Sunday, 04 August 2019

Ukraine's presidential election seen with a Dane's eyes

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Hanna Severinsen during the DUS meeting "Ukraine and the EU after the presidential elections in Ukraine". Hanna Severinsen during the DUS meeting "Ukraine and the EU after the presidential elections in Ukraine". Photo: Olena Yanykh.

Hanne Severinsen has on several occasions been an election observer at Ukrainian elections, thus also at the recent presidential election.


At an event in the Danish Ukrainian Society (DUS), Hanne Severinsen told about her experiences and about her considerations about what was going on before and during the election.

Severinsen started by saying she thought it was an exciting election, and she told about the election procedure. It took place in two rounds and there were 39 candidates for the first round.

Confusing – and that's also the meaning

"You have to reduce the number of candidates," Hanne Severinsen said. “The reason why there is so many candidates is, that there are some who just want to be nominated because then they might get a little fame, until there will be parliamentary elections later. Then their name is well known. You have to pay about USD 92,000 in deposit, which is lost if you do not proceed to the second round.”

”So there are also some oligarchs who simply pay someone to run for election. They are called technical candidates, and they are used to make things a little confusing. There was one named Juri Timoshenko, which meant that he was standing right next to Julia Timoshenko, and there were some who ticked both of them, and there were some who ticked him."

"But it is also used to become a member of the electoral commission, you must have a presidential candidate, and then there could in principle be 39 in all election committees around the electoral stations. Luckily there wasn't. But that does make it all a bit confusing, and that is what is meant. You also get the right to get a poster with its winged words, and they must then be set up outside the polling station. And there were not quite many places where you could put up 39 of such giant posters. There were some places where they just put them on a table, and then one could leaf through yourself."

Control and more control

"When I look at how they control each other in Ukraine, I am sure that if they came to Denmark, they would simply faint."

Hanne Severinsen referred to the simple Danish procedure for elections where you hand in your voting card, are asked for your birthday and then handed over the ballot paper. In Ukraine, you must first sign on the electoral list that you have arrived. Then you have to sign a special note, which is linked to the ballot paper, and the person who issues it must also sign.

"When there is elections in Ukraine, it always takes awful long time to hand over to the central polling station. There were 84 polling stations in the district where I was sitting at night and watched that it took place in the right way. And it was only at 2 o'clock that they all came. They were supposed to wait but they did get numbers. When I left them in the morning at 8 o'clock, they had reached half. Then one may wonder how it can take so long. But it was because they had to go through all the protocols and they were written by hand.”

”I was in Kharkiv, where they speak Russian, and they had decided that they should not just write for example 39, if there was one who had got 39 votes. You also had to write thirty-nine in Ukrainian. So there were some who had not learned Ukrainian in school, because they had learned Russian, so there were actually many mistakes. And then they were sent out, but they were not sent home, and then they had to change the protocol, and then they had to queue again. So it was a long process, I must say.”

"Otherwise everything went really well. But they also have some strange rules. When everything is count up and they have written protocols, they write as many copies as there are election officers and election observers, and they must write it by hand, and then they must sign it all together, those who sit on the election board.”

Not impressed by the arguments

After reviewing the actual election procedure, Hanne Severinsen went on to talk about the candidates' performance up to the election.

"Zelenskiy got the most votes, people had counted on it too. All opinion polls said so. In fact, Yulia Timoshenko was in front in the polls until New Year's Day, but she was clearly number 3, so she ended up not to complain. So there were two who went ahead and there was a huge election campaign. And it was rather special.”

”When you think of the election campaigns we have in Denmark with fact check and lots of debates with all candidates. Of course, this is not possible with the 39, but with the 2 it would probably be possible to make some various duels. Zelenskiy said it should be at the football stadium in Kyiv. Poroshenko had said that Zelenskiy was such a drug addict, and Zelenskiy had said that Poroshenko was a drunken president. Then they should have taken blood tests to show if they were somehow addicts.”

”They did so with great press attention. The duel itself lasted only an hour. I saw it on television, fortunately with interpreter. I must say that I was not impressed by the arguments, Zelenskiy said to Poroshenko that he was corrupt, and then he read out of some different accusations, and so Poroshenko said 'that is not correct!' Every time they said something, they had their own cheerleader, and there were roughly equal many on each side. And then Poroshenko said that 'You are just the hand doll of Kolomoisky', this oligarch, who was in Israel, but who has now come home to Kyiv, and who owned a large bank that was nationalized and which he now hopes to get back. He funds the 1 + 1 TV channel, which in the last 3 years has shown how Zelenskiy will be as president. He has played a history teacher who became president. That hour was the election campaign. There should also have been one on the official channel, but Zelenskiy did not show up, so Poroshenko sat there and said the usual."

What spoke to Poroshenko's advantage?

"Poroshenko was simply poured out at the election. 72% voted for Zelenskiy, and in reality Poroshenko received only a majority in the Lviv area, and then he received a majority of the Ukrainians abroad, but that did not help. In a way, I suppose one have to say if it really was deserved. After all, he has been president in a very troubled time. I have tried to take note of what can be said to his advantage. One have to say that Russia's offensive was stopped. He was very good at that. On the foreign level, he has been reasonably successful. Support from the EU and the US. He obtained association and Visa freedom." hanne severinsen 02 photo olena yanykh

"And the Ukrainization, I must say, perhaps he has been a little too thorough. I think in any case that when I saw how it worked in Kharkiv that they could not spell properly in Ukrainian, and they had to, otherwise they were sent home and rewrite it. It is, of course, a pendulum that swings, because thirty years ago, it was Ukrainian that was not allowed to exist at all, or at least only as a language of speech. Now people apologize when they speak Russian. In addition, Zelenskiy speaks Russian, he grew up in a Russian-speaking area. He speaks very well Ukrainian, but there is no doubt that it is Russian, which is his mother tongue."

Detachment of the Orthodox Church did not give points

"I think that Poroshenko had anticipated that the fact that he had detached the Orthodox Church from Moscow, would have given him some extra points. But it did not help. It could be said that there has in fact been freedom of the press, but the freedom of the press that has been, has somewhat been because it is different people who owns the media. Unlike in Russia, there is all the press owned by one oligarch, namely Putin and his people. The OECD has observed the various electoral programs and there is no doubt that on the 1 + 1, Zelenskiy was supported, and then there were other channels where Poroshenko was supported. But one would have to choose the channel where one knew that one's candidate could be heard."

Last minute appointments

"But there are also many things that have not happened. Some of what has been the major problem for all post-Soviet countries has been the Prokuratura system. The prosecution is seen as a weapon for the executive. All the way back to the Soviet system, it was a class court where it was always the party that was right. When there was an indictment, it was of course also what the verdict was. This is the kind of thing that has gone on in some of the post-Soviet countries.”

”During the time with Janukovich, it was simply used as a political instrument of repression, in which a lot of former ministers, who had been accused on the basis of some political motives, which, of course, we in the Helsinki committee have produced reports on. The system has been reformed, but one is what you write on paper and make of legislation, something else is that when it comes to implementing it, the interests of the oligarchas are, of course, intact.”

”For example, it has been tried to create a parallel anti-corruption system, because they were not quite sure that it worked well enough, so extra power was needed. They have subsequently used all sorts of means to fight each other. The appointment of new Supreme Court judges has led to a conflict of competence between, on the one hand, the president, who is the person who appoints them and then a high-qualification commission, which is not to be Supreme Court judges, who try to appoint someone. And then there is also an NGO, the Public Integrity Council, which also tries to give characters, and it has caused that someone prefers one thing and someone prefers something else. It has been very sluggish.”

”But suddenly it went fast. May 7, and that is after all some days after April 21, when it was decided that it was Zelenskiy, who would be the president Poroshenko appoints 75 new Supreme Court judges and appoints the new president of the anti-corruption tribunal. But all right, I know that some places it is the custom for outgoing presidents to do so, but I think that it is not very confidence-building."

The President of the Constitutional Tribunal fired

"There has also been a power struggle on the Constitutional Court. Poroshenko also fired the president of the Constitutional Court on May 14, and it has some cases which are very dirty. For example, a law on illicit enrichment, and it is actually something that Denmark has been involved in trying to get through, that all in significant positions should make a declaration of what they owned and what their income was. If you earn 100,000 a year and have a billion there is something wrong.”

”It worked at the beginning, but then the Constitutional Tribunal suddenly came and said that it was something like to prove one's innocence, and it was unconstitutional. There were many independent law experts who said that it was very wrong. At the very last, Poroshenko also managed to appoint 20 new generals and the president of the National Television and Radio Council."

Zelenskiy: New opportunities after 28 wasted years

"Then the insertion speech came, and I just took a few quotes. Zelenskiy started by saying that his son had wondered that there now suddenly was a president named Zelenskiy, 'because, then I am a president.' And then Zelenskiy said 'Yes, but we are all presidents, we are all responsible for not being corrupt, and now there are new opportunities after 28 wasted years.' And he then asked the Parliament to remove parliamentary immunity and also to remove the law on enrichment and to get a new electoral code. And then he said, please dismiss the head of security and the secretary of defense, and then you will get some medals. And then he said that he dissolved the Verkhovna Rada. Then he said 'All my life I have tried to do everything I could do to get the Ukrainians to laugh, that was my mission. Now I will do everything I can to ensure that the Ukrainians at least do not cry any more.' Then we must hope that it is correct."

Hoping for new electoral law

"Some of what I have always been interested in, it is the electoral law, because the Ukrainian electoral procedure is one of the reasons why there has never been any renewal. It has been the same faces that have sat and pointed to each other and re-elected each other, and the voters have not had much influence. The proportional element is what has made the parties such a self-supporting cartel, I call it. You are some people who are fairly well-known, who in an area have some power that you would like to expand, and then you make a party, and you then take care of who is running nationally, and then the voters have to choose the whole package. Even worse, however, is the first-past-the-post voting system, which is a really bad system. The Winner takes it all. Sometimes the winner maybe have 12%, and all the other votes are wasted.” presidents ukraine russia belarus 2009 2019 photo olena yanykh

”If, for example, one's counterpart was very close, then one can make sure that a person, who got the same name, is on the ballot so that those few percent that would have been the difference are wasted. This means that with the first-past-the-post voting system, it has largely been the local oligarchs who either run for election themselves or have someone to do it for them. After all, it has done so that there has not been much renewal, and that has done so, that there has been little innovation. The changes to the electoral procedure have been discussed so much, and last autumn there was again first reading, and there was in fact some excellent suggestions. After which 4,400 amendments were submitted. And so they sit and geeks in the Electoral committee, and they have done so for 3/4 years, and nothing has happened.”

”Then Zelenskiy says 'Remove the first-past-the-post voting system and set the threshold limit down and make open lists.' They had to do that in one day, and they said no. It was rejected and then we get election according to the old system. Therefore, my conclusion: It is easier to change the president than to change the political administrative system. After all, they are very proud of where you can see that in Russia and Belarus it is the familiar faces that are constantly going on, then you have to say that they are good at changing the president. The question is whether they are going to change the political administrative system. I hope so."

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