Last week Ukraine invited the European Parliament to send observers to monitor the presidential election which will take place on March 31, 2019. But what are the chances that European observers will witness a transparent and democratic election in accordance with international standards?
It begs the question, since the current election campaign in Ukraine breaks all records with an alarming series of dirty methods and black PR.
There has been no front-runner in this election race, even though there are several candidates who could enter into the second round and compete for victory. But the percentage differences between them remain insignificant, almost at the level of a statistical error.
That may be a possible explanation for the high number of black PR strategies put into play by competing candidates. The close scores may explain the numerous attempts by candidates to gain an electoral percentage advantage. These attempt include some scandalous, illegal or frankly weird methods which have been on display during various election campaigns.
It should be noted that an official election campaign can only start after the candidate has been successfully registered by the Ukrainian Central Election Committee.
The President of Ukraine, Petro Poroshenko, has not yet made an official statement about his aspirations of running for a second presidential term. Despite that, he has been giving clear signals about his future nomination for the presidential candidacy.
One of his schemes to increase his ratings among Ukrainian citizens, has been his eager contribution to activities around the so-called Tomos signing. Tomos is the charter signed by the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew which enshrines the complete independence of the newly created so-called “Ukrainian Orthodox Church” from the Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate.
Poroshenko has been trying to present this schism as one of the greatest diplomatic victories for Ukraine, but it is not quite clear to the average Ukrainian why this should be so. But this fact has not stopped Poroshenko from making a huge fuss around the Tomos case.
He has organised a so called “Tomos-tour” around the country in Ukrainian cities and towns to present a sacral charter in public. This tour is as questionable as Tomos itself, as the overtly political events are held in churches and show little religious intent. Crowds of journalists mix with the President’s security detail, while the leader himself struggles to keep his alcohol consumption in check.
The Church schism forms part of a wider political conflict involving Ukraine’s desire to be subservient to anti-Russian interests in joining a belligerent European Union and NATO.
Moreover, there were already a couple of scandals after a lack of consent from the side of the clergy on holding tour events at certain churches. In addition, there was a recent complaint about a priest who had displayed his support for the Tomos-tour on a billboard without consent from his church mentors, an episode which caused a big headache for the priest.
Another candidate favoured to get into the second round, is deputy of the Ukrainian parliament, Julia Timoshenko, leader of Batkivschschina [Fatherland] party. She is also an ex-Prime Minister of Ukraine.
On January 23, she had held a congress to nominate her for the candidacy of the presidential election. During the event, a short video introducing Julia Timoshenko as a future candidate was shown. Main parts of the video featured former NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen and Brazilian writer Paulo Coelho who appealed to the audience by greetings addressed to Timoshenko.
The next day, both publicly withdrew their support for Timoshenko as a presidential candidate – Coelho stated that he gave no permission to use the video of him for the political campaign, while Rasmussen highlighted that he had addressed all candidates in order to encourage positive reforms in Ukraine.
Another candidate for the Ukrainian presidency is Vladimir Zelensky, a famous comedian and actor, who was blamed by Ukrainian media for being the owner of a Russian movie company called “Green Films”.
Journalists reported that this company had gained a profit amounting to $13 million, but Zelensky explained that this money was author’s deductions for tapes taken before the start of hostilities in Donbass and tensions between Ukraine and Russia.
Zelesky obviously considered this explanation to be not persuasive enough vis-à-vis voters and a couple of days ago he announced that he has officially quit all Russian business ventures. The actor also stated that he is eager to be honest with his supporters during elections, and underlined that honesty and keeping promises would be the core of his election campaign.
But to most in Ukraine, Zelensky is known not for his honesty but for the video where he plays the role of the priest during a staged funeral for Poroshenko.
An ex-Minister of Ecology, Ihor Schevchenko, who is also a candidate for the presidential election, chose a particularly weird strategy of attracting attention. Schevchenko formed part of the Ukrainian delegation to the World Economic Forum in Davos. There he was very busy – not with the Forum’s agenda, but with publishing videos and pictures on Facebook where he brags about stealing hats.
He also posted an explanation of the hat thefts in a pretty detailed way. While each guest of the Forum was allowed to take one souvenir hat, Schevchenko admitted that “it would be unlike him not to pursue stealing hats” and he took four more hats even though the Forum’s security questioned his actions.
The most unusual fact about the election campaign in Ukraine is how assessments by both Ukrainian and Russian officials bear similarities.
The Russian Ministry of Foreign affairs published a statement which underscored that the election campaign in Ukraine could become “the dirtiest and most scandalous in its history”. Two days later, the Minister of Internal Affairs of Ukraine, Arsen Avakov, reported the appeals received from public organisations and citizens about legal violations during the campaign: since the start of the campaign, his office was handed 91 appeals within 18 days.
There are more than two months to go before the elections and front-pages, headlines, scandals and dirty laundry will undoubtedly intensify. The most important question for ordinary Ukrainians however is still ignored – will elections bring some improvement or it will be a process where terms of democracy and development are just slogans on banners?