Apathy and mistrust is coloring the run-up to Ukraine’s March 31 parliamentary elections. Last year, for the first time, Ukraine passed an election law guaranteeing representation to different political parties on district electoral commissions. By March 24, some 944 foreign election observers were registered, the highest number since independence. But voters and some key participants in the race apparently do not trust the election outcome a priori.
Only some 4 percent of voters believe that the election will be fair, say pollsters from the Socis polling agency, Kyiv International Sociology Institute, Ukrainian Institute for Sociological Research, the Social Monitoring Center and the Democratic Initiatives foundation. This figure was revealed at a joint press conference in Kyiv on March 14. The pollsters also said that some 30 percent of the potential voters they polled believed that the election would be rife with falsification, and 37 percent were sure that the vote result would be doctored to a certain extent.
The frontrunner, Our Ukraine bloc leader Viktor Yushchenko, has no faith in a fair election either. Speaking on March 21 during a campaign trip in Chernivtsi (in western Ukraine), Yushchenko forecast that the election would be falsified by 8-12 percent. “There are a great many circumstances making one doubt that the election will be fair, such as the absence of results of the census and the absence of a register of voters,” Yushchenko said.
From the outset, the opposition has suspected that the government may use the results of the December 2001 census, Ukraine’s first since independence, to rig the election. Yushchenko doubts the veracity of the official statistics, according to which the electorate has grown by 1.6-1.8 million people over the past two years, while the country’s population has decreased. He also said that he is inclined to believe in the existence of a secret government plan to rig the vote, which was publicized by people’s deputy Oleksandr Yelyashkevych on March 15 (see the Monitor, March 21). Yushchenko also expressed mistrust in the Central Electoral Commission. “Not how people vote, but who counts, will matter,” he said.
But Yushchenko may fall into a trap. If Our Ukraine wins the election–and opinion polls are suggesting that it will–the government may choose to question the outcome. Volodymyr Lytvyn, the leader of the pro-government For United Ukraine bloc, has on several occasions expressed mistrust toward the pollsters forecasting a low result for his bloc. And the ruling elite has jumped at the idea, voiced by pro-government analyst Mykhaylo Pohrebynsky, that the non-left opposition may, with foreign assistance, use results of opinion polls and exit polls to rig the election. If Our Ukraine happens to be the “aggrieved party”–if it officially scores less than forecast–a “Yugoslav scenario” similar to the Milosevic-Kostunica election in Yugoslavia in 2000 may, according to Pohrebynsky, play in Ukraine. This would be perfectly in line with official anti-American propaganda, which presents Yushchenko as a U.S. protege.
Another postulate of the official propaganda, cultivated since the 1998 elections, is that “criminals” are seeking seats in parliament in order to gain, as deputies, immunity from prosecution. This only muddies the waters. “Half of those running for parliament could be jailed today,” Prosecutor-General Mykhaylo Potebenko said in a recent interview with the Den newspaper. “Just take a look at the election lists!” Potebenko, as it happens, is running for parliament himself on the Communist Party list (Unian, March 14, 22; Den, March 19, Forum, March 21).
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