Iryna Matviyishyn is a journalist and blogger from Lviv, Ukraine. She writes about the recent local elections in Ukraine and how the country still has quite some distance to go before it becomes free from corruption.
On 25th October, Ukrainians voted for mayors and regional officials in local elections. Making a crucial step towards decentralization of power. Given the war-torn zone on the east and Russian-annexed Crimea, for neighboring endangered regions this was a chance to elect strong pro-Ukrainian authorities to keep safety. And for all the people, elections were a unique opportunity to squeeze corruption on the local level providing power to new elites.
In general these elections were relatively calm and transparent. Considering the deep economic crisis and the ongoing war. Some even say, this time it was an indisputable victory of democracy. Even the mission of the European Network of Organizations of Election Monitoring believes that the local elections in Ukraine were in line with international standards.
However, the results are not that tremendous when we look at the other side of the coin. Ukraine’s battle with corruption has not been over yet. It keeps being a major destructive power that handicaps the nation on its way of effective reforms. In these terms, elections have never been an exception. Rather a certain occasion to reserve a place for corruption on different levels.
Officially, only 46.5 percent of the people participated in the elections. This is not much, but not as little, considering total disappointment in the state authorities. Regardless a credit of trust given by the society, Ukrainian president Poroshenko and his ruling party might see the decentralization as a tool to allocate their power all over the country. In many aspects, people’s frustration was approved during the election campaign, hefting the question of political corruption. Firstly, the involved administrative resources were worthy of equal comparison with those used by the fugitive ex-president Yanukovych. In addition, no open lists and complexity of the new election system played a significant role in getting people confused, thus, provoking corruption.
According to the international observers, one of the problems in elections was insufficient training of election commission members. However, at many polling stations some people were chosen on purpose, so that the candidates who had ‘influence’ could cope with the lack of votes. Also, some of the territorial election commissions had been encouraged and ‘inspired’ by the representatives of political parties or local authorities. In small towns in particular it led to very unpredictable results. Favoring those who could afford paying for more chairs. An excessive politicization of the electoral process also caused the failure of elections in Mariupol and Krasnoarmeysk on the East.
As the preliminary report of the ENEMO said, the local elections in Ukraine were held without major incident. Indeed, the atmosphere seemed calm even on the news. Yet, it does not mean it was perfectly fair. There was not enough political will to avoid bribery of voters and a so-called ‘carousel’ voting.
Thus, at least 224 cases of bribing voters were recorded by NGO ‘Opora’. We may only guess how many more of such occurred out of the activists’ sight. On a popular political TV-show, they asked the audience if anyone has tried to buy their vote in this election. 12 % of the present replied ‘yes’. The positive is that the percentage rose twice when asked about all the previous elections.
The reason why bribery of voters lost its value for greedy politicians, probably, lies in light understanding of people’s skepticism. Nevertheless, it was not an alarm for politicians. Motivating people to come to the polls and vote for right candidates was still a good technique, especially, in times of deep economic crisis. Undergoing corruption does not come from some Ukrainian’s greed, but from need. Political parties speculated on people’s poverty, usually offering 200-400 UAH (10-20 $) for a vote. In Kiev, for instance, a deputy of the ruling ‘Solidarity’ was caught red-handed, with a crowd of people and envelopes with money in his office, being reported on buying voters for 500 UAH.
However, this was a rather primitive and not very effective corruptive technique, as for this period of despair. Pre-election gifts, usually, seemed more impressive, innocent and public. Despite these means were claimed to be a unique shame. People still accepted packages with food, new benches in yards, roads repaired and even new windows installed. No, this was neither everywhere, nor all at the same time, but each of such ‘charitable deeds’ contributed as an indirect bribery of a voter. A proved sophisticated post-soviet way to lure people in the trap.
Despite the elections were claimed to be transparent and showed no excessive incidents, corruption had made its job. And the bribery of mind could surpass it all. Populists had decided to make fool of the people, giving billboard promises on higher pensions, changes to the Constitution and contract army service – which have nothing to do with local officials.
Whether with the help of money handouts, or with the hope in false promises, Ukrainian people lost more than they gained in these local elections. Under different masks, corruption prevented many progressive young people to take the majority in all regions. Yet again another hope is laid upon the new generation of politicians and their ability to stand against corruption. Even if surrounded by the old ones. If they show their will to work fairly for the people, a circle of corruption might be ripped and new effective elites risen.