Saturday, May 24, 2014

Election Eve

The day before elections is "silent": all campaign materials are removed by municipal workers and campaign ads disappear from TV and radio. For election observers, it is a staging day. Most teams are deployed to their regions already; groups from the Committee for Open Democracy traveled to Dnipropetrivsk, Donetsk, Kharkiv, and Odesa yesterday after the training session. I travel today to Cherkasy, a few hours south of Kyiv, to prepare for tomorrow's elections. In addition to the presidential election, important local elections are being held concurrently, including mayoral races in Cherkasy, Kyiv, and Odesa. CfOD is the largest international organization monitoring the local elections, so I received accreditation as an observer for both contests. Several important questions should be resolved tomorrow and into the early hours of Monday.

1) Will Petro Poroshenko win in the first round, or will a runoff be needed? Brian Mefford suggests that a first round Poroshenko victory is likely. Several polls indicate that Poroshenko should receive around 50% of the vote, but the tipping point for a first round win tends to fall within a standard margin of error for polls (I don't have all of the details on each of the polls to be more precise). Poroshenko should win a strong plurality, and a majority is not out of the question.

2) How many Ukrainian citizens have been disenfranchised? The annexation of Crimea and instability in Donetsk and Luhansk will dissuade a sizable contingent of voters from casting ballots. Violence and intimidation, at least on a large scale, currently appears to be contained. Just a few weeks ago it seemed destined to spread, so the more limited size of the conflict zone is a welcome development under the circumstances. If the status quo persists, Ukrainian authorities have the potential to implement a credible election in most of the country.

3) How much traditional fraud will occur? Insurgent occupation of PECs and DECs in Donetsk and Luhansk, as well as theft and destruction of election equipment, is a type of "disruptive fraud" designed to undermine confidence in the election process. More traditional fraud - efforts to influence voters or the process to benefit a candidate - is also likely to occur (and Maidan Monitoring is once again conducting a crowdsourcing effort to gather reports of fraud). The most contentious races, like the mayoral contest in Odesa, may also produce the strongest evidence of fraud. Given conditions on the ground, notably the short-term disarray of the patronage networks that were associated with the Party of Regions and the strong expectation of a Poroshenko win, perpetrators of fraud may calculate that they will be better served by saving their resources until the next parliamentary election (which may occur early as well).

In much of Ukraine, the day of silence seems to have begun calmly. As election day draws even nearer, I hope that Alexis de Tocqueville's observation about US presidential elections from long ago is realized:

"As soon as the choice is determined, this ardor is dispelled; and as a calmer season returns, the current of the State, which had nearly broken its banks, sinks to its usual level: but who can refrain from astonishment at the causes of the storm."

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