2 Ty­moshenkos in race, Rus­sians not wanted, me­dia scan­dal erupts

Kyiv Post - - National - BY OLGA RUDENKO [email protected]

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.

New can­di­dates

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.

Ob­servers con­tro­versy

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.

Me­dia scan­dal

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.

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