Pre-Election Polls Produce Mixed Results, Yulia Could Be Inching Up On Regions

KIEV, Ukraine -- Recent polls show that four parties and blocs are poised to win seats in parliament, with the Party of Regions leading the way.

The charismatic Yulia Tymoshenko on the campaign trail in the Chernivtsi region.

According to results released by FOM-Ukraine on Aug. 22, the Donetsk-heavy Regions would have 203 seats in the 450-member parliament, followed by the oppositionist Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc (Byut) with 126, the pro-presidential Our Ukraine-People’s Self-Defense (OUPSD) with 96 and the Communists with 25.

Combined, Byut and OUPSD would just fall short of creating a majority in the next Rada with 222 seats, according to FOM-Ukraine. The pollsters conceded, however, that at this stage of the election game, the “orange” and “blue” forces have equal chances of forming the next government.

Meanwhile, Kyiv-based investment bank Concorde Capital reported that in recent polls, “the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc appeared to have closed the gap with the leading Regions Party.” The election update cites findings from three firms that show Regions’ support in the 26-28 percent range and Byut with 20-26 percent of the potential vote. The polls gave OUPSD between 11-15 percent.

In the past three parliamentary elections, Byut has performed better on election day than pre-election polls indicated.

Regions want Rada session

Regions leader Raisa Bohatyriova flexed her party’s political muscle on Aug. 22, saying that she is ready to initiate an extraordinary session of parliament next month. Bohatyriova was the coordinator of the Rada majority comprised of the Regions, Communists and Socialists.

She called upon President Viktor Yushchenko and Our Ukraine to attend the Sept. 4 session and vote on canceling blanket immunity from prosecution for legislators. Opposition political forces have made cancellation of that immunity an election issue.

If Byut and OUPSD refuse to show up in parliament, that will “show to the nation that they are not open and they are manipulating societal moods and ready for everything to be in power,” Bohatyriova said.

Earlier this month, the Regions ignored two orders by Rada chairman and Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz on convening the Rada. Meanwhile, nearly 120 opposition MPs have already resigned their seats in parliament.

Yushchenko has repeatedly expressed his view that the parliament he dissolved earlier this year had no right to convene for session. If Regions pursue such plans, it would set the stage for a tense standoff with the president and opposition groups just weeks ahead of the Sept. 30 vote.

Voting at home

The Kyiv district administrative court ruled that the Central Election Commission (CEC) must specify procedures for voting at home.

On Aug. 13, the CEC decided that a simple declaration from anyone physically disabled is enough to arrange a mobile voting stop. Opposition forces OUPSD and Byut challenged the CEC decision and won on Aug. 20.

The court ruled that the CEC must standardize declarations for voting at home and procedures for verifying information therein. In past elections, votes cast outside of polling stations have been a source of massive fraud. In round two of the 2004 presidential elections, more than a quarter of votes in the entire region of Mykolayiv were home-cast ballots.

Regions’ CEC representative Vladyslav Zabarsky promptly criticized the court’s decision.

“Really, there can be no reason to use voting at home for falsification,” he said, adding that as many as 2 million voters (around 8 percent) may be deprived of their democratic right as a result of the stricter measures.

Meanwhile, OUPSD candidate Mykola Onishchuk said the court decision would prevent 2 million falsified votes.

Meter-long ballots

By Aug. 21, the CEC had registered more than 3,000 candidates from nine parties and blocs for the snap election. But voters may have to choose from as many as 35 parties and blocs when they show up to vote.

CEC member Mykhailo Okhendovsky said that 35 parties and blocs had formally informed the CEC about their conventions. However, only 10 parties and blocs paid the deposit required to run in the race. Okhendovsky said that Aug. 25 would be the last day for the commission to register election participants. In the March 2006 elections, 45 parties and blocs ran for seats in the Rada.

Administrative resource

The Committee of Voters of Ukraine’s (CVU) monitoring report for Aug. 10-20 reiterated its concern over the number of government officials actively involved in the campaign, who have not taken leaves of absence despite having promised to do so.

“Odessa Oblast (Region) state administration head Ivan Plachkov was appointed regional campaign chief for Our Ukraine-People’s Self-Defense and said he has no intention of taking a vacation,” said the report, which mentions similar cases for other political parties.

“We are disturbed by the fact that more than half of regional election headquarters for OUPSD are headed by oblast governors,” said Elena Bondarenko, a candidate for Regions.

“This is administrative resource to the maximum,” she said, adding that governors can influence local law-enforcement officials.

Meanwhile, practically all cabinet ministers are running on various party lists, 18 of whom are candidates for the Party of Regions.

Tymoshenko targeted

The report noted separate incidents of campaign vandalism and “black PR, but these incidents were isolated and were not systemic in nature.”

Election watchdogs in Zaporizhya Region found copies of a 26-page brochure called “Yuliada” that portrays Tymoshenko in a “negative and insulting form.”

The CVU noted that Kyiv city officials showed bias in their decision to take down Byut billboards lining the Paton Bridge in the capital on Aug. 16.

The NGO also said that certain CEC members showed bias in their treatment of electoral law in the issue of Byut’s candidate registration, but pointed out that Byut itself “escalated a conflict that could have been quickly resolved.”

The CVU also said that Byut’s call to hold a simultaneous referendum on Sept. 30 is “impossible according to existing law.” The CEC rejected Byut’s referendum application, which Tymoshenko appears intent on pursuing.

The left

The Communists, who some polls show crossing the 3 percent qualifying barrier, are building their campaign around the premise that the Leninists will form a majority together with the Regions in the next Rada. They’re claiming the next speaker of parliament will be a Marxist and are demanding a referendum of their own – on making Russian the second state language and on NATO membership.

Those two issues are also being championed by ultra-radical leftist Nataliya Vitrenko in the eastern regions. Regions’ Bondarenko said Vitrenko is actively campaigning and accusing Bondarenko’s party of being “traitors” on both issues.

The Regions clearly address both issues in their electoral program, saying that the language issue is subject to approval by the Rada, while NATO membership should be decided via referendum.

Televised debates and hotlines

The NGO encouraged parties and blocs to focus on expert discussions of policy programs and said that “live television debates should be held between the leaders of the four main political forces: Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, Tymoshenko, Yushchenko and [Communist Party leader Petro] Symonenko.”

Meanwhile, the SBU state security service has created a special hotline for Kyiv residents to report any violations of electoral rights they may encounter. The phone number provided by the Ukrainian News information agency is (044) 253-1656.

Source: Kyiv Post