The presidential election race will begin under the New Year tree, on December 31, but some politicians have kick-started filling the space with billboards, speeches, meetings. But this does not mean that one of them will come first, because the election to the Verkhovna Rada in the autumn of 2019 may eliminate these attempts. The moves on the political chessboard must be extremely balanced.
Sociological data is updated, there are many candidates, they are shuffled like cards in a deck, the gap between them is insignificant, and picking obvious favourites, or even the winners, is ungrateful. However, it is important not only to find out which of the applicants for the mace has the greatest chances to win but also how exactly the upcoming election campaign will be held. What technologies of the past will trail in 2019, and which, on the contrary, will disappear, like a lizard’s tail, with a loss of significance? What impact will Russia have on the election process? What is the role of technical candidates, because some of them are no longer satisfied with a few bits of interest, but have been scrambling to the TOP-five?
Experts do not want to compare the past presidential election campaign with the upcoming one. Then, in 2014, after the escape of Viktor Yanukovych, the unscheduled election was held in the conditions of the beginning of the war in the east and the recent annexation of the Crimea. The president, who would unite society was needed urgently, and very few people doubted Petro Poroshenko’s victory. What’s now?
“Firstly, the election will be held in conditions of an undeclared war of Russia against Ukraine”, a member of the CEC, Leontiy Shypilov, reminded to Opinion. “Previous, extraordinary presidential and parliamentary in 2014, also occurred in the conditions of the armed aggression of the Russian Federation and the occupation of part of Ukrainian territory. Now the enemy is acting smarter and thinks about the future, using the entire arsenal of hybrid warfare tools”.
For example, they’ve recently tossed fake news on the Internet, as if the chairman of the CEC had appointed Serhii Kivalov and Mykhailo Okhendovsky, former odious leaders of the Commission, as advisers. The goal is to discredit the CEC at the start of its activities.
“Secondly, a high level of competition and activity of candidates and parties is expected in both the presidential and parliamentary election”, continued Mr Shipilov. “The election needs to be held in accordance with generally accepted democratic standards and procedures. To ensure this in the wartime conditions is our key task”.
The election is planned, so there is enough time to prepare, agitate, unite with like-minded people or “drown” competitors. Actually, the election campaigns in Ukraine do not stop, except that they temporarily die out. And some candidates are already actively ploughing the electoral field.
“Yuliya Tymoshenko was the first to start ‒ she took the lead with initiatives in summer”, Oleksii Golobutsky, a political consultant, told Opinion. “Every month it will be more difficult for her, because other candidates are catching up. Poroshenko, perhaps, will announce the beginning later, but his every step, for example, the Tomos, will be perceived as part of the election campaign. Hrytsenko cannot decide on political partners, and Vakarchuk’s presence in the opinion polls is his electoral niche. And the pro-Russian applicants must decide whether they will have a single candidate”.
Few people believe in the victory of the pro-Russian candidate, even if Kremlin followers in Ukraine agree and nominate one candidate.
“If Crimea and the occupied territories do not take part in the elections, then they have little chance of winning”, said Roman Semenukha to Opinion. “I think their goal is to consolidate people, who still believe them, to unite for parliamentary elections”.
The results of the all-Ukrainian sociological research of the ratings of potential presidential candidates from the Research and Communications Center “Active Group” in October 2018 showed Tymoshenko’s first place with 11.7% of the votes. The second position has Hrytsenko A. ‒ 9.5%, the third has Poroshenko P.‒ 8.5%. Zelensky V. has 6.6%, Lyashko O. ‒ 5.3%, Vakarchuk V. – 3.7%, Murayeva Y. ‒ 3%, Sadovyy A. ‒ 2.8%, Rabinovych V. ‒ 2.6 %, Boyko Y. ‒ 2.5%. Almost 20% of respondents have not decided, and more than 13% do not want to vote. (The study lasted from October 5-7 in the framework of the National Omnibus project. 2,253 respondents were interviewed. The error at a confidence level of 0.95 does not exceed 2.1%).
In numerous surveys, applicants are very densely located. But we should wait for the registration of all candidates, and then focus on social research.
“I have information, a little insider, that Zelensky has allegedly created headquarters, and he will go to the polls”, Oleksii Golobutsky said. “And it mixes the cards a little because Zelensky is present in the second round. The sociology gives him too big percentage as for a technical candidate. On the other hand, is Kolomoisky ready to spend money?”.
So, the registration of potential candidates for the CEC and the election campaign, which will end at midnight on the last Friday before the presidential elections (which will take place on March 31, 2019), will begin on the last day of this year. By February 9 of the next year, the final list of applicants will be announced. The results of the first round are scheduled to be announced on April 10. If none of the candidates gets 50% + 1 vote, then there will be a second round. Its results will be known by May 1. And by June 3, 2019, the newly elected president should take office.
His Majesty administrative resource in our realities is traditionally in the first place, although it did not always help the current government to win the election or keep the helm. It is enough to remember the Maydans. According to the experts, the administrative resource loses its omnipotence.
“With each election, the role of the administrative resource is significantly reducing”, said Andrii Magera, ex-deputy chairman of the CEC, to Opinion. “When in 2004 I came to the CEC, it was sometimes strong, especially during the mid-term elections of deputies to parliament. Now the biggest danger is the bribing of voters by individual candidates and staffs. I would not say that the possibility of an administrative resource is zero, but it has an extremely low influence on the course of the election process. Obviously, there are more opportunities for local governments than for the state. They have a greater influence on the position of the community’s inhabitants than the President, the Prime Minister or the Minister of the Interior”.
But the people’s chosen ones, opponents of the current government, are convinced of the opposite ‒ the administrative resource is already in action and in the upcoming elections, it will be used to its fullest.
“Already used”, Roman Semenukha assured. “I tell this as a member of the central headquarters of “Samopomich” (political party – translator’s note). We have ordered about a thousand boards across Ukraine, and in the Kharkiv region we were not given a single board. We also see attempts at the expense of the administrative resource, the security forces to influence the distribution of media on the eve of the elections. Obviously, the regional and district administrations will play the role of the relevant structural headquarters of the current president. Pay attention to the draft state budget-2019, to what extent they plan to finance them. This indicates that the administrative resource will work for one candidate, as before”.
“It will definitely be applied”, Igor Mosiychuk, a member of the RPL faction, said to Opinion. “Unfortunately, any Ukrainian government is inclined to use administrative resources. To what extent, it is difficult to say. But I can definitely say that there will be so many presidential candidates that the control on the polling stations will be total, and the administrative resource can help only by persuading or bribing someone”.
People’s deputy Olga Belkova from the BPP (Block of Petro Poroshenko – translator’s note) fraction does not share the opinions of her colleagues in parliament. “They say that the administrative resource is the meeting of the president with a certain circle of people”, she told to Opinion. “You can look at it in two ways. This is not forcing someone to come to the meeting. And the current president has the obligations of these meetings. Such things can be considered as an administrative resource, but they are not of a compulsory nature. I think there will be nothing connected with coercion and intimidation”.
Parliamentary elections are tougher
The question of changing the electoral legislation is being actively raised. On October 16, a picket was demanded under the building of the Verkhovna Rada, to approve the Draft Election Code of Ukraine, voted almost a year ago at the first reading, No. 3112-1, providing for parliamentary election on a proportional system with open regional lists.
“Obviously, the presidential elections will be held under the old legislation”, said Andrii Magera. “Is this not the best law out of the three available, although there are quite a few complaints in the Law on the Presidential Elections of Ukraine? Regarding parliamentary, it is difficult to say, because before the voting day just over a year remains, the election process will begin in the summer. There may be different situations. And if the law on the parliamentary election would have been adopted a month or two before the start of the electoral process, I would sympathize with the members of the CEC and members of district and district election commissions in this situation”.
“The issue of adopting the Electoral Code is not solved by the act of the CEC, this is the right of the legislator”, Leontiy Shypilov explained. “And the issue of the CEC is that the entire vertical of election commissions, including precinct election commissions, understand and know how to apply the new rules of the election race. And not only commissions, but also voters, and observers, and candidates, and political parties. Therefore, the sooner the issue of electoral rules is resolved, the faster and better we will be able to prepare all participants in the electoral process”.
The presidential election campaign should be considered in the context of parliamentary. As two acts of one performance of the struggle for power. The configuration of power will become clear only in the autumn of next year, after the race in the VR (voting on October 27). The campaign that will be preceded by it, according to the experts, will be much tougher than presidential. And the relapses of past elections, including the use of the so-called “titushkas” (mercenary agents – translator’s note), can be applied in full.
According to Oleksii Golobutsky, they will not have time to celebrate the victory in the presidential election, as it will be necessary to take up parliamentary elections, and smart people are already working in majority districts. And no matter, who becomes president, on the second day his discredit will begin. The new parliament will be more variegated ‒ it is unprofitable for oligarchs to have a president with strong support in the VR.
Some selective approaches will be a thing of the past. “The time of application of modern technologies and the findings of many international missions have shown the effectiveness of the State Voter Registry”, noted Leontiy Shypilov. “Therefore, the phenomena of multiple inclusion of the same people in the voter lists, voting “dead souls” have sunk into oblivion”.
There is no hope that Russia will leave us alone. The hand of Moscow has not bypassed any election campaign in Ukraine. During a meeting with members of the new CEC, President Poroshenko said that the Russian Federation plans to actively intervene in the election campaign. He is counting on the effective work of the CEC.
Leontiy Shypilov recalled attempts of the Russian Federation to influence the elections in the United States and France, intervening in electoral sympathies of voters, creating fake news, and distorting real data. We must not forget the situation in 2004 with an alternative server or 2014, when the Russian media lied, showing a screenshot of the CEC website, where Dmytro Yarosh allegedly won with a significant breakaway.
“Imagine that the CEC website will be broken for a long time, and this will create a false impression about the victory of any candidate, will not correspond to the real will. Or alternative information in real time will be provided to other information”, continued Mr. Shypilov. “Anything could be given as a real fact. The purpose of such actions will be provoking actions of civil disobedience with beneficial consequences for Russia. For warning, the joint interaction between the CEC, the Security Service of Ukraine, and the State Special Communication Services is necessary. To this end, on 10 October, the CEC adopted a resolution in support of draft law No. 8496 on cybersecurity expenditures. We have to be in combat readiness”.
The Russian Federation is already destabilizing the situation in Ukraine, discrediting the authorities, trying to shake the situation. Olha Kurnosova, a Russian political migrant, does not exclude that the explosions in the army warehouses in Ichnya are sabotage. The Kremlin is actively investing financial and informational resources in candidates that benefit from it, not necessarily its agents. Mrs Kurnosova does not exclude the escalation of the military conflict in Donbas, terrorist attacks.
“It’s impossible to completely prevent such a scenario because the Kremlin has significantly more resources than the Ukrainian government”, Olha noted to Opinion. “The only thing that can be done is to minimize this influence. To consolidate the efforts of all those, who support an independent Ukrainian state. A rather sharp political struggle is expected, but it is necessary to adopt a kind of non-aggression pact. In no case the Kremlin should be helped to shatter the situation”.
“The best option for Russia is not the victory of some candidate, hypothetically pro-Russian, but a complete disruption of the elections, immersion of Ukraine into chaos and anarchy, to say to the whole world: look, Ukrainians are a stateless nation!”, says Ihor Mosiychuk.
So, is power ‒ the fourth?
Are the media ready to objectively cover the preparations for the elections and their conduct?
“We have preserved the oligarchic system of media ownership and have not become more independent”, said Natalya Ligachova, the head of the NGO “Detector Media”, to Opinion. “On the other hand, we already have Public Broadcasting, and while television still shows a drop in its rating, the radio has grown significantly ‒ it provides balanced information and high-quality information products”.
Mrs Ligachova doubts that political advertising will be banned. There will be a lot of ordered materials, and the balance of opinions and impartiality will not succeed.
“The only thing that there will be the so-called external pluralism, that is, each owner has his own interests and there will be no political mean, even in power, to put pressure on everyone”, says Natalya Ligachova. “All the same, a number of TV channels promote the interests of the Opposition Block, a number ‒ the interests of Poroshenko, a number ‒ of Tymoshenko, a number ‒ of “For Life” party. Internal pluralism on each channel, if there is any, then fake. An important point in this election campaign will obviously be Viktor Medvedchuk’s public presence”.
Presidential elections will develop in an unexpected scenario. Actually, some unexpected things have already happened: Andriy Sadovyi’s “Samopomich” has teamed up with Vasyl Gatsko’s “Democratic Alliance”, which will weaken Anatolii Grytsenko’s position, and All-Ukrainian Union “Svoboda” nominated not the long-term leader Oleg Tyagnybok, but the ex-vice-speaker of the parliament and the ATO soldier Ruslan Koshulynsky. It’s about to get more interesting.
Text by Viktor Tsvilihovsky