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Why Vote-Rigging in Ukraine's Elections Shouldn't Go Unpunished

This post is part of our International Relations & Security coverage.

Opposition activists and supporters rally outside the Central Election Commission in Kyiv. Photo by ukrafoto ukrainian news, copyright © Demotix (5/11/12).

The October 28, 2012 parliamentary elections in Ukraine are likely to be best-remembered for widespread protest voting, seemingly endless vote counts in disputed voting districts, allegations of vote-rigging and a rather lackluster public protest in Kyiv. However, an abundance of citizen media reports, live online broadcasts and other monitoring initiatives is what makes this election – not to mention violations that occurred before, during and after the vote – memorable. As Ukrainska Pravda journalist Kateryna Avramchuk commented [uk] via Twitter on the situation at one of the contested voting districts:

@avramchuk_katya: There's a live broadcast of our votes being stolen [...] And you expect people not to be apolitical after that?

Protesters in Kyiv during the Orange Revolution of 2004. Photo by Veronica Khokhlova.

Eight years ago, electoral fraud during the 2004 presidential vote sparked the protests that came to be known as the Orange Revolution. The opposition won back then, but later failed to properly investigate the numerous violations and to prosecute those responsible. Some of the accused even ended up receiving state awards. This, alongside the constant infighting, eventually eroded much of the public support that the victorious “Orange” team used to enjoy.

The attitude of many Ukrainian voters today is reflected well enough in this Facebook comment [uk]:

…People say they don't want to [join street protests] because they have already given their votes – and now let [the opposition politicians] fight with the regime for their [parliament seats] on their own…

The current post-election situation stems from impunity and systematic corruption prevalent in Ukraine. But it also offers the opposition yet another chance to make up for its past mistakes.

Politicians and citizens may disagree on the best strategy for re-establishing the true will of voters in these circumstances (a complete or partial re-vote, or just a re-count of the votes in contested districts). Most, however, agree that the opposition has to stick together this time, taking legal action against the perpetrators of electoral fraud, and seeing it through – instead of just talking about the necessity to do so.

Olga Ajvazovska, coordinator of electoral programs at Civil Network OPORA, argued [uk] against re-voting in the contested districts:

[...] If this week the world has seen [riot police] “counting” the votes and candidates kidnapping heads of [district election commissions] with their [official] stamps, then in 60 days [in time for a partial re-vote] we may witness some shooting. [...] Is there really anyone who thinks that a new campaign will secure a victory for those who have already won in these districts? [...] The winners have lost [due to fraud], and the losers will win [in case of a re-vote]. If no one goes to jail for falsifications, then the fate of this campaign has already been decided.

Mykola Kniazhytsky, general director of the TVi channel and an oppositional candidate in this election, agreed [uk] with Ajvazovska:

[...] The people have won honestly. If we decide to schedule a re-vote, it should happen only after criminal charges are filed against the falsifiers. Otherwise, we'll be exonerating and encouraging them.

Andriy Parubiy, another opposition candidate, favored a re-count [uk] over a re-vote and suggested [uk] creating a public nationwide register of election fraudsters, “from [President Viktor Yanukovych] to heads of [local election commissions]” [uk].

It remains to be seen, however, whether any of those responsible for the current crisis will ever be brought to justice.

ISN logoThis post and its translations to Spanish, Arabic and French were commissioned by the International Security Network (ISN) as part of a partnership to seek out citizen voices on international relations and security issues worldwide. This post was first published on the ISN blog, see similar stories here.

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