The decision of the Central Election Commission on the impossibility of holding local elections on October 25, 2020 in 18 communities in eastern Ukraine, became a bolt from the blue for the residents of these settlements themselves, and for human rights defenders and politicians.
Let’s note an important point — we are talking about those settlements that are controlled by Ukraine, and where both presidential and early parliamentary elections were quietly held last year. The CEC named the conclusions of the regional civil-military administrations (CAA) regarding the security situation in the front-line zone as the main argument for canceling the elections. But by law, civil-military administrations are not empowered to decide whether elections should be held in these territories or not.
For a week now, large-scale rallies against the cancellation of elections have been held in these communities. And the CEC hastened to justify itself that if the situation changes, the vote will still take place there.
Strana answers the main questions related to the cancellation of elections to local councils in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.
1. Where will there be no elections?
At the moment, it has been decided that there will be no elections in 10 united communities of Donetsk and 8 communities of Luhansk oblasts controlled by Ukraine.
These are Svetlodarskaya, Toretskaya, Volnovakhskaya, Ugledarskaya, Avdeevskaya, Maryinskaya city ATCs, Mirnenskaya, Olginskaya, Sartan, Ocheretinskaya united village ATCs in Donetsk region.
This means that there will be no elections in such settlements as Svetlodar, Toretsk, Volnovakha, Ugledar, Avdeevka and Marinka.
In the Luhansk region, the election ban included Gorskaya, Lisichanskaya, Popasnyanskaya, Severodonetskaya, Schastyenskaya city ATCs (that is, there will be no elections in Severodonetsk, Popasnaya, Lisichansk and Schastya), Nizhneteplovskaya rural OTG, Stanichno-Luganskaya, Shirokovskaya village ATC.
In total, we are talking about the votes of at least 500 thousand Ukrainians.
2. On what grounds were the elections canceled?
According to the law, decisions on holding elections are made exclusively by the Central Election Commission of Ukraine.
In this case, the CEC, making such a decision, referred to the conclusions of the regional civil-military administrations of the Donetsk and Lugansk regions.
Those, in turn, referred to the conclusions of the main departments of the SBU and the National Police.
Thus, a letter from the Donetsk CAA says: «In connection with Russia’s armed aggression against Ukraine, it is impossible to ensure the proper security of citizens and avoid a terrorist threat during the organization and conduct of local elections in 10 communities.»
And in a letter to the Lugansk CAA it says: «The command of the JFO emphasizes the difficult socio-political situation, the holding of local elections on the line of contact creates an excessive danger for the civilian population.»
Note that in the letters of the relevant law enforcement agencies nothing is written directly about the need to cancel the elections. Moreover, they talk about the impossibility of ensuring the safe expression of the will of citizens in the uncontrolled territories.
For example, in a letter from the head of the Main Directorate of the Security Service of Ukraine in the Donetsk region, Volodymyr Petrichenko, it is directly stated about the situation in the temporarily occupied territories.
As the lawyer Artem Zakharov explained to Strana, in fact the CEC committed a forgery and manipulatively canceled the elections in the controlled territories, while referring to the position of law enforcement agencies, which concerns completely different settlements — in the uncontrolled territories.
“Civil-military administrations have the right to give an opinion on the possibility of holding safe elections or the impossibility of holding safe elections. In the conclusions of the Donetsk and Lugansk CAAs, the arguments of law enforcement agencies are cited, which say that it is impossible to hold elections in the uncontrolled territory. They don’t say anything about the territory controlled by Ukraine. This is a manipulative moment. Secondly, the CEC stated that they have no authority to verify the data. But at the same time, the CEC has every right to request this data. What prevented them from sending inquiries to the Ministry of Defense or the General Staff to clarify the situation in the controlled territories? Thus, the decision to cancel the elections is completely manipulative, premature, is not based on any objective conclusions and was obviously taken to falsify the elections, «Artem Zakharov told Strana.
Moreover, the question arises, even if we assume that the CAA of both regions really doubt the safety of holding elections directly close to the demarcation line, why did the CEC cancel the elections even in those settlements that do not border on CADLO?
Oleksiy Koshel, head of the Committee of Voters of Ukraine, also agrees that there could be no single approach to the issue of holding elections in Donetsk and Luhansk regions.
“On the one hand, civil-military administrations can draw conclusions about whether elections in these territories can take place safely or cannot. But the common approach for all communities is surprising. For me personally, it was a surprise why the holding of elections in Lisichansk and Severodonetsk is called into question? They do not border on the frontline zone, there were no risks for the elections, I know the position of their leadership that elections can and should take place there. But these settlements were also banned. There can be no unambiguous solution. You need to be more careful about the situation. There are separate communities where elections are to be held. I do not exclude the possibility that the CAA may, under pressure from the public, reconsider its position, on the basis of which the CEC will make a new decision. But nobody canceled the issue of security, ”says Koshel to Strana.
Let’s note, that out of 16 members of the CEC, only two — Yuri Miroshnichenko and Sergei Dubovik (both appointed by the quota of the Opposition Platform For Life faction) — opposed the decision to cancel the elections.
“It is very important that the head of the CEC made a statement that this resolution is not a dogma. And if we receive the appropriate answers from the CAA that elections in these areas can be held, we will hold them there, ”Yuriy Miroshnichenko told Strana.
“I believe that we are in a hurry to adopt such a resolution. There is time before the start of the electoral process. During this time, quite a lot can change. Peace talks are underway, a ceasefire has been introduced. It is possible that the political and security situation could change significantly this month. Today, making such a decision, we are giving the message that there will be no elections in these communities. For me, the conclusions of the CAA are not a dogma. I consider them superficial, incomplete, ”Dubovik said.Но позиция двух представителей ЦИК на общий результат голосования не повлияла.
However, given the public outcry, the head of the CEC Oleg Didenko really noted that the commission could change its decision on the elections. If the relevant conclusions are provided by the civil-military administrations of the region.
3. Can elections take place there?
The situation became even more confusing on Friday, August 14, when the CEC adopted a resolution to hold elections on October 25 in the newly created district councils. We are talking about the first elections in the already enlarged regions. Let us remind you that after the administrative reform, there were 136 instead of 490 throughout Ukraine.
It is noteworthy that the CEC announced these elections in all districts, which were recently cut as part of the administrative reform, throughout the territory controlled by Ukraine, including the Luhansk and Donetsk regions.
But does this mean that elections will be held in the new regions?
CEC member Yuriy Miroshnichenko told Strana that the same situation could be repeated as with 18 communities in Donetsk and Lugansk regions.
That is, it is likely that the Commission will turn to the governors of the CAA in order to obtain their conclusions about the possibility or impossibility of ensuring the security of elections to the new district councils in Donetsk and Luhansk regions.
And if the CAA again gives an answer that it is impossible to ensure security there, then a separate resolution will be adopted stating that there will be no elections in these areas.
“The CEC announced elections in all districts throughout the territory controlled by Ukraine. Including Donetsk and Lugansk regions. Now, as I understand it, there will be the same appeal to the CAA, as in the previous time, with the question of whether it is possible to ensure security during the elections to these district councils. If the answer is negative, it is logical to assume that there will be the same resolution as for the communities where it has been decided not to hold elections at the moment, — Yuriy Miroshnichenko notes. “If the CAA changes their position and says that they consider holding elections possible, the CEC will adopt an appropriate resolution on holding local elections in these territories.”
In addition, according to him, local communities have the right to appeal against the decision of the Central Election Commission to ban local elections in Donbass. In this case, the court must decide whether or not to cancel the expression of the will of voters in these territories.
At the same time, since the cancellation of elections in Donetsk and Luhansk regions, large-scale protests have been taking place in large settlements in the region. Residents of Severodonetsk, Shchastya, Lisichansk, Popasna have already come out to rally against the fact that people are deprived of the right to vote. In many cities, local residents participate in the flash mob «I am deprived of the right to vote.»
On Friday, August 14, several hundred Donbass residents rallied outside the President’s Office on Bankova Street, demanding that they return the opportunity to elect local councils. And a petition even appeared on the president’s website, in which its initiators demand the holding of elections in the Ukrainian-controlled communities of Donbass.
Their intention to appeal to the courts in connection with the deprivation of the right to vote for hundreds of thousands of voters has already been announced in the Opposition Platform — For Life. People’s Deputy Renat Kuzmin has already written a statement about the crime to the State Bureau of Investigation and called on law enforcement officers to investigate and punish those responsible.
“The crime was committed in the interests of President Zelensky and the ruling Servant of the People party. For far-fetched reasons, canceling the elections is too much! Even Poroshenko with his BPP did not dare to do this. And these have made up their minds, ”he said.
4. Why did the authorities actually cancel the elections?
Speaking today at a rally in Svetlodarsk, co-chairman of the OPFL faction, Yuriy Boyko, linked the cancellation of elections in Donbass to the authorities’ fear of being defeated in the elections.
“The president must decide who he is — the people of Ukraine, or those who prohibit the right to vote for 500 thousand voters in Donetsk and Lugansk regions. With those citizens who once believed him, or with advisers from their office who are trying to save themselves from a crushing defeat at the elections, ”said Yuriy Boyko.
The Opposition Platform For Life party reminds that the elections in these territories were held without any problems last year.
Indeed, in 2019, both presidential and parliamentary elections were held there. For example, in the second round of the presidential election, almost 270 thousand residents of the Luhansk region and 710 thousand residents of the Donetsk region voted for Zelensky. This is about 90% of all voters in the region.
But early parliamentary elections have already passed with a disappointing result for «Servants of the People».
Thus, in the Luhansk region, almost 50% of voters voted for the Opposition Platform and only 28% — for the Servant of the People party. In Donetsk Oblast, 43% of voters were for the Opposition Platform, and 27% were for Servant of the People.
In the majoritarian districts of the region, the situation for the pro-government party was even more depressing. For example, in the Donetsk region, the pro-presidential political force was unable to hold a single majoritarian candidate, and in the Luhansk region — only one. The rest of the constituencies chose representatives of the Opposition Platform or nominees of the Our Krai party.
According to a poll by the Rating group, published just last week, it is in the east of Ukraine that the support of the Servant of the People party is now the lowest — only 16% of voters support it there. While the “Opposition Platform” has a 35% rating. At the same time, if we take specifically the Donetsk and Lugansk regions, then it is even higher there — more than 50%.
That is, at the canceled elections, the «servants» would have faced a crushing defeat.
As political analyst Ruslan Bortnik tells «Strana», that is why now the authorities are afraid to hold elections in these regions, so as not to get local authorities that are completely beyond their control.
“Of course, if public pressure is significant, the elections in at least some of these settlements will still be able to return. In the coming week, this decision can be revised without prejudice to the course of the election campaign. But on the other hand, in the Office of the President they do not want to get ATCs, in which they will not be able to form a coalition, but in which there will not be any «Servants of the People» at all. This will be a very problematic result for them in a politically important zone, ”Bortnik said.
5. If there are no elections, who will lead the region?
In those communities where local elections do not take place, civil-military administrations will be created. This is, in fact, a «manual» appointment of the leadership of the community. The decision is made by the head of the regional state administration — the head of the CAA after the creation of civil-military administrations of the corresponding settlements by presidential decrees.
For example, by his decree, such CAA in Lisichansk and Severodonetsk were created by President Vladimir Zelensky in July. The initiator of the creation of the CAA in Lisichansk was the governor Sergei Gaidai, who submitted the corresponding proposals to the president in the winter. Gaidai explained his position by saying “to put things in order in the city”.
After Zelensky’s decrees, Gaidai appointed a military officer and an SBU officer to lead these CAAs.
In other words, by canceling the elections, the authorities are able to put their protégés in charge of the settlements. What they could not have done if residents voted for the local government. Since the «Servant of the People» had no chance there.
Galina Studennikova, Strana