Dodgy Election Techniques: Keeping the Voter uninformed
Efforts to ensure that all infringements on Election Day in Ukraine were reported hit a major hurdle at around 14.00 with a number of sites coming under a DDoS attack. The most prominent election monitors – OPORA and the Committee of Voters of Ukraine [CVU] – were clearly targeted however the hackers did not stop there. As late as 22.00 the sites of the CVU, www.electioninfo.org.ua the Kharkiv Human Rights Group and presumably others were still down.
With supreme irony, the KHPG site finally disappeared entirely just as reports came through of the use of “carousel” voting in Electoral District No. 53 (Yenakiyeve, Donetsk oblast). CVU observers had reported that a black jeep and white Chevrolet Lacetti were seen near several polling stations (140841, 140855 and 140871). They followed the movements of five people in each of the cars who went in and voted at each of the polling stations listed. This information has been passed to the Donetsk Regional Prosecutor. It remains to be seen whether anything is done about it. Certainly the Deputy Interior Minister V. Ratushnyak later stated that the police had not noticed any cases of “carousel” voting. That information was gleaned from the Ministry’s website which, unlike the sites of the above-mentioned civic organizations, was not hacked.
Given the problems over access to information, the scale of infringements on Election Day can only be guessed. With many of the concerns over recent months having been in shenanigans over formation of electoral commissions and secrecy over important decisions, there must be at least as much concern over the vote count.
There are, of course, other reasons why any assessment of these elections from the point of view of fairness and transparency is seriously impeded. The most glaring is the fact that major opposition figures are either imprisoned – Yulia Tymoshenko and Yury Lutsenko – or facing arrest if they return to Ukraine – the prominent leader of the Batkivshchyna Party in Kharkiv and former Governor of the Kharkiv Oblast Arsen Avakov.
Then there is the undoubted manipulation of public opinion on national television channels with one of the worst offenders being the State-owned UTV-1. This has been reported on very many occasions with specific examples given. The amount of evidence was so overwhelming that the only surprise in recent weeks came from the State TV and Broadcasting Committee which suddenly began “monitoring” television channels before the elections and, lo and behold, found that the opposition received considerably more coverage on Ukrainian television than the government. NGOs monitoring the elections and media content immediately slammed the State Committee’s methodology. Since the latter’s reports have been sent to all embassies, etc, the motives for such a flurry of activity must also be questioned.
The State Broadcasting Committee took part in a meeting with observers last Wednesday, together with representatives of various ministries, and also the Human Rights Ombudsperson. The Ombudsperson asked observers to avoid such terms as “technical parties” and said that all parties must take part in the elections or their registration is cancelled. Since the law states only that political parties must take part in elections over the space of 10 years, this information was somewhat misleading. The role of the electoral commissions will be vital in the next hours and days and it is no wonder that election watchdogs have drawn attention to the bizarre draw for membership of electoral commissions. This has led to a number of extremely marginal parties receiving the chance to be represented where much more prominent parties were not. Doubts about the real nature of such parties are surely also inevitable when the same candidates have been put forward from different parties, and when in some cases the original candidate was almost immediately replaced by a supposed member of the Union of Anarchists, for example, who at the 2010 presidential elections represented the Party of the Regions
What happens during both voting and the vote count is obviously very important. Important enough to block the flow of information, as are the other circumstances that have distorted these elections and made words like free and fair seem depressingly hollow.