Monday, October 18, 2004

Russia Endorses Yanukovych’s Presidential Bid?

You said it is impossible for the former security man to celebrate his birthday in the company of the former criminal. But everything has its price. Vladimir Putin, who so far has avoided showing his opinion of Viktor Yanukovych’s possible presidency, has obviously appreciated the resourceful attempts to win his favor. His response was not limited to a party for three in the Novo-Ogarevo residence. A congress of ethnic Ukrainian associations in Russia was held in Moscow at almost the same time. The motto of the congress was “Ukrainians in Russia are for Yanukovych!” Due to the fact that an honorary seat in the congress’s presidium was assigned to the head of the Russian President’s office, Dmitriy Medvedev, who read a salutatory address from his boss to the meeting, many observers arrived at the conclusion that not only is Yanukovych’s campaign encouraged by the Kremlin, it is also coordinated with it.

Moreover, the Ukrainian Prime Minister met with the head of the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow, and church representatives also attended the congress. According to Yanukovych’s headquarters, Aleksiy II welcomed Yanukovych’s decision to give official status to the Russian language and encouraged him, saying that “I believe that the people will support you in the election.”

The pro-Yanukovych billboards, the redundancy of which in Ukrainian cities was pointed out by the candidate and the head of his headquarters, appeared in Moscow early last week. Yanukovych’s central headquarters in Kyiv denied involvement in the outdoor advertising in the Russian capital, according to the BBC Russia Service. A well-known political analyst from Moscow, who together with his many colleagues is moonlighting on the Yanukovych canvassing team known as “The Russian Club”, assumed that the ten billboards and five screens in Yanukovych’s support were the result of a private initiative by Ukrainian citizens residing in Russia. They were rather affluent citizens, I must say. One day’s display of a billboard somewhere in the center of Moscow costs $1,800 , according to experts. There were fifteen of them. Meanwhile, none of the Moscow-based Ukrainian public associations reached by the BBC correspondent admitted their involvement in organizing the Yanukovych advertising campaign.
One cannot help questioning the legality of such propaganda, as well as remembering the complaints by Yanukovych’s authorized representatives to the Central Election Commission (CEC) about the illegality of publishing Viktor Yushchenko’s articles in the foreign press. If Yanukovych’s headquarters know nothing about advertising their candidate in Moscow, it could be understood that the advertising is paid from a source other that the election fund. Does this comply with Ukrainian law, and does this legislation apply outside Ukraine? CEC officials failed to answer these and similar questions. They turned out to know nothing of these facts and they deemed it inappropriate to speak about something they had not seen.

In the long run, it is enough to make a significant part of Ukrainian voters favor Yanukovych. Vladimir Putin’s public support is an exceptionally important factor in the Ukrainian presidential campaign. According to the polls, the lion’s share of Ukrainians consider him to be the epitome of an ideal ruler. Thus with Putin’s support, Yanukovych does not need any extra effort to increase his approval rating. This, however, was not enough for his “fan”.

The Ukrainian embassy in Russia filed a request with the Russian Foreign Ministry asking for written permission from the Russian government to set up in Russia 650 additional polling stations. The key word, or rather the key figure, is 650.

As is has been reported, a total of 113 polling stations have been set up for voting by Ukrainian citizens abroad, four of which are in Russia. It is expected that more than 300,000 people will vote abroad on October 31. This is certainly not many, considering that, according to unofficial data, five to seven million Ukrainians currently reside abroad. The problem is that polling stations are set up only at Ukrainian diplomatic missions. It takes a lot of negotiation and agreement, as well as the permission of a country’s government, to set up additional polling stations. This is the responsibility of the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry.

The Foreign Ministry, however, displayed minimal involvement in this issue from the very start of the election campaign, according to MP Yuriy Klyuchkovsky, whose opinion is supported by many of those involved in the organization of polling abroad. The observers have the impression that the Foreign Ministry was guided by the principle “the less, the better.” Mykola Tomenko, MP and Our Ukraine representative, believes that those polling stations should be set up in accordance with the wishes of Ukrainians residing abroad. On the whole, their wish is well known: an overwhelming majority of Ukrainians abroad would like to take part in the voting. However, until the present, the Ukrainian government has made every effort to suppress their wish, until it got the idea to use this wish as a plausible excuse for falsification. “If we analyze the overall election strategy of the government’s candidate and correlate it with the initiative to set up additional polling stations abroad only a few weeks before voting day, we will easily understand that this is not a matter of the guaranteed right to vote, but a matter of another government’s manipulation,” Tomenko said.

This manipulation will be on a large scale. Considering the fact that three thousand is the maximum number of people who can vote at one polling station, it is easy to calculate that the initiators of such a significant increase in number of foreign polling stations aim to attract almost two million votes. In whose favor? Read the beginning of this article. For Ukrainians residing in Russia, the fact that Yanukovych is Putin’s protege is not mere advertising, but a direct order to action.

A nearly six-fold increase in foreign polling stations is a good basis for vote rigging. Currently the printing of ballots is at full tilt. Each of the ballots is printed with the number of the polling station where it will be sent. All the 113 polling stations set up abroad have been also assigned their numbers. The law on presidential elections provides that in case of extraordinary setting up of additional polling stations, election commissions there are authorized to write the number of the polling station on the ballots themselves. However, Yuriy Klyuchkovsky, one of the authors of this law, says this rule applies only in exceptional cases, and these cases are few. “When such stations significantly outnumber the regular ones, this can mean only one thing - a wish to trouble the water in order to fish in it.”

The document submitted to the Russian Foreign Ministry had a date by which the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry expected a reply. The date is October 14. ZN was unable to find out whether the Russian Foreign Ministry ever replied to this request, and what was the answer. After two days of trying to get in touch with him through his secretary and directly on his mobile phone, Markian Lubkivsky, a spokesman for the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry, promised to help us and asked to call him at a specified later time. After that he rejected all our calls, and nobody picked up the phone at his office when our phone number was indicated. We view this fact as the Ministry’s reluctance to give publicity to a topic, the publicity, which would be absolutely unnecessary in a dishonest play.

At the same time, we were told by the Central Election Commission that no new requests or any other documents testifying to the Foreign Ministry’s intention were ever submitted there. They are currently discussing setting up additional polling stations only in Australia (two stations), Vietnam (one station), and Pridniestrovie (several stations). They would not tell us about the Russian Federation. We learned, however, from a member of the Central Election Commission that the hopes of opposition candidates to appoint their delegates to election commissions at the additional polling stations (should these be set up) are absolutely in vain. According to the CEC recommendation, the commissions at the extraordinary polling stations abroad are appointed based on the Foreign Ministry’s proposition. No candidates’ representatives are specified.
Thus, it is most likely that Vladimir Putin will sit with Viktor Yanukovych at the same table many more times, if, of course, Leonid Kuchma has reconciled himself to the possibility of his absence from it.


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