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22.01.2010

Head of the CVU: More subtle forms of vote rigging sought

   

Oleksandr Chernenko, Head of the Committee of Voters of Ukraine [CVU] comments on rigging during the first round of voting in the presidential elections, and what can perhaps be expected at the second round.

Oleksandr, the view from specialists and observers was that the first round of voting was more or less fair. Do you share that assessment?

The dangerous rigging we were anticipating did not eventuate. There were isolated cases where clean voting papers were taken out of the polling stations. However that was not on a mass scale. At the same time such a peaceful nature of the first round does not mean that possible dangers have ceased to be an issue. I think that some forms of manipulation were tested during the first round as pilot schemes, and assume that they will be used during the second round.

What techniques do you have in mind?

Bribing voters, “carousels”, and disruption of voting at particular polling stations where there is clear support for one of the candidates. It is at those polling stations that they’ll disrupt the elections. There can be many ways. It is also not out of the question that they’ll stamp ballot papers where against the name of one of the candidates it says “withdrawn”. There were such cases in the first round in the Sumy region, in relation to Anatoly Hrytsenko, as well as in the Mykolaiv and Donetsk regions with other candidates. This is aimed not against the candidate as such, as at spoiling the ballot papers so that voting cannot start on time.

I can cite as an example the disruption of the elections at the 91st district due to the lack of a quorum at the polling station. That is when a certain candidate withdraws his or her representatives, bribes the representatives of another candidate, and the commission can simply not meet in order to begin voting. At such polling stations such elections can be declared invalid.

Again, this time we didn’t see rigging during voting from home, yet that was because the general picture around Ukraine was more or less within the generally acceptable number – three percent of home voters. However there were precincts where the number of such voters was very high, and I would not therefore exclude the possibility that voting at home will also be applied as a method during the second round. With regard to the norms of the law making it possible to include people on the voter list on Election Day … In the first round they included people who had the right to vote. However in principle it is difficult to oversee the procedure, and I think that during the second round this could be a mechanism for vote-rigging. Of course, there will be bribery. That will be done beforehand, in villages, in hostels.

bribing

By “carousel” do you mean the method whereby a person at the entrance to the polling station receives a filled-in ballot paper, throws it into the ballot box and takes his or her clean one, handing it over “where necessary”?

Yes, however that technique is in the past, and I didn’t notice it being a mass phenomenon.

How would you comment on the fact that the majority of prisoners voted not for Yanukovych, but for Tymoshenko?

If before, in 2004, voting was controlled by penal institution management, 2007 showed that the voting process among prisoners is controlled by criminal bosses and the criminal world. The administration virtually doesn’t interfere with the elections, although I know that in electoral headquarters there were certain programmes for passing tea and cigarettes to prisoners so as to get their support. However such voters are a thousandth of the total number. Even if they all vote for one candidate, I don’t think it will influence the outcome.

It would seem that our politicians have finally come down from the trees, stopped opening ballot boxes during the night, rigging the elections, putting pressure on people, committing overt crimes. Not Europe as yet, but some progress?

The system of pressure worked and bore fruit when the police, administrative resources and money were all working together. Now each candidate has their own administrative resource. When one has power and money, and the other – a bit of money, there’s no comparison. When there is some kind of democracy in the country and each has their own administrative resources, candidates can’t just blunder along, but need proper techniques. A competitive environment has forced them to seek less flagrant, more subtle mechanisms.

However these can also be countered. For example, I know that in some hostels students have been offered money if they bring a photo of the ballot paper on their mobile phone proving that they voted for a particular candidate.  However students have already “progressed”. One may, for example, vote so that they get paid. And then send everyone a photo of his or her ballot paper, so that people vote as they wish, but using the fake confirmation, get money.

There are also other methods of avoiding rigging. When you take a transparent wrapper, from a cigarette packet, say, you put your tick on it, the wrapper is placed on the ballot paper opposite a specific candidate, the paper is photographed, and then the wrapper is removed and the person votes as he or she wishes. There are techniques to counter any methods.

Explain the unclear situation with the Georgian observers. Representatives of the Party of the Regions overtly spoke out against them. Yet how could they be a danger for Yanukovych’s commissions in the Donetsk region and how could they help BYuT?

The more observers – any, the more democratic the electoral process. Very often international observers, even when they’re simply present at the polling stations, to some extent have a psychological impact on members of the commission.

I don’t think that BYuT people could have “closed” electoral commissions in the Donbas region. Since whatever they may say, local observers are to some degree dependent on the local authorities. While Georgians are not from outer space, even not from Western Europe. Georgians know the language, understand the technology, they have been through dishonest elections and could have been effective.

The over three hundred Georgians who weren’t let in, had already been in the Donetsk region at the 2007 elections and very often prevented serious violations. Clearly, remembering the 2007 experience, Yulia Tymoshenko’s people decided to ask the observers to repeat that work. However they were rejected at the registration stage, claiming that they were Georgian Special Forces [spetsnaz]…

However there were no incidents, aside from the beating of a Georgian journalist. Everything went more or less calmly  The predictions of the Party of the Regions did not prove justified, there were no Georgian fighters. As far as I know, there were some people from the Ministry of Internal Affairs. If they had been taken there to provoke trouble, it would have happened.

What happened does no credit to our Central Election Commission [CEC]. They even refused to register the Head of the Georgian Central Election Commission and parliamentary deputies. They refused despite the fact that visits from colleagues from other Central Election Commissions to neighbouring countries are part of normal experience and tradition. What can you say when they’re stupidly refused registration?

The CEC now has eight members with orientation towards Yanukovych (out of fourteen, there should be fifteen). What role will the makeup of the CEC play at these elections?

Yes, there are eight people who take their decisions in sync. These decisions are dubious from the point of view of legislation, and at the elections the Central Election Commission plays a more than decisive role.

Although the Party of the Regions has a majority there, Yanukovych’s opponents can block meetings. The meetings are chaired by either the Head of the CEC or his Deputy. Neither Shapoval nor Usenko-Chorna or Mahera are part of Yanukovych’s majority. Therefore on the one hand Yanukovych has a majority in the CEC, but on the other there is the management, loyal to another candidate, which has a blocking package. Therefore serious confrontation is possible.

At present things seem to be heading towards a new CEC member being taken on. His presence can disrupt the balance – if he’s loyal to Yanukovych (and without PR votes in the Verkhovna Rada there won’t be enough votes to appoint a new member.) As far as I know, there are some not unequivocal negotiations going on with Shapoval, so that he retained neutrality… If Shapoval, plus one more member, are added to Yanukovych’s majority, then the CEC can meet and announce the election results, regardless of the wishes of those members who look towards the other candidate.

Whether that’s good or bad remains to be seen. Imagine a situation if the CEC is split … If the elections really do go more or less normally, but the CEC cannot establish the result purely because CEC members don’t come to meetings … It will all depend on how the second round goes. With a minimal gap, each candidate will claim that they’re in the right.

BYuT is shouting that the amendments to the laws on the election make it possible to manipulate the results. However in July 2009 the BYuT and Party of the Regions factions passed that law. 

I totally agree. All the experts were clear about these problems back in July when the law was being considered. We talked about it at all roundtables. We were told that no, this law is being passed so that the President doesn’t rig the elections.

And now they revoke though court rulings in the night what they passed in emergency mode. (During the night of 16-17 January a court ruled to ban voting at home without a medical certificate, and did not introduce restrictions on including voters on the lists). And that confuses voters even more. Back when the law was being passed, in BYuT itself there were people like Andriy Shevchenko and Serhiy Podhorny who proposed good corrections, trying to negate the changes that Portnov and Lavrynovych agreed on. Agreed but conned themselves.

And how did the precinct commissions behave? What were they guided by during the first round – the law or the court ruling?

People were disorientated. Most controversial was the norm about the possibility or impossibility of adding people’s names to the voter list on Election Day. The law says you can, but does not explain the mechanism comprehensively.

CEC says something else, then its decision is partially cancelled. Some of the commissions included people, others didn’t, and that caused chaos to the electoral proceedings.

For us the main thing is to include in the voter list those who have the right to vote. A commission is formally infringing procedure, but not violating the constitutional right to vote.

The interviewer was Lana Samokhvalova

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