Soon, millions of Ukrainians will be drawn to the polls again to elect the government. Although summer is not the best time for mass expression of will, politicians and voters are anxiously waiting for the results of early parliamentary elections. Who and what can disrupt them?
Presidential elections as a tranquilizer
On the last day of work, the Verkhovna Rada of the 8th convocation adopted the Electoral Code. It is yet to be signed by the president, but in any case, the upcoming parliamentary elections will be held under the old mixed system. And the updated Code with its open lists will enter into force only on December 1, 2023. Now all the political forces involved in the electoral process are concentrated on the date of July 21.
“In Ukraine, nothing and no one can prevent the early elections on July 21,” Dmytro Levus, the director of the Center for Social Research Ukrainian Meridian confirmed to Opinion. “With the example of the decision by the Constitutional Court on the dissolution of parliament by the president and the court session on redraws one can draw the conclusion that the judicial branch does not want this, because it focuses on the presidential vertical (and the president showed interest in these elections) and is ready for any elections’ results. To a large extent, the leading political forces, also have a certain consensus on the elections, they are deeply in the process, although for different reasons. Servant of the People party is afraid that eventually, their rating will fall.”
Throughout almost thirty years of holding democratic elections, Ukraine has accumulated a lot of negative factors: falsifications, intimidations, bribery, carousels, Russian intervention, cyber-attacks and the like. Some technologies fade away, others come to replace them. But now, there is no panic about the disruption of the early elections. The relative silence was guaranteed, in particular, by the positive experience of the recent presidential elections, during which there were no resonant violations. However, it is too early to relax.
Is escalation timely?
One of the main factors of interference into the Ukrainian elections is traditionally the Kremlin. And not only into the Ukrainian ones – it is enough to recall the Russian trace in the election campaign of the US President in 2016, the expression of the will in France, Germany, the Brexit referendum in Britain.
According to the forecasts of a British journalist and a publicist Edward Lucas, Russia might escalate the conflict in the area of Mariupol, attack the Ukrainian infrastructure objects and increase its military presence in Crimea before the parliamentary elections in Ukraine. However, a large-scale offensive will reduce the chances of the pro-Russian politicians in the elections, so it is hardly possible,” the Brit believes. What do our experts think?
“Only a full-scale invasion of the Russian Federation in the North-East-South directions, the probability of which is low – 1-2%, can disrupt the elections, because Russia shows the West that it supports peace within Ukraine in order to lift the existing sanctions and to avoid the imposition of the new ones,” Nataliia Lynnyk, the deputy general director of the NGO Committee of Voters of Ukraine, emphasized to Opinion. “That’s why Russia chose the tactics of controlled chaos, namely ‘rocking the boat’, supporting the destabilization of socio-political factors during the transit of power – early parliamentary elections. That is why media channels are actively used, in particular, new pro-Russian media holdings.”
Dmytro Levus is convinced that Russia has already actively intervened in our elections. The visits of pro-Russian politicians, in particular, the father of Putin’s goddaughter, to Moscow are the best evidence.
“The Kremlin has clearly demonstrated who is ‘legitimate’ for them by meeting Boiko and Medvedchuk at a high level, thus giving a sign to the pro-Moscow electorate who to vote for, and who to ignore even if they have similar slogans,” Mr. Levus continued. “Russia bit off a pretty significant part of the electorate of the Servant of the People with the scandal around the ‘teleconference’ of NewsOne. Moscow demonstrates the desire to fill our parliament with pro-Russian deputies, so I think the escalation at the front will occur later, after the elections, to put pressure on Kyiv and to synchronize with the statements of the newly elected reincarnation of the Party of Regions.”
The pro-Russian or openly Russian political figures on the Ukrainian chessboard are not the only weapons of the Kremlin in the process of the expression of will. The possibility of cyber-attacks on the servers of the CEC and other government agencies should not be discounted.
“Cyber-attacks of hackers will continue, there is every reason to believe that their new developments will be involved,” Dmytro Levus warned. “For systemic confrontation in this sphere, either during elections or to protect critical infrastructure, we need a change in the approaches of the state bodies and the involvement of activists who work in this area.”
However, judging from the affirmations of the member of the CEC of Ukraine Leontii Shypilov to the Opinion, the success of the Russians in this case is unlikely to be significant: “The timely procurement of the necessary cyber hardware designed to protect against such attacks, shows efficiency, so I do not see any serious threats of intervention. Moreover, during the presidential and parliamentary campaigns, drills were conducted with the involvement of specialists in the framework of European projects with the support of our partners.”
During role-playing games, one group performed cyber-attacks, and the other provoked them. But it is necessary to remember about so-called crisis points on the day of the vote. It is July 21 that will show what the pressure from the outside will be, but, as Mr. Shypilov noted, we should be able to handle it. And the deputy of the State Duma of the Russian Federation (2007-2016) Ilya Ponomarev announced to Opinion that the Kremlin is not interested in hacker attacks on election day at all:
“Their henchmen – OppoLife – are on the rise, and they need to fix their result as much as possible. I think they might gain up to 15%, and in case of shortage of votes for Zelensky, they will be pushed into the coalition. In this sense, any actions that lead to doubts in the results of the elections or to the growth of anti-Russian forces (and new repressions in Crimea will definitely lead to the growth of pro-Western parties), are not profitable for Putin.”
“Compared to the presidential elections, the threats remain, but their probability is lower, because the early elections themselves are so risky for the statehood of Ukraine that the aggressor simply waits and prepares to reap the fruits of the chaos of weak state power, of unbalanced judicial system,” Ellina Shnurko-Tabakova, the head of the public organization Information Security and Cyber Defense Council, stressed to Opinion. “There is a game on the increase of ratings of the pro-Russian parties, and it is important for the citizens not to give in to the manipulations with ratings, mutual charges, digging into the compromising evidence. And of course, it is necessary to stick to a daily cyber- and information hygiene.”
Protests are unlikely
“The national police and the Interior Ministry are ready to guarantee the safety of the elections,” Anton Herashchenko, a people’s deputy of Ukraine, assured Opinion. He also referred to the positive experience of the recent presidential campaign. Mr. Herashchenko denies any attempts to disrupt the vote by means of the protests:
“That’s unlikely. Everyone who wanted to run for parliament did it, and now we fix the minimum number of violations, even compared to what was before the presidential elections. Therefore, I think no one will have grounds to protest against the election results.”
“The main struggle will unfold in the majority districts with a highly competitive situation that has a several percent gaps, and riots are possible there aimed at spoiling the ballots in favor of this or that candidate – the headquarters of the candidates will monitor who wins in a particular area through the staff exit polls, and will send signals to the headquarters for the scenario that involves the use of force,” Nataliia Lynnyk believes. “There is hope that the police will respond to the signals of violations adequately, the same as during the presidential elections-2019. Though, there are risks of the loss of subordination through political arrangements between the candidates and the police in certain districts.”
In any case, mass fraud is not expected – high competition is an automatic fuse against them. Members of election commissions and observers from the majority of political forces and candidates, as well as observers from public organizations and international observation missions will defend the results of the race.
Mind full of… Chornobyl
What could disrupt the elections on July 21? Famous Ukrainians expressed their thoughts to Opinion.
Marianna Kiianovska, a member of Pen Ukraine, a writer:
“The catastrophism caused by the actualization of the Chornobyl tragedy (the series about Chornobyl) will be a significant emotional factor in the elections. There is a single information field now. Therefore, the current moment and these elections will be perceived subconsciously through the prism of the situation of social fracture. Political strategists escalated anxiety before the presidential election for several months, because an anxious person becomes more manageable. This anxiety, instilled in society, has not disappeared. It merged with the discourse of Chornobyl. By Sosland, we have fear induction, blackmail, and recruitment. This is very visible on social networks. In 1986, Chornobyl set certain long-term models of ‘catastrophic’ behavior, therefore influenced the collapse of the Soviet system. In 2019, Chornobyl becomes a decision-making factor for people again. And this has not yet been considered.”
Ihor Poshyvailo, Ph.D., director-general of the National Museum of the Revolution of Dignity:
“It seems that nothing can disrupt the early parliamentary elections, because there is a request for them, and, consequently, for changes, both from society and the political community. The complication of the electoral process can only arise as a result of some emergency situation caused by external aggression, internal provocation, the passivity of voters or the falsification of results. The timely question is not whether the elections will be complicated, but what will happen after them – the renewal and further course for the development of the state and the protection of its sovereignty and civilizational choice, decolonization and freedom, or a frank revenge of anti-Ukrainian forces, surrender in all spheres and return to the cradle of the ‘big brother’.”
Hromovytsia Berdnyk, a writer, a public figure:
“The problem that complicates any elections in our country is always the same – the lack of critical thinking of the majority of voters, plus a friendly-trusting reaction to all sorts of media manipulation. It seems that with all the ‘network activity’ our voters are in some kind of sleep and do not see what is happening, and how they are played with. But every sleep ends with awakening, as the wise Hryhorii Skovoroda wrote, so let’s hope that every time and every year there will be fewer ‘sleeping’ people. However, it seems to me that the elections on July 21 will not be a ‘historical event’, perhaps we will have a temporary Verkhovna Rada, which will have to be re-elected faster than it seems.”
Sashko Lirnyk, a storyteller:
“Nothing can interfere. Everyone wants these elections because everyone hopes to ‘snatch’ something from them. But everyone will be unhappy. And we should get ready for the new ones.”
Text by Viktor Tsvilikhovskyi