2 Tymoshenkos in race, Russians not wanted, media scandal erupts
Editor’s Note: Election Watch is a regular update on the state of the presidential race in Ukraine. The country will elect its next president on March 31, 2019, with a possible runoff on April 21. The Election Watch project is supported by the National Endowment for Democracy. The donor doesn’t influence the content. Go to kyivpost.com for more election coverage.
Seven weeks before the March 31 presidential election, the Central Election Committee is about to announce the final list of registered candidates. The commission stopped accepting applicants on Feb. 3, but has been processing them throughout the week. Its deadline for announcing the final list of candidates is Feb. 8.
As of the evening of Feb. 7, the commission had registered 42 candidates but put only 34 of the names on its official website. Altogether, 89 people applied. Many were rejected on various grounds — they didn’t pay the Hr 2.5 million ($90,000) registration fee, hadn’t lived in Ukraine for the past 10 years, or failed to fill application documents.
It will be a crowded ballot — especially compared to the 2014 election, where only 21 candidates ran for president, and even compared to the record one in 2004, which saw 24 candidates.
Up until March 7 candidates can drop out of the race and withdraw their registration fee of Hr 2.5 million, so it is yet to be seen how many will make it to polling day on March 31.
Among the candidates added in the last week are a few surprising ones.
One is Yuriy Tymoshenko, a lawmaker from the 80-member People’s Front. A former soldier, Tymoshenko is relatively new to politics. But his name is very similar to the election front-runner Yulia Tymoshenko’s, to the point where even their patronymics are the same.
Tymoshenko’s decision to run immediately raised suspicions that he is a “doppelganger” aimed at confusing potential Tymoshenko’s voters. Previously, popular candidates sometimes appeared in the ballots next to obscure candidates with very similar names — but these tricks have been taking place in the realm of the general and local elections, not presidential ones.
However, the lawmaker says he is running at his own initiative and in all seriousness. He hasn’t appeared in the polls.
President Petro Poroshenko, who waited until the last days of the five-week registration period to announce he is running for the second term, paid a visit to the Central Election Commission on the last day of registration, Feb. 3.
Head of the Communist Party of Ukraine Petro Symonenko tried to register as a candidate too, but was rejected because the Communist symbols have been banned in Ukraine since 2015. Symonenko sued — and lost.
The election observation mission of the Organization for Security and Cooperation’s Office of Democratic Institutions & Human Rights, part of the 57-nation OSCE, started its work in Ukraine on Feb. 6.
The mission, which has preeminent expertise in the area of election monitoring, got off to a rough start. Many in Ukraine objected to Russian observers being included in the mission, and as the mission refused to drop them, some even called for the whole mission to be rejected.
U.S. special representative Kurt Volker had to step in, reinstating the importance of having OSCE election monitors in Ukraine.
“(It’s) OK if Russian monitors are part (of the mission) — but under ODIHR authority,” Volker tweeted. “No games. Ukraine needs to have confidence in its own democratic institutions.”
But the Ukrainian parliament on Feb. 7 passed a law banning Russian citizens from serving as observers at elections in Ukraine.
It wasn’t the only controversy concerning election observers in the news this week.
Members of the far-right movement National Militia registered as election observers for the election, raising concerns that they might use force at the polling stations. Interior Minister Arsen Avakov publicly warned them off doing so, saying that their presence at the stations will be terminated if they try to act as anything else than observers.
The run-up to any big election in Ukraine never lacks media scandals. On Jan. 31, the supervisory board of Suspilne state-owned TV company, operating the UA Pershiy channel, fired its CEO Zurab Alasania.
The circumstances of the firing immediately spurred fears of censorship. Among the reasons for the firing named by board members was the channel’s decision to not broadcast events in which Poroshenko participated.
While UA Pershiy is less popular comparing to bigger oligarch-owned stations, it has the biggest penetration — 93 percent of households in Ukraine can access this channel. The channel is also one of two stations in Ukraine that airs investigative shows by Nashi Hroshi and Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty, which often focus on top-level corruption. The shows’ investigations have targeted, among others, Poroshenko and his close circle.
Board members denied there was political reasoning for the hasty firing of Alasania two months before the election.
Alasania himself told Deutsche Welle that he believed that his firing wasn’t a result of a direct order from Poroshenko, but was initiated by some “zealous people close to him.”
The March 31 presidential election will see a record number of candidates and almost certainly a runoff on April 21. While the Central Election Commission has approved 42 people as candidates as of Feb. 7, 89 applied.