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.



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?

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?


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.



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.



Internal displacement Ukraine – an enduring problem

October 19, 2014

Internal displacement of Ukrainian citizens leaving The Donbas –  simply sad reading – and likely to be an enduring issue with no easy or quick fix ahead.

Nothing much else to be said.



Odessa Port Side – Dmitry Firtash

October 18, 2014

Odessa Port Side is a State owned entity of arguably some strategic value – which is why despite being rumoured to be on the privitisation lists of various Ukrainian governments over the years, it has after deliberation, never actually been sold – at least it has never been sold as far as anybody knows, and remains on the register of the State Property Fund.

For many years, off and on, it has been rumoured that the well known oligarch Dmitry Firtash was going to buy Odessa Port Side each time it appeared upon any privitisation list.  His company, РГК Трейдинга (RGK Traiding)  has supplied the gas used by Odessa Port Side for quite some time.

That was until a few months ago.  Whilst Mr Firtash found himself on the end of a substantial bail sum and is currently cooling his heels in Austria pending extradition to the USA, Odessa Port Side signed a deal with the German company E.on to supply its gas.

Very good.  Nothing against Mr Firtash, but there is an urgent need to open up the Ukrainian gas market, and external players like E.on who are large enough to take on the oligarchy monopolies and grubby deals they make in the process of maintaining their monopoly, are certainly welcome.

It is also rumoured that Odessa Port Side will be up for sale once more – and let us be frank, in such a bad condition is the Ukrainian economy, there is far more chance that the sale of this State asset (and others) will now occur.  It is unlikely that Mr Firtash’s interest in Odessa Port Side has wained despite many on/off/maybe plans to privatise Odessa Port Side.  Whomever buys it will purchase an asset that not only does genuinely make money, but is also of some strategic importance economically both to Odessa but also Ukraine as a whole.

Oligarchs such as Mr Firtash naturally prefer to be sole bidders or preferred bidders when obtaining Ukrainian State owned entities.  Dirty little deals for far below market values even after large “facilitation payments” to people and entities who seem to have no real added value or role within the privitisation process usually result.  The net result everybody’s a winner except the State coffers, and by extension, the Ukrainian people – at least, that is what has historically been the case.

If that is to change, and greater transparency over such deals may be the future, then other routes must be sought to either prevent privitisation of desired State assets until a nefarious purchase can once again be procured, and/or, steps to take control of these assets by way of property transfer in  lieu of outstanding State debt for services provided, taken.  In short, attempt to force bankruptcy with the creditor getting the assets in lieu of payment.

With this in mind, it probably comes as no surprise that  РГК Трейдинга has submitted a claim for $1.39 billion against Odessa Port Side relating to unpaid gas bills between April and June, to Odessa Regional Economic Court.  The actual debt for gas claimed is $1.237 billion in relation to 217 million cubic meters of gas.  The remainder of the claim relating to to penalties incurred.

Needless to say Odessa Port Side disputes the claim.

Just what or how much, if anything, is owed to Mr Firtash’s company, time will tell – but during that time, the privatisation of Odessa Dock Side will likely stall.



Rococo and Realpolitik – ASEM Milan

October 17, 2014

Today sees the start of the ASEM 10 Summit in Milan.


A biannual forum created in 1996 for the Heads of State and governments to meet, set ASEM priorities, engage in dialogue and enhance to cooperation between Asia and Europe – and all that.

President Putin will attend after being guest of honour at a Serbian military parade today.  A Kremlin Trojan Horse in need of some friendly grooming every now and again.

Undoubtedly amongst the Rococo in Milan, there will be a good deal of realpolitik between and relating to, Ukraine – and gas supplies to, and through Ukraine.

Sanctions are seemingly unlikely to be lifted even in part, in light of no effort by The Kremlin regarding its agreements made in Minsk, no effort to undo the blatant disregard for regional and international law, and the veiled and not so veiled threats from The Kremlin ranging from playing the tired old gas card, to that of reminders of Russian nuclear capabilities.  The gas card may still have some weight – but ever time it is played, its effectiveness decreases with the expectancy it would be played.

Sanctions and low oil prices won’t help The Kremlin much either.  As time passes a weak Kremlin hand played fairly well thus far, will become weaker.  The strong western hand played slowly and reactively, no matter who badly it began the game, remains strong as long as unity remains amongst the western players.  The political structures created within the “People’s Republics” remain very weak, and the (often fatal) in-fighting between “separatist” groups when not engaging with the Ukrainian forces, is increasing.  A turf war is most definitely underway within the “republics”.  Currently, political control over these groups is getting weaker rather than stronger.

All that notwithstanding, continued Kremlin prodding and poking of neighbouring States and other western nations with niggling little incidents such as airspace violations, border incidents, trade threats and the stirring of social/ethnic divisions in the Baltics and Moldova.

Perhaps the biggest problem facing The Kremlin is the shattering of trust between it and the western world.  Trust may have no tangible dollar value, but the political capital literally thrown out of the window by Kremlin actions is immense.  It will be a decade or more, long after Mr Putin leaves The Kremlin, before trust levels begin to approach those so recently trashed.  It is, after all, not only Kremlin external actions that alarm the Europeans.  It’s internal actions cause concern as well – both politically and for any future investors.

So what to expect from amongst the rococo and realpolitik?  Some form of temporary and fudged gas deal perhaps.  The lifting of sanctions is unlikely, despite some European States muting the idea of a gas deal being sufficient to loosen sanctions – the likes of Mrs Merkel, Mr Cameron and the other significant “net givers” to EU funding/budgets will expect The Kremlin to fully deliver on its Minsk agreements before any serious consideration of such actions.  They seem unlikely to be prepared to link any temporary gas deal to sanctions that were imposed for reasons other than gas.  Thus the European “net receivers” will probably have to accept that reality.

Whether you consider The Kremlin to have now fully passed through the looking glass, and to now be inhabiting an entirely different reality to all its neighbours and beyond – or not – there are no quick fixes ahead.  Expect the rococo to be more enlightening and uplifting than the realpolitik as far as Europe, Russia and Ukraine is concerned.  Nevertheless, there are other pressing issues that may see more progress at the ASEM Summit.


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