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2 November, 2012

Old and New Ways to Distort the Voting

One can tell the President: the good news is — you won; the bad news is that the voters did not support you

On Sunday evening – the day of election - I was suddenly struck by some optimism! The polling stations in Brovary were ok. The pictures of the candidates were on the wall in alphabetical order and I found some observers from the real opposition parties among the many “technical” observers who not always remembered whom they represented when asked. At this optimistic moment, I was watching the counting at a polling station in district 97. The process went very slowly – but it was mainly fine.

When they started the counting, a journalist told me that the exit polls for the nationwide election showed around 60% to 40% in favour of the opposition parties. I was still aware of the possibility that the Party of Regions could win many of the first-past-the-post districts, but the exit polls in “my” constituency gave 32% to the Klitschko party candidate, compared to 18% for the Party of Regions' candidate.

Could it be that the result would be favourable to those opposition parties who had made an agreement to withdraw candidates in support of the local candidate with the best chance to win earlier? For a few hours, I tried to picture the possibility that the Party of Regions' majority in the new parliament – which it got thanks to the many turncoats after 2010 – would disappear! How would the President react? Would he still be able to decide on the composition of a new government? Could we avoid a constitutional amendment to cement the power of an unpopular president? For a moment I hoped that the excessive misuse of administrative resources could not stop the voters from showing their anger at the government. The misuse of administrative resources in district 97 among many other things included a newspaper paid for by tax-payers' money that was distributed to all citizens and included 32 pictures and an advertisement lauding the many good things the Party of Region's candidate had done and intended to do and nothing about any of the other candidates. On top of this, there were several leaflets with strange rumours about the main opposition candidate: that he was a CIA spy, that he was annulled from the list because he was a Russian citizen, that he intended to spoil the environment with a factory and so on.

But then the first results began to come in. And I realized that I had only been dreaming. The reality was that the opposition figures in the nationwide part of the election shrunk during the night and the next day. And that in district 97 the opposition candidate was far from winning according to the first real results.

Observers are always told to stay in their polling station until the counting ends and follow the protocols, ballot paper and other material from the polling station to its delivery in the district election commission to see if it is registered accurately. An important moment is when parallel counting can prove that the figures announced at the polling station are similar to those announced in the district election commission.

But in district 97 the possibility for such observation was surprisingly poor. There was only a small, narrow area where about 10 people could gather to watch the results of 130 polling stations. The first box arrived around midnight from a little village with a small number of voters. The registration was extremely slow and included bouts of arguing and reading of some complicated rules. At 4a.m. many observers left to sleep – by that time, only a few polling stations had been registered and other delegations were queued in long lines. When I returned at 11 a.m. on Tuesday, the commission was locked and busses began to show up waiting in the rain for the commission to open. Many had been sent back to the polling station to correct the protocols. This happened especially to those from the areas where you could suspect opposition to be popular. Stalin said that it doesn't matter how the votes are cast, but how they are counted. But it also seems to matter how they are registered.

In a fair election it is important that you are able to see — in public — the results of all polling stations. If we only have the final result after a week, then no-one knows what has happened in between. False parties and clone parties had been set up just to give a big majority to the Party of Region sin election commissions and distort the votes. Threats to local personnel, bribes and all sorts of rigging were used in the election. I fully agree with the words from the OSCE: “Considering the abuse of power, and the excessive role of money in this election, democratic progress appears to have reversed in Ukraine. One should not have to visit a prison to hear from leading political figures in the country.”And this from PACE: “Ukrainians deserved better from these elections. The ‘oligarchization’ of the entire process means that citizens have lost their ownership of the election, as well as their trust in it.”

The combination of a bad election law and bad voting process means that one can tell the President: the good news is — you won; the bad news is that the voters did not support you.

In 2002, we saw that the Orange majority disappeared after the election, when the “independents” drifted to what is today the Party of Regions. At that time, it was said that we should change the system in order to avoid this in future elections. But 10 years after, the situation is even worse.

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