Pollsters Project Victory for the Opposition. What Will the Central Election Commission Say?
Low interest in politics and poor political awareness of many Ukrainians, multiplied by the opposition’s reluctance to overcome this problem in the last weeks before the election, is accompanied by the government’s consistent efforts to gain total freedom in the vote counting by election commissions under its control.
A recent poll by the Democratic Initiatives Foundation and KIIS revealed a widespread lack of awareness of the first-past-the-post (FPTP) component of the upcoming election. This creates favourable environment for rigging the election. Notably, 11.5% of the polled voters claimed they were ready to sell their votes. This is enough to tilt the election outcome in favour of those prepared to buy them.
Another serious problem is that, less than two weeks before the election, only 54.2% of the voters who are going to cast their ballots know that half of all MPs will be elected in FPTP districts. 24.4% “have heard something about it” while 21.4% had no idea. Apparently, the choice of FPTP candidates will often be spontaneous, and many voters will be prevented from casting their ballots. According to civil activists, the party in power has been instructing district election commissions in provinces to keep FPTP ballots, giving only those with party lists to voters, and fill in the FPTP ballots on their own in favour of the party in power. This means that the percentage of voters who are not aware of the FPTP part of the election may become decisive in distorting the election outcome in single-candidate districts as commission members fill the FPTP spot as they will – especially in districts where 20-25% will secure a victory. This should encourage opposition forces to immediately launch an awareness raising campaign on the FPTP component of the election.
Low interest in politics and poor political awareness of many Ukrainians, multiplied by the opposition’s reluctance to overcome this problem in the last weeks before the election, is accompanied by the government’s consistent efforts to gain total freedom in the vote counting by election commissions under its control. Last week, the parliament passed amendments to the Law on Ensuring Open, Transparent and Democratic Parliamentary Election on 28 October 2012, regarding video cameras at polling stations. These will not be installed at special polling stations, i.e. in prisons, hospitals and the like, and polling stations abroad, even though these are exactly where the rigging may peak.
No video cameras will be installed in district commissions or the Central Election Commission where the final results will be counted. Consequently, video recording as one possible barrier to rigging the vote has been eliminated there. Earlier, opportunities for falsification were expanded with the help of technical parties which helped the party in power to increase its representation on district and polling station election commissions to an absolute majority. Another step in that direction was the decision to do online video broadcasting only during the voting when the cameras are unlikely to record anything illegal. The major part of the falsification will take place during the counting when the cameras will only record the process – and the records are in the control of the government. Finally, the Central Election Commission has banned access to district election commission server rooms to observers, representatives and commission members representing candidates and parties, and refused to disclose the results sent from district election commissions. Therefore the data updated on the Central Election Commission’s website may end up being skewed.
Given these circumstances, virtually the only thing that can prevent this massive rigging of the election is for all opposition forces to join efforts in election commissions. Based on their parallel vote count, they should compile an alternative data bank before the official outcome is disclosed, and disclose data by districts and polling stations accessible to the public and foreign observers. It makes sense for the opposition to start offering sociological services, financial and organizational support to hold a nationwide exit poll in the maximum number of towns and villages, with the largest possible number of those polled involved, to minimize the sampling error. The government should be put in a place where it will have to explain possible discrepancies between the results counted in parallel voting and by the Central Election Commission. In that case, district election commissions and the Central Election Commission should be required to disclose data by polling stations and districts where major discrepancies emerged, and possibly to count the votes once again. To do this, however, opposition teams should nominate joint candidates in FPTP districts and unite efforts in protecting their results in FPTP districts and party list voting. Any war over exit polls or parallel counts by these parties will devaluate them as an argument against rigged election.
For Ukrainians incarcerated in the occupied territories and in the Russian Federation itself, things could get much worse in 2018. Only serious international pressure is likely to make Moscow release these political prisoners