The legality of the election campaign in Crimea, with a vote scheduled for March 31 (the same day as the national elections), has been called into question. The ensuing deadlock clearly benefits both the Crimean Communists and their leader, Leonid Hrach, who was disqualified early last week.
On March 4, Crimean Electoral Commission (CEC) Chairman Ivan Polyakov announced that the registration papers of all the contenders in the Crimean parliamentary elections had gone missing. Commission member Antonina Ustinova had removed the documents from the CEC premises on February 27, Polyakov said, and then disappeared. On March 5, Ustinova reappeared with an explanation: Fearful that someone might steal the papers, she had taken them away for safekeeping and locked them in a different safe.
If the documents had not been found, the election in Crimea might have been postponed. In that case, all the candidates would have had to be re-registered. This would have benefited one candidate–the Crimean speaker and local Communist Party of Ukraine branch leader, Leonid Hrach, who was disqualified on February 25 for having lied about his real property and income (see the Monitor, March 1).
That the papers have been found, however, is not necessarily a happy end to the story. Polyakov said that no one could guarantee that they had not been tampered with. CEC work, he said, is therefore paralyzed. The Crimean prosecution has launched a criminal probe into the incident.
According to the press secretary of Hrach’s archrival Serhy Kunitsyn, Hrach’s rivals suspect him of having masterminded the scandal as a way to disrupt the elections. And the behavior of the Communist-controlled CEC has been at best strange. First, Polyakov announced that the documents had disappeared not until a week after the fact. Second, it is hard to imagine how one person, in broad daylight, could make away with a large quantity of registration papers unnoticed. Third, the papers should not even have been at the CEC; according to law, they are to be stored at the offices of the district electoral commissions.
Unable to break the deadlock, both Hrach and his rivals are seeking help in Kyiv. Hrach’s appeal against the disqualification was turned down for a second time on March 5. Meanwhile, Hrach’s supporters have set up a tent camp on Simferopol’s central square to protest the disqualification. Hrach reportedly hopes that President Leonid Kuchma will intervene. Official Kyiv, which views Hrach as a guarantor of political stability in conflict-prone Crimea, may be objectively interested in preserving him as speaker of Crimea’s parliament. But it is concerned that, so soon before the elections, Crimea’s Communists are riding such a high wave of popularity. And Kuchma’s interference into court matters would be illegal.
Hrach’s opponents, distrustful of the Hrach-controlled CEC, want the Ukrainian Central Electoral Commission to take control of the Crimean elections. On March 4, representatives of sixteen centrist and right-wing parties running in those elections appealed to Kuchma and the Ukrainian parliament to amend laws to this effect. Asked to comment, Polyakov said that this would scarcely be possible, given that amendments to both the Ukrainian and the Crimean constitutions would be required before this could be achieved. There is not enough time for the Ukrainian parliament even to begin this cumbersome procedure. Furthermore, because the Crimean legislature is controlled by Communists, relevant amendments to the Crimean constitution are out of the question (Forum, Interfax-Ukraine, Inter TV, March 4; New Channel, March 5).
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