parties effect which party is approached first by Block Poroshenko?  Will “shadow influence” be a factor in any decision making when it comes to accepting or mitigating Ukraine’s grey cardinal?  What of the chess games behind the political facade between Liovochkin, Poroshenko and Kolomoyski?

How easily will it all fit together if the prediction that Volodymyr Groysman will become the next Prime Minister is to be the non-negotiable starting point of any coalition building?  Points make prizes – but the prize has to be worth having for competitors when they are deliberating forming a coalition with Block Poroshenko – and coalition party leaders expect big hierarchical rewards for their allegiance.

Is this blog’s exceptionally fortunate legacy of success when peering into the Ukrainian political crystal ball about to get it wrong – and very soon?

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Bill 5036 fails in The RADA – thankfully

October 21, 2014

Today amongst numerous Bills (4443a and 4143) relating to broadcasting in Ukraine, was Bill 5036.

Within Bill 5036, Article 9, there a new paragraph was proposed, under which a broadcaster is not entitled to distribute audiovisual works, among which the main characters are police, armed forces, special services of Russia and/or the Soviet Union and/or the Russian Empire – except audiovisual works of Soviet production, which were manufactured before August 1991.

In short, all programmes created for broadcast since Ukrainian independence that would in some shape or form seek to glorify or instill thoughts of heroism by those currently fighting against the Ukrainian State would be prohibited.  All those created prior to Ukrainian independence could continue to be broadcast.

Now there may be some skewed but nevertheless well intended patriotic (or sadly nationalist) intent behind such proposed amendment to the existing law – but just how many people watch film/serial/documentary credits at the end, to see whether they were produced prior to, or during MCMXCI, or were indeed produced in MCMXCII or after?

Do those films/serials/documentaries radically change in content or context due to the date of production?

Should media and broadcasting simply be vetted – if it should be vetted at all – by such broad legislative brush strokes by the Ukrainian State?  Is it not wiser, if there is to be any censorship, for any such productions to be decided upon individually?  Would that not be the more “European values based” approach?

Fortunately the Bill failed to pass, as did many other Bills today, due to there being insufficient MPs sitting in the RADA – but that this was even considered a suitable instrument having such a wide scope and indiscriminate approach, appears to reek of a Soviet answer to the issue of censorship.

Not good – not good at all.

 

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Poroshenko signs election law amendments……but……

October 20, 2014

After returning from what can only be described as a less than successful ASEM Summit with regard to progress vis a vis The Kremlin, President Poroshenko has signed the election law amendments relating to voter bribery.

Thus it is now an offence for organisations, institutions, and enterprises to provide undue advantage, or the provision of free goods and services to voters for fear of imprisonment for 2 – 4 years, and/or depriving those responsible within from holding certain public office for a period of 1 – 3 years.

Those that would obstruct the execution of free universal suffrage (violating electoral rights), including the functioning of election commission personnel and observers, together with acts of bribery, fraud or coercion, now face a prison term of 2 – 3 years.

Abuse of office, including members of the election commission now carries a sentence of 3 – 7 years.

Also illegal instruction to an election official in order to effect or influence the election commission now carries a 5 – 10 year sentence, forgery of election documents 3 – 7 years, and theft or concealment of ballot boxes 5 – 7 years.

There is also some adjustment in the existing fines mechanisms.

All very good – but, and there is always a but – it is far too late to have any meaningful impact on this election campaign.  Currently there are at least 15 pending voter bribery cases now in Odessa.  14 in Zaporizhia, in Kyiv another 25.  Kharkiv has also at least 11 pending voter bribery cases, with Zhytomyr 9, and Donetsk another 7, etc.    How many thousands of voters this has influenced – who knows?

There is little point in listing all current bribery allegations under the old unamended law – suffice to say these new amendments cannot be applied retrospectively to at least 140 (and counting) cases of voter bribery during this election campaign.

It will perhaps, make a difference to the final week of electioneering before the ballot on 26th October, but  it is not going to have an effect on judicial outcomes relating those bribery allegations made prior to the law amendments being signed, or investigations/cases already under way.   The laws applicable are those in existence at the time of the commission of the offence – not those in force the date they are heard in a court of law.

Thus, no doubt there will be numerous – indeed plentiful – cases of voter bribery yet to be added to the 140+ incidents already known, that despite coming to light post signing of these amendments into law, will fall squarely within the law prior to it being amended due to the date the offence was commissioned rather than discovered.

Ponder we may, upon how election observers already on the ground in Ukraine will be able to cope with/assess a change of legislation a week before polling.  Dissemination of these amendments are usually less than timely, and their interpretation is not likely to be uniform across regional institutions around the nation either.

All, of course, is not entirely untimely.  The amendments may, and indeed will, be in legal effect when the electoral commission staff deal with the issues of polling day, and any subsequent counting or ballot box shenanigans thereafter.

It will be interesting to see what mention, if any, this gets in any international observer reports.

 

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