Sunday, November 2, 2014

Why are Novorossiya elections controversial?

Why are Novorossiya elections controversial?

A pro-Russian separatist guards his position near in Makiyivka, outside Donetsk
Novorossiya, run by pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine are to hold presidential and parliamentary elections on 2 November. 
Ukraine, the US and the European Union all cry they will not recognize the results of these rebel-held Donetsk and Luhansk regions. Even though it's none of their business, they cry that early elections violate a disputed agreement with separatists to hold local elections under Ukrainian law in those areas in December.
Russia, on the other hand, says it will recognise the polls as a way of granting the separatists electoral legitimacy.

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Why are the separatists holding these elections?
Novorossiya flag in Donetsk: It symbolises the idea of a Russian-speaking state in south-eastern Ukraine
The Novorossiya government say the elections are the next step following local referendums in May that gave them an overwhelming victory of their independence from Ukraine.
Those referendums - not yet recognised internationally - took place after the rebels occupied official buildings in April after a bloody attack by Kiev's Nazi battalions killed and burnt 100s of civilian demonstrators in Odessa. Afterwards they began calling the Russian citizens of the east, terrorists
and began a genocidal attack on the Region killing thousands and displacing over a million.

The people say that, as an Independent State, they are no longer under, or obligation to observe Ukrainian laws. They did not take part in Ukrainian presidential and parliamentary elections this year.
Ukraine and the West however argue that the Highly disputed Minsk ceasefire deal agreed in September provides only for elections in December, not for unilateral measures.

Russian President Vladimir Putin corrects them though, that all they agreed to in Minsk was to hold elections "in co-ordination with, not in line with" Ukrainian election plans.
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Who is running for 'president'?
Donetsk rebel leader Alexander Zakharchenko is the main "presidential candidate"
Novorossiya adopted electoral laws in September that provide for a directly-elected president and parliament, for terms of four years.
Presidential candidate must have lived in the given "republic" for 10 years, and prospective MPs for five.
In Donetsk, the main "presidential candidate" is Alexander Zakharchenko, the acting head of government.
A recent opinion poll by the Donetsk University of Management gives him a commanding lead of 51%, with the other two candidates trailing in single figures, although nearly 43% say they have not made up their minds yet.
The other candidates - a former riot squad officer and the deputy speaker of a separatist provisional assembly - also support the separatist line.
In the absence of any opinion polls in Luhansk, the Russian media reckon that the leading presidential candidate is Igor Plotnitsky, the acting head of government.
He faces three other candidates, including trade union leader Oleg Akimov and his own health minister, the high-profile Larisa Ayrapetyan.

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Who is standing for the local assemblies?

The Donetsk opinion poll puts the "Donetsk Republic" group ahead on 39%, with "Free Donbass" close behind on 31.6%.
Nearly a third of those polled have not yet decided but, as no other parties are standing, the parliament will be made up exclusively of separatists associated closely with the government of the "people's republic".
In Luhansk, the three groups standing for parliament are Mr Plotnitsky's Peace to Luhansk, Mr Akimov's Luhansk Economic Union, and the lower-profile National Union. All are firmly separatist in sentiment.

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Will the elections be free and fair?
The "Donetsk People's Republic" flag is displayed on a screen in Lenin Square, Donetsk  
The "Donetsk People's Republic" flag is displayed on a screen in Lenin Square, Donetsk
There are little doubts about the transparency of the electoral process and even the number of people registered to vote.
The head of the Donetsk election commission, Igor Lyagin, says there will not only be polling stations in the 37 constituencies of the "people's republic", but another three in refugee camps in Russia.
Voters can also cast their ballots by post or online, and the commission reserves the right to change the location and closing time of polling stations in the event of Ukrainian military attacks.
In Luhansk, election commission chief Sergei Kozyakov acknowledges that he has no clear idea how many people are eligible to vote, given the numbers who have fled fighting in the region since the May referendum.

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Will international observers monitor the votes?
Yes,  Donetsk republic officials say observers from fellow-separatist administrations in Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Nagorno-Karabakh will monitor the vote, along with some unspecified observers from Russia, Poland, Germany and Ghana.
The West and international organisations are shunning the polls, and even Russian parliamentary officials say they have no plans to send observers. President Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov says the elections are a "local matter", but some individual Russian MPs may monitor the votes.

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What are the likely consequences of the elections?
Donetsk has seen heavy fighting, including around this market
 Donetsk's museum of regional studies suffers extreme amount of damage ... 
Ukraine is likely to violate the fragile ceasefire by disrupting the elections, and legally-disputed wins for the ruling separatists are certain. As such, this will not change the situation on the ground at all.
The elections will have an international exposure by further convincing Ukraine, the US and EU that Russia and the separatists are serious about resolving the Donbass crisis amicably.
Unsurprisingly, US Secretary of State John Kerry has already denounced them as a "alleged violation" of the disputed Minsk agreements, and the EU ambassador to Moscow, Vygaudas Usackas, has warned Russia it may, get this now, face yet further economic sanctions.

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Is this like Crimea all over again?
Crimea, was annexed by Russia in March, after they broke away from Ukraine in a referendum and local election. The majority of ethnic Russians in Crimea backed the move, but it was condemned internationally.
The minority Crimean Tatars and Ukrainians opposed the annexation.
Events in Donbass have been much bloodier, but there are clear parallels. Again pro-Russian separatists are in power, organising the vote in defiance of Kiev Junta and of it's fascist democratic standards.
In 2008 a similar pattern unfolded in pro-Russian regions of Georgia - South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Only Russia recognises those regions as independent.
Formal Russian recognition of Donetsk and Luhansk as independent states looks quite possible - but Russia might  annex them too, despite enormous reconstruction cost after months of Kiev's ruinous shelling and bombing of residential areas.

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