News / Europe

Low Voter Turnout Expected in Restive East Ukraine

An elderly woman casts her vote in the presidential election in the eastern town of Krasnoarmeisk, Ukraine, May 25, 2014.
An elderly woman casts her vote in the presidential election in the eastern town of Krasnoarmeisk, Ukraine, May 25, 2014.
— Ukraine's polling stations opened Sunday in a presidential election overshadowed by violence in the country's mainly Russian-speaking east and by Russia's annexation of Ukraine's Crimea peninsula.

Ukraine election monitors say armed pro-Russian separatists are likely to prevent up to two-thirds of voters in eastern districts from choosing a new president in Sunday's election, despite calls from Kyiv for a strong voter turnout.

Armed pro-Russian insurgents have controlled about a dozen cities in eastern Ukraine for weeks, and the head of the League of Voters says he doubts that more than a third of the electorate in the Donetsk and Luhansk districts will show up. Ukraine's Interior Ministry concurred Saturday, saying voting will probably not take place in 20 of 34 districts in those border areas.

Polls elsewhere in the country of 45 million residents point to a resounding win for a pro-Western presidential candidate, and a heavy turnout.  

PM addresses country

In a televised address Saturday, interim Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk called on all Ukrainians to stop "bandits sponsored from abroad" from disrupting the polls — a blunt reference to Russia's support for separatists near the border.

He also said Ukrainians have "paid with their lives" for Ukraine's "freedom, prosperity and European future," noting that is why the choice voters make on Sunday is so important.

But forecasts for how many voters in Ukraine’s eastern regions will be able to vote have been steadily worsening in the face of ongoing violence and unrest.

While Ukraine’s League of Voters plans to field 3,000 monitors for the election — more than 1,000 foreign observers are also on hand — Oleksandr Chernenko, who heads the voters league, doubts more than a third of voters in Donetsk and Luhansk will actually cast ballots.

"That will mean 10 percent of Ukraine’s voters will have been denied the opportunity to vote,” Chernenko said. The election is widely seen as the most important since the country broke with the Soviet Union 23 years ago.
 
  • Election commission workers adjust a voting booth at a polling station in Kyiv, May 24, 2014.
  • Election commission officials install ballot boxes at a poling station in Kyiv, May 24, 2014.
  • Pro-Russian women shout slogans during a demonstration against Sunday's Ukrainian elections in Donetsk's Lenin Square, Ukraine, May 24, 2014.
  • Ukrainian presidential candidate Yulia Tymoshenko speaks to former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright in Kyiv, May 24, 2014.
  • Ukrainian presidential candidate Petro Poroshenko and former U.S.Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, shake hands during a meeting in Kyiv, May 24, 2014.
  • Ukrainian lawmaker Oleg Tsarev, center right, and Denis Pushilin, one of the leaders of so-called "Donetsk People's Republic", center left, address their supporters during a rally in Donetsk, Ukraine, May 24, 2014.
  • Prime minister of the self-declared Donetsk republic Oleksandr Boroday, sits with armed security during the congress of representatives of Ukrainian south-east regions, in Donetsk, Ukraine, May 24, 2014.
  • Pallbearers carry the coffin of a pro-Russian insurgent during a funeral for him and four other people, attended by thousands, Stakhanov, eastern Ukraine, May 24, 2014.

Security concerns

Holding up a colored map of the Donetsk region to reporters at a press conference in Ukraine’s capital, Chernenko explained that most of the province’s voting districts had been daubed red and orange to denote high danger, saying that a third of the districts were controlled by separatists and that roughly another third were at risk of total disruption.

Only a handful of districts in the west of the province appear to be trouble free.

Vladyslav Selezniov, spokesman of the Interior Ministry’s anti-terror operation, concedes security in the east is deteriorating. He says it is unlikely that voting will take place in at least 20 of 34 voting districts in Luhansk and Donetsk regions.

Separatists held their own controversial plebiscites earlier this month in both provinces and have declared them independent republics. But a separatist appeal to Moscow to annex them has gone unheeded and Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Friday that the results of Ukraine’s presidential election should be respected.

However, Ukrainian security officials say Russian fighters and guns are still being trafficked across the border and accuse Moscow of continuing to destabilize eastern Ukraine.

Valentyn Nalyvaichenko, head of Ukraine’s intelligence service, the SBU, says there are signs that Moscow is starting to withdraw more than 40,000 estimated troops massed on the border. He insists, however, that the Kremlin is still aiding the separatists.

When asked to explain the apparent contradiction, he was curt. “Ask them,” he said.

Kremlin response

On Friday, Russian President Vladimir Putin vowed to recognize the outcome of the election and voiced hope that Ukraine's new president will end military operations against separatists in the east.

Sunday's election could be key to stopping hostilities in the east and to helping end the biggest controversy between Russia and the West since the end of the Cold War.

In comments to international news agencies Saturday, Putin said he did not expect a new Cold War related to the crisis in Ukraine.

Sunday's vote is widely seen as the most important election since Ukraine gained independence with the 1991 dissolution of the Soviet Union.

Question of legitimacy

Chernenko of the League of Voters has ordered his monitors in the east not to take any chances regarding their personal safety. If they come under threat or feel at risk, he said, they must withdraw.

While disappointed that 10 percent of the electorate is likely to be disenfranchised over fears of polling stations seizures, threats, and the abduction of election officials, Chernenko says it won’t render the election illegitimate.

However, a computer virus with the central election commission has continued to cause problems, leaving the organization's email system paralyzed.

Officials had said the virus wouldn't pose a serious problem, but it now appears the virus may compromise electronic results.

Twenty-one candidates are competing to become Ukraine's next president. Polls show billionaire candy-maker Petro Poroshenko holds a commanding lead, but falls just short of the absolute majority needed to claim a first-round win.

Additional information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.

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Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Fact from: Florida
May 25, 2014 10:58 AM
The people in Donetsk and Luhansk have already voted. They have opted for independence from the illegal coup junta of Kiev. Why is one coup without a vote better than actual democracy? Sheeple are so screwed up in their reasoning.


by: meanbill from: USA
May 24, 2014 6:31 PM
"You don't negotiate with terrorists" -- and Putin only recognized the illegal western Ukraine coup leaders as terrorists -- (BUT NOW?) -- but now, Putin can now recognize and negotiate with the newly elected Ukraine government, no matter if the election is boycotted or not?
No matter how the Ukraine government changes, (from a coup, or a democracy), the southeastern parts of Ukraine have succeeded, (and it'll now lead to the newly formed Ukraine elected government and the separatists), recognizing each other, and negotiating a settlement of some kind.. --
The only thing that changes is, that Russia can now negotiate with the newly elected legal Ukraine government now, and Ukraine and the separatists negotiations will now be legal..... REALLY


by: Joe Parnarauskis from: Illinois
May 24, 2014 6:10 PM
Barrack Obama, Merkel and the EU and all their prostitutes via CIA, NSA et all, fomented the overthrow of the legitimate government of Ukraine.
They pay the price of their folly. Putin plays a good hand against the imperialist powers who have no support in the working classes in their own countries. Not that he is not a rich capitalist like Obama and Merkel. Ultimately the working class of Ukraine will decide their future, just as will the international working class in the UK, the USA and worldwide. The World Socialist Website gives the working class an international voice in opposition to world media owned and controlled by the rich ruling class. Read the www.wsws.org daily and join the international socialist revolution against these corporate criminals, Obama, Merkel et all.

In Response

by: Thom Paine from: Timbuktu
May 24, 2014 6:39 PM
Never thought Id agree with a socialist on ANYTHING. But you are correct about one thing , and that is that they belong in PRISON! (Allthough Im certain our reasons for that opinion differ) Well now a hardcore constitutionalist and a socialist agreeing on anything is news! As for "Socialism" I see no reason why we would wish to replace one corruption with another. As the IWW wobblies used to say of Mr. Block , That a great big Socialistic Bull rapped him on his head, and Mr. Block did sob , " But I helped him get his Job"! Government is force. Government is Violence. And expropriation for "redistibution" will be met with both. Just like political correctness mandated as law, conflict will be the result.


by: Thom Paine from: Planet Earth
May 24, 2014 5:32 PM
The Ukraine and particularly the Crimea is soaked by centuries of Russian blood. And the the community organizer and his globalist banker pals think that Putin will jump thru hoops for them?! This is a joke to every Soldier on the planet . Somebody better tell the cultural marxist/ anti sovereignty crowd in D.C. just what a laughingstock they have become! Dont forget to use a teleprompter for Obama. I hear comparrisons between Obama and Hitler due to the NDAA etc. The main difference however is that the Presidents "Praetorian Guard" has come to despise him. Wish the United States had a leader like Putin in many ways.


by: Roman de Caesar from: Kiev
May 24, 2014 3:47 PM
I didn't know Nazi's attended church, nor do would have I ever have guessed that the church would have let a Nazi attend.


by: Joe Parnarauskis from: Illinois
May 24, 2014 3:32 PM
Let us get it straight. The United States under the multimillionaire,

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