Democracy. Russia. CIS.

To rig, or not to rig?

Posted by democratist on May 28, 2012


May 28th 2012,

As Kiev enjoys this year’s first drawn out spell of summer weather, growing social tension suggests that the parliamentary elections in October will be key for Ukraine’s future stability. Given its deep unpopularity as a result of an economic slowdown and series of corruption scandals, the temptation for the government to rig the vote is strong. Unfortunately, its track-record in this area is not good: Viktor Yanukovich first came to national prominence because he was able to help deliver a majority for Leonid Kuchma through his influence in the eastern part of the country during the 1999 polls. Indeed, it was Yanukovich’s Party of the Regions (PoR) which was allegedly responsible for most of the fraud that occurred during the November 2004 vote, sparking the Orange Revolution.

And while Yanukovich won the February 2010 presidential contest fair and square, those elections were administered under his opponent, Viktor Yushenko. Yushenko was a disappointment in many ways, but made a point of  ensuring that the election administration was improved, and the 2010 poll well run. Subsequent trends have not been as promising: local elections held under the new government in November 2010 were marred by fraud allegations. More recently, opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko has been imprisoned on charges seemingly motivated more by political considerations than legal ones. It is likely she will be barred from running for parliament on a technicality, even if released.

Yet the government is fearful of upsetting the US and EU too much, since that might force it into accepting Moscow’s financial embrace, with the potential impact this would have on the local oligarchy’s political and economic position. So there remains a chance that Western diplomatic pressure, including via election observation outfits such as the OSCE, might have a moderating influence on the way the polls are conducted.

Even so, on the basis of events in parliament after the last presidential elections, much of the most important manipulation will probably take place in the weeks following the vote rather than on election day itself: back in 2010, Yanukovich initially lacked sufficient support in the Rada. However, several MP’s switched sides following his win, providing the PoR with the required majority. For some this may have been result of financial inducements, but in other cases blackmail cannot be ruled out as a factor.

That may not happen this year. If the elections are genuinely free and fair the sheer number of opposition MPs would make such a scenario hard to pull off. The government has lost much of the popularity it had, especially in its traditional heartland in the east. However, if there is fraud, or if the vote is followed by the defection of MPs leading to a clear subversion of the popular will, violent protest is likely.

The Ukrainians demonstrated that they will only be pushed so far in 2004. In October we will see to what extent the government is willing to test their patience once more.

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