Newsletter for the international community providing views and analysis from the Bloc of Yulia Tymoshenko – Batkivshchyna
Page 1 Fake Ballot Papers Discovered
Page 2 Government is Deterring Foreign Investment
Page 3 Corruption in the Classroom
Page 4 Ukraine Drops 42 Places in Media Freedom Index
Page 5 Beyond Belief: European Socialists Welcome Comrade Yanukovych
Page 5 Soviet Approach to 31 October Elections
Fake Ballot Papers Discovered
It looks like the authorities have been caught red-handed printing fake ballot papers ahead of the 31 October elections. News of 720,000 illegally printed ballot papers came on Friday when an employee of the Folio Plus printing plant tipped off the Kharkiv headquarters of the Bloc of Yulia Tymoshenko (BYuT)-Batkivshchyna party. The local police and local and international election observers have been notified. The party has called for the Prosecutor General’s Office to launch a criminal investigation into the incident. This week, a further 190,000 illegally printed ballot papers were discovered in the Ivano-Frankivsk region as fears of widespread ballot box stuffing mount.
The Kharkiv Folio Plus plant is not authorised to print ballot papers and has no contract to do so. Following a telephone tip-off, representatives of BYuT-Batkivshchyna visited the printing plant and managed to seize a quantity of the fake ballot papers.
“They seized what they could seize – cut and uncut ballot papers printed on large sheets of paper – and it is already clear that the Folio Plus printing plant did not have an official contract to print ballot papers,” said Yulia Tymoshenko, Leader of the Opposition.
According to Ukrainian law only one firm is allowed to print ballot papers and the printing process must be undertaken with police present. Oleksandr Rusanov, Head of the Territorial Election Commission and a Party of Regions representative confirmed that Folio Plus had no contract to print the ballot papers.
As news of the find leaked out, over 100 people arrived at the plant demanding answers. The crowd was dispersed by a Berkut special forces unit.
Ms Tymoshenko confirmed that she will refuse to recognise the results of the election in certain regions, as her party has been denied the opportunity to participate (see article page 5).
“We already do not recognise the results in the Lviv and Kyiv oblasts and city of Ternopil because candidate lists from fraudulent Batkivshchyna party organisations were registered on orders from Yanukovych,” said Ms Tymoshenko. She also said that President Yanukovych was responsible “for plans underway to falsify the elections.”
Other reports of illegally printed ballot papers are being received. The Svoboda party reported a find of 190,000 illegally printed ballot papers in the Ivano-Frankivsk region.
Government is Deterring Foreign Investment
Foreign investment in Ukraine has fallen by 29 percent since the new government took office. This is the startling verdict of the National Bank of Ukraine.
Speaking at a press conference in her home city of Dnipropetrovsk, Leader of the Opposition, Yulia Tymoshenko revealed the startling figure. “This means that not only is there no investment inflow, but current investments are being withdrawn,” said Ms Tymoshenko.
Foreign businesses seeking to invest in Ukraine see huge opportunity but are nervous about the business climate which is far from stable. Recent charges laid against steel maker ArcelorMittal that it failed to invest $200 million in an investment programme prompted fears that the government would return the $4.8 billion Kryvorizhstal plant to state hands. However, after seeing the nervous reaction of investors, the government did a swift u-turn.
The Bloc of Yulia Tymoshenko-Batkivshchyna says that the government needs to do much more to woo investors. “A robust strategy, incentives and legal protection are required,” said a party spokesperson.
The omission of “stability clauses” in production sharing agreements is a particular bone of contention, one that is deterring Western energy companies from investing in exploration projects.
“The lack of an independent judiciary is becoming a another barrier to investment,” a foreign businessman told Inform, “Ukraine is not a market for the risk averse.”
Grain Ban Fiasco
The ability of the government to make up its own rules is another major concern. Last month during President Viktor Yanukovych’s visit to New York, the head of state told the media that there were no grain export restrictions in Ukraine. Strictly speaking this was true, but what Mr Yanukovych failed to disclose was that ships have been held up in ports since August awaiting clearance of their paperwork – so an unofficial embargo has been in place.
Earlier this month the government announced that it would limit grain exports after this summer’s severe drought, but gave confusing messages as to the volumes and types of grain to be restricted. At the time, Anna Derevyanko, Executive Director of the European Business Association was critical of the contradictory messages coming from government officials. “It’s not a positive signal to investors,” she said. “The situation in Ukraine in terms of predictability leaves (something) to be desired.”
Last week the government brought much needed clarity. Exports of maize have been limited to 2 million tonnes, wheat to 500,000 tonnes and barley to 200,000 tones, effective until the end of 2010.
As a consequence of the restrictions, wheat orders are being cancelled with disgruntled customers turning to central Europe, Australia and the US for their supply needs. Some exporters say they plan to declare force majeure due to the government’s strict quota restrictions.
Corruption in the Classroom
A string of student rallies was held throughout Ukraine with thousands of university students protesting against supplementary fees introduced by the Education Ministry, a measure which will exacerbate the problem of corruption in Ukraine’s higher education system.
In recent months, Ukraine has experienced a number of changes in its education policy, like the scrapping of independent university entry tests and the re-formatting of secondary education away from EU standards. Government opponents associate the changes with Dmytro Tabachnyk, the controversial Minister for Science and Education, known for his inflammatory pronouncements on Ukrainian identity and history.
The most recent innovation from the ministry is “paid-for services,” i.e. fees students will have to pay for non-attendance of seminars and laboratory lessons, use of library, Internet, gym and even medical centres. Some of the universities, such as the Taurichesky University, in Simferopol in the Crimea, have even gone as far as demanding penalties for re-sitting exams, which in some cases amount to $100.
Shouting punchy slogans, students marched down the city centres of 15 Ukrainian cities, including about 3,000 students protesting in Lviv, and 1,000 in Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv. In Lviv, students converged on the office of the municipal authorities and pelted the main entrance with eggs and rubbish. It was reported that the Kyiv rally was filmed by the SBU, Ukraine’s state security service, and was closely guarded. No clashes were reported.
The new law caused indignation not just among students, but among teaching staff as well. “It is inadmissible to charge students this way,” said Anatoly Tuhai, the Dean of the Kyiv architecture and construction university. “The law says a student is entitled to three attempts to pass an exam, free of charge.” It transpires that funds generated will be transferred into the state budget and universities will not exercise any control over them – contrary to what Mr Tabachnyk had pledged.
Mr Tabachnyk also reversed the system of independent university entry tests, introduced by the previous government. “Independent tests were introduced to close off avenues for corruption,” said Ivan Kyrylenko, the leader of the Bloc of Yulia Tymoshenko-Batkivshchyna faction in parliament. They were designed to stem rampant corruption with applicants forced to pay thousands of dollars to professors and university management to secure a placement.
The minister has since watered down the measure, allowing the results of school graduation certificates to have a bearing on a student’s application entry. Yet as a result, the bribing of teachers to get better marks and the forging of school performance journals have become more widespread, experts say. “It is possible to buy certificates in schools. Pupils from my class did it. So their marks don’t reflect their knowledge really,” says Dmytro, a graduate of Gimnasium #2 in Mykolaiv.
Ukraine appears to be emulating Russia in its education policies when it announced that it will revert to an 11-year schooling system. The Tymoshenko government introduced a 12-year system, practiced across Europe.
“Returning to a 11-year secondary education system moves Ukraine away from the European education system making it even harder in most cases for Ukrainian high school graduates to study directly at universities in the EU,” said Volodymyr Kovtunets, a coordinator of the Ukrainian Standardised External Testing Initiative. The authorities justified their move as a cost cutting measure.
Russia’s impact is also being felt in the re-writing of Ukraine’s history books. Mr Tabachnyk has already promised that school history books will be rid of “ravings” that describe Ukraine’s 1930’s Holodomor famine as genocide, while WW2 anti-Soviet insurgence figures, Stepan Bandera and Roman Shukhevych, will be labelled as “murderers” and “collaborators.” There is also a proposal to expunge the Orange Revolution from history books.
Meanwhile, Ukrainian schools kick started the new academic year with a lesson on President Yanukovych’s political programme, “Ukraine for the People.” Mr Tabachnyk said that there was no centrally-issued directive to do this, but failed to explain how hundreds of teachers across the country could engage in the simultaneous exercise.
Ukraine Drops 42 Places in Media Freedom Index
Inform has devoted numerous column inches to attacks on media freedoms in Ukraine. We are not alone. The international community has reacted strongly to these abuses. Leading the pack is the watchdog Reporters without Borders. In its ‘Press Freedoms Index 2010,’ Ukraine has plunged a depressing 42 places over the prior year. It now languishes in 131st place. Even Zimbabwe has a freer media than Ukraine.
Beyond Belief: European Socialists Welcome Comrade Yanukovych
Just when you thought European politics could not get any stranger, we received news that the Party of Regions has aligned itself with the European Socialist group in the European parliament. Yes, you did read that correctly. The party of billionaire oligarchs, famous for representing big business in Ukraine has formed a marriage with Europe’s socialists and inked a strategic cooperation agreement.
One can only assume that the representatives of Europe’s proletariat know little about the Party of Regions and what it stands for ideologically.
Most political commentators suggest that President Yanukovych wishes to use the socialists as a bulwark against criticism directed at his regime by the European People’s Party (EPP), which is aligned with several parties from the former Orange camp, most notably the Bloc of Yulia Tymoshenko-Batkivshchyna.
By aligning with the socialists Mr Yanukovych has managed to delay a strongly worded resolution by the European Parliament which condemns the rolling back of democratic freedoms in Ukraine.
One European Union official, who wished to be anonymous, told Kyiv Post, “Is the Party of European Socialists so blind not to see” that the Yanukovych party’s main backers, who include billionaires Dmitry Firtash and Rinat Akhmetov, “are not socialists by nature?”
“This is as bizarre as the US Republican Party aligning itself with Hugo Chavez’s party or with the Canadian NDP, and electing Shroeder as leader,” quipped Dr Taras Kuzio, Visiting Fellow, Centre for Transatlantic Relations, School of Advanced International Studies, John Hopkins University, and editor of Ukraine Analyst.
Before concluding the marriage with the socialists, the Party of Regions had just two memorandums of association: one with the United Russia party and the other with the Communist Party of China.
Soviet Approach to 31 October Elections
The totalitarian tyrant Joseph Stalin purported to have given the USSR the “most democratic constitution” in the world in 1936. This was in flat contradiction of the fact that millions of people, including four million Ukrainians in the 1933 Holodomor, were being murdered at the same time as Stalin was trumpeting the “democratic” nature of his country.
The Homo Sovieticus political culture of trumpeting a slogan while undertaking the exact opposite has left an indelible mark on some of Ukraine’s elites – especially when they feel under threat from the opposition. This was evident in the 2004 elections where opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko represented a clear threat to the Party of Regions candidate, Viktor Yanukovych.
Of course, in 2004, a real credibility gap emerged between the massive election fraud taking place and the claims of the president to “guaranteeing” free elections. If you were to believe President Kuchma and then Prime Minister Yanukovych, they were doing their utmost to ensure the holding of a free election – but the opposition, and of course the dastardly Americans, were thwarting this.
This George Orwellian, Homo Sovieticus mindset is in evidence again in the 31 October local elections, which feel like déjà vu from 2004 and which represent Mr Yanukovych’s first domestic and international test.
The Orange political forces that the president ridicules on every occasion at home and abroad facilitated four free elections. From the latter, Mr Yanukovych came to power. Yet the freedom the democratic forces gave Mr Yanukovych is now being denied them. Indeed, there is a growing likelihood that Western organisations and governments may refuse to recognise the local elections as having been held in a free and fair manner, thereby internationally discrediting the president in his first year in office.
Say One Thing, Do Another
As in the 2004 elections, two parallel virtual words are operating in Mr Yanukovych’s Homo Sovieticus mindset. For instance, he seeks to portray himself as the “guarantor” of free elections.
“I am deeply interested that these elections are truly transparent, democratic and that people feel that we live in a modern democratic country,” said Mr Yanukovych. In his next breath he promised to get tough on election officials. “So today, I would like to raise the level of the officials’ responsibility – those who are involved in these elections, and say: if any violations or administrative pressure from government officials are reported – the least I will do is to dismiss these people. They must not prevent people from voting. They must not interfere with the will of the people,” he said.
Mr Yanukovych cannot claim he does not know what is going on in Ukraine. In 2004, and today, the presidential constitution gave Presidents Kuchma and Yanukovych unlimited power and total control. Mr Yanukovych and his presidential administration are fully aware that every election commission has a majority of his supporters from the Party of Regions or allied satellite political forces.
As Soviet leader Stalin said, “What is important is not who votes but who counts the votes, and how many times they vote.”
Mr Yanukovych, like Mr Kuchma in 2004, has sought to pre-empt opposition allegations of election fraud by accusing the opposition of falsifying reality. He said that some political forces, in particular he was pointing to the Bloc of Yulia Tymoshenko (BYuT)- Batkivshchyna, “have already lost or are losing credibility… Already now they are talking about some frauds, in order to justify their low ratings to voters afterwards.” he said.
Opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko believes that the 31 October local elections will be fraudulent, not only because of the control of election commissions by the authorities, but because of the high rate of BYuT-Batkivshchyna candidates who have been refused registration. The party is not contesting the elections in Lviv, one of its strongholds, because the authorities have registered a fake party list of candidates in what is being dubbed as “cloning.”
As in 2004, Mr Yanukovych is also condemning the opposition for complaining to international organisations about the democratic regression, creeping authoritarianism and lack of free elections. “They do it not only inside the country but discredit it abroad: they travel to European countries and tell lies about the state of affairs in Ukraine,” Mr Yanukovych added.
The opposition is merely demanding that Mr Yanukovych fulfil obligations that Ukraine has entered into as a member of the Council of Europe and the OSCE. Mr Yanukovych’s credibility is on the line. He cannot expect Ukrainians and Brussels to believe his sincerity in claiming to seek EU membership, while protesting when the European Parliament in a strongly worded statement on 21 October highlighted democratic infringements.
The next few weeks will tell if Mr Yanukovych will continue to be perceived as the election fraudster of 2004 or as a new president committed to the democracy that brought him to power. Thus far the omens are not good.
Meanwhile, Western governments, the Venice Commission, Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, European People’s Party, Congress of Local and Regional Authorities, US Mission to the OSCE, National Democratic Institute, International Foundation for Electoral Systems and other institutions have been highly critical of creeping authoritarianism under Mr Yanukovych’s watch.
This credibility gap means that soon President Yanukovych will only have “Dima” (Russian President Medvedev) and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez with whom to discuss democracy and media freedom. It took Mr Kuchma until his second term to become persona non grata in the West. It might take Mr Yanukovych less than one year.
Election irregularities include:
· Fake party branches of BYuT-Batkivshchyna have been registered by the authorities in Kyiv, Lviv, Kharkiv, Ternopil and in other regions. Candidates unrelated to the party are registered to run for election.
· The composition of the central and local election commissions – those bodies that oversee vote counting and verification – is stacked in favour of the ruling Party of Regions.
· Relaxed rules for home voting are in place.
· In some areas, enterprise managers and school headmasters are forced to change their party allegiance and run for election on the Party of the Regions ticket. Those who refuse are threatened to be sacked.
· In some areas, outdoor advertising of opposition parties is ordered to be destroyed.
· Municipal property, municipal newspapers and transport are used to campaign for the Party of the Regions’ candidates.
· Registration documents from opposition candidates have been turned down on technicalities, such as writing a candidate’s date of birth in words, not numbers.
· In Crimea, the heads of several district councils were arrested to prevent their registration for elections.
· Some 720,000 illegally printed ballot papers discovered in Kharkiv.
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