Archive for October 18th, 2012

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Fighting dirty – Constituency parliamentary seats and electioneering violations

October 18, 2012

As almost everybody knows by now, the Ukrainian parliamentary elections are split between 225 proportional representation seats (the party list vote), and 225 constituency seats which are run head to head by candidates in a first past the post vote.

As has been quite obvious from the start of this election campaign, the current ruling majority coalition partner, Party of Regions, has spent far more time and effort on the constituency seats than on the proportional representation vote.  In short they appear quite confident of their traditional support either remaining with them or the majority of disillusioned voters swapping to the Communist Party which makes up the other part of the ruling coalition.  Thus net losses to the ruling coalition will be minimal as far as proportional representation will go.

This is possibly best underlined by the +6% media time my monitoring of the television channels is in favour of the combined opposition parties.  In short Party of Regions is spending less time and money banging the “Party List” drum.

The ruling coalition goal has been to try and get 300 or more of the 450 RADA seats and thus have a constitution changing majority (which requires 300 MPs).  It will take some spectacular and barefaced cheating for them to achieve that, although it seems quite likely that they will remain the majority ruling coalition despite the “democratic opposition” parties being less than democratic in withdrawing candidates in favour of other opposition party candidates to prevent a split in the opposition vote.  Whilst it may achieve preventing a split vote, it also reduces democratic choice for the voter who may not want to be forced to vote for UDAR if a United Opposition candidate is withdrawn or vice versa.

Thus, having deemed the constitutional majority (and the election) will be won or lost by the constituency seats from the off, that is where Party of Regions have consistently concentrated their best efforts.

Needless to say, this is also where the vast majority of the more serious election law violations have taken place – not all by the Party of Regions it has to be said.

Now it is too simplistic to think that any Party of Regions shenanigans are necessarily directed at either UDAR, Svoboda or the United Opposition.  That is simply not true, especially in the fight for constituency seats where there are good independents running – and there are quite a few such seats.  It is also true that shenanigans are not necessarily restricted to being given out by the Party of Regions.  In some cases they are getting as good as they are giving by way of shenanigans,  both from independents and the United Opposition in certain constituency seats where it is not that easy to pick a natural winner.

In Odessa, I can fairly confidently predict who will win what seat – with or without any cheating – based on the personalities running for each seat and the resonance the individuals have with the general voting public.

I live in Arcadia which falls under the Primorsky Rayon seat.  If anybody other than Sergey Kivalov becomes my RADA representative I will show my arse from a marshutka window.  Like all those in local and national politics, he has a “colourful past” to put it diplomatically, however in the past decade in Primorsky Rayon, Kivalov has paid for and built churches, a university, sports complex etc etc as well as keeping a consistently high profile in the media.

In short everybody knows him by sight and knows what he has done in the rayon for which he is standing.  His philanthropy, regardless of how he made the money in the first place, stands and is used daily by people who he will represent (if he wins).  He has no need to promise to build infrastructure to win votes.  He has already built it and no doubt will continue to do so.

All things considered he should, and probably will, overwhelmingly win the Primorsky seat without the need to cheat, as he is seen as having already done much for Primorsky over the past 8 years or so – thus he is genuinely popular.

However, there are a few seats that are not so clear cut.  Even though there are really only one or two UDAR candidates that stand a realistic chance of winning a constituency seat, and only a few more United Opposition candidates as well due to their low public profiles in Odessa prior to electioneering, some independents are also likely to give the Party of Regions a very good run for their money.

The constituency seat of Kyivsky Rayon would be one such seat.

Now to be quite frank, there is no hope for any opposition candidate there as they are simply “unknowns” as far as the locals are concerned.  They do not have the local history of the two men I am about to talk about running for the Kyivsky seat.  Regardless of party politics, when it comes to constituency seats, people are more likely to vote for people they know and/or recognise.

Now, at this point I must declare I personally know both men I am about to talk about.   I also have to say that I only agree with about 50% of either man’s political platform and the policies that they would want to promote if they won and were sent to the RADA.

Both are also big names in local Odessa politics and both have some clout in the current and in previous city administrations.  Thus under the last “Orange” Mayor and under the current “Blue” Mayor, they were, and are still,  well known political figures.  Both were in, and remain in the city council, and both have been, and are,  consistently on television or in the newspapers.

The first is Igor Markov.  He is a neighbour.  He is the leader of Party Rodina, owner of numerous enterprises, and to put it diplomatically, he is a “self made” multimillionaire.  How people become “self made” multimillionaires in Ukraine over the past 20 years is fairly well documented, and from that you may draw inference, perhaps rightly or perhaps wrongly.

Nevertheless, no matter how people became “self made”, one of the few notable qualities of Mr Markov has been that when he has said he would do something in local politics – he has done it.  Whether or not elections were happening, he has fairly consistently delivered on what he has said he would do for people in Odessa.  I don’t have to agree with his politics to recognise that he has been a local politician that has kept his word far more often than not.

In many respects politically, he would be a natural ally of the Party of Regions, although not entirely, as he certainly has some political views that run contrary to the Party of Region line.

Up against him and running for Party of Regions is a well known local politician called Aleksey Gonsharenko –  probably known by most for his very boyish looks.  In fact in this weather he wouldn’t look out of place in short trousers playing conkers.

However, he is not a man to be underestimated in local politics and has managed to get  himself very highly placed in the city council.  Possibly a little too high for his current ability, but he is a willing political workhorse  who puts in a lot of hours and definitely will get better with experience.  Again I don’t have to agree with his politics to recognise the large number of additional hours he has put in over recent years for otherwise champion-less causes compared to many in local Odessa politics.

In short, two of Odessa’s best known local political personalities are up against each other for the Kyivsky Rayon constitutional seat, and seemingly fairly natural (although not complete) allies, are contesting against each other –  with none of the UDAR/United Opposition/Svoboda democratic choice reduction policy between them over this seat.

And it has been nasty.  Of all the Odessa seats, Kyivsky Rayon has seen the nastiest election campaigning despite the outward pleasantries of televised debates between the two men.

Although I don’t live in Kyivsky Rayon, I own property there and about 75% of my in-laws and friends live there too.  Thus I am often in that part of the city and over the past months have witnessed first hand the shenanigans that have gone on in complete violation of the elections laws – by both major contenders.

I will not write an exhaustive list of absolute violations, but I will give a few examples I have personally witnessed, in no particular order, lest I give the impression “he started it” – and who started it I have no idea and really don’t care.

3 months free cable TV for pensioners provided by Mr Markov for the pensioners of Kyivsky Rayon.

Sweets, cakes and personal visits by Mr Gonsharenko, followed by a new road and footpaths after a complaint to him by a friend of my mother-in-law immediately after she mentioned it.  I literally mean, work on the new road and footpaths started the next day thanks to Mr Gonsharenko becoming “aware” of the situation after the complaint.

Two days ago, Party of Regions people visited some friends (the husband of which is a Brit) offering her UAH 50 there and then if she promised to vote for Gonsharenko, provide a photocopy of her passport, and a further UAH 100 once it was confirmed she had voted for him.

Large black 4x4s driving around Kyivsky Rayon with loudspeakers, not bigging up the qualities Mr Gonsharenko, but accusing Mr Markov of numerous crimes and nefarious acts (again two days ago).

Mr Markov donating computers to schools as personal gifts amongst other high profile “personal donations” in the past month.  (To be fair, something he has done over the years anyway, but an absolute “no-no” during official campaigning which he will be well aware of.)

The continued defacing of both Markov and Gonsharenko campaign material as fast as either puts it up (by persons unknown).

I could go on for quite some time when it comes to this particular constituency seat – I have not even mentioned the standard free staple foods that always get distributed “as charitable donations” at every Ukrainian election by every political party – but I am sure you get the idea – and that is but a few of many things I have witnessed myself when I have been in that part of the city without reciting the hearsay evidence of friends and family.

Suffice to say it has been far dirtier than the electioneering for the Primorsky seat where I live – indeed it is the dirtiest election campaigning I can remember in all the years I have lived here (which has seen 3 parliamentary and 2 presidential election campaigns, not to mention 2 local elections for City Hall) – and in a seat where snowballs would have a better chance in hell than a recognised “opposition party” candidate of winning.

So what effect will all these shenanigans and nefarious acts have on the electorate?

It is quite hard to say to be honest.  The mother-in-law had made up her mind who to vote for long before being offered sweets, being given a new road and pavement or free cable TV.  She simply won’t sell her vote for UAH 150.

Most of her friends that I know had already made up their mind who they are going to vote for as well.  So has my good ladies brother who also lives in Kyivsky Rayon.  As has his wife.  And his wife’s parents who also live there.

Seemingly none of these actions have in any way affected how they were going to vote compared to how they are going to vote.  So how many will eventually change their minds and vote a different way because of illegal actions by either candidate is actually quite hard to judge.  I know of nobody, but I am quite sure there will be quite a few – not that it will help the “official opposition” parties either way, as it is most definitely a two horse race in which their horses have only 3 legs and names nobody connects with Kyivsky Rayon or Odessa in general.

Nevertheless, illegal actions are happening on a daily basis between the Gonshenko and Markov camps, either with or without the knowledge of Markov and Gonshenko themselves, so overtly that even the most dim-witted election observers can hardly fail to notice if they spent a day there – something I may or may not drop into conversation this afternoon when addressing the third group of foreign election observers I have been asked to talk to in the past month.

(Yes I will do almost anything for a free coffee and nibbles – even accept requests to talk to foreign election observer missions when they ask me.)

So, as this post demonstrates, not all election violations will be to the detriment of Party of Regions and carried out by the United Opposition (or soon to be allied post-election coalition parties) anymore than all Party of Regions violations are all going to be targeting the United Opposition (or soon to be allied post-election parties).

All serious election violations from wherever they originate will be to the detriment of Ukraine however.

(Note I have written “serious violations” and not simply “violations”, as in every election in every nation, be they monitored or not, there are hundreds of minor election law breaches that will in no way change the course of how people will vote or affect the results through manipulation.)

What has been quite noticeable has been the lack of control over some constituency candidates by all parties taking part in the constituency seat elections.  The same can be said for the self-control of some of the independent candidates as well.

Whilst Party of Regions have been deliberately aggressive (and have lost control of some of their people) in this area from the outset, lack of party discipline over constituency candidates is not peculiar to them alone.

Very competitive and very dirty when it comes to some constituency seats it has to be said – and the local election commissions in some regions are especially weak and timid, allowing matters to spiral out of control.

Fortunately it will all be over in 10 days time (barring the legal challenges that will no doubt be launched).  Unfortunately, that means I will be buying my own coffee and nibbles until 2015 when the election observers return seeking my 2 pennies worth for their reports.

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