Ukrainian elections marked by allegations of corruption regarding ballots

Local elections were held across Ukraine on October 25, excepting one city where elections were canceled amid allegations of erroneously printed ballots. The Ukrainian governments stated that elections were canceled in the provincial capital of Mariupol in Ukraine’s eastern region. The steel company that printed the ballots is owned by Ukraine’s richest man Rinat Akmetov, an oligarch with ties to the Opposition Bloc, a pro-Russia opposition group popular in eastern Ukraine. Mariupol is located in a strategic position between Crimea and rebel-held Donetsk and Luhansk republics in the east, where elections were not held.

International media reported that the elections are seen as a platform to measure the popularity of Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and his government against that of Ukraine’s oligarchs who dominate the commercial and industrial sectors. Invested in maintaining local clout, oligarchs whose business often ties them to Russia are seen as a challenge to the power of the central government, which is purportedly focused on moving Ukraine towards democracy and greater integration with the European Union. The press has detailed several instances of oligarchs fielding candidates for local political positions, including Akhmetov’s own mayoral candidate and steel mill manager in Mariupol, Vadim Boychenko.

The October elections were the most extensive since Mariupol was nearly invaded by Russian-backed rebels in August 2014, and was seen as a peaceful chance for local citizens to express their wishes regarding Russian influence in the area. Poroshenko’s approval rating is down to 26% across the country. Analysts have said that the Opposition Bloc, which holds approximately 10% of seats in the national parliament and fielded former separatist candidates, is poised to take advantage of the continuing economic instability and difficulties brought on by war waged in the east to boost their influence.

Notably, the Opposition Bloc took 20% of the vote in Ukraine’s 2014 parliamentary elections in Mariupol, where citizens formed a human chain in an attempt to prevent separatist forces from taking the city in August 2014. Exit polls from four cities where elections were held showed an east-west split between support for candidates backed by local business tycoons, and Poroshenko’s Solidarity and other EU-leaning parties. A second round of elections will be held on November 15 in Kiev and a few other large cities where no one candidate garnered a majority of the votes. Rebels in Donetsk and Luhansk republics had originally stated their intent to hold their own elections on October 18, but later changed the date to February under alleged pressure from Moscow.

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News Briefs:

  • Russia called for elections in Syria and offered assistance to the Free Syrian Army (FSA), yet the group rejected Moscow’s proposition, stating that Russia must first cease bombing the FSA’s affiliates before it offers help. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov stated that the Syrian people must choose their leaders in parliamentary and presidential elections, echoing Prime Minister Medvedev’s comments on the need for self-determination of leadership in Syria. FSA affiliates expressed suspicion at Russia’s extension of assistance, claiming that its goal is still to keep Syrian President and Russian ally Bashar al-Assad in power. Russia has carried out several airstrikes that have hit FSA affiliates, secular-oriented groups supported by US Central Intelligence Agency training and weapons from US allies including Turkey and Jordan. During his visit to Moscow, Jordan’s King Abdullah agreed to jointly establish a “special working mechanism” with Russia in its capital Amman, potentially marking a shift in alliances around the conflict in Syria. Syrian President Assad expressed willingness to participate in elections, stating that his main goal is to fight terrorism in Syria.
  • Afghan officials reported that Taliban fighters were stranded on an island in the Amu River between Turkmenistan and Afghanistan after retreating from army troops. A Taliban spokesman refuted the claim, stating that its fighters were basing themselves on the island to launch attacks against the troops. The Afghan army had forced most Taliban fighters out of Khamab district on the border with Turkmenistan last week. There have been no reports of fighters crossing into Turkmenistan, and a spokesman for the vice president leading Afghan forces stated that the army had not advanced into Turkmen territory. Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow did not participate in the meeting of Eurasian leaders in Kazakhstan on October 16 that decided to create a joint task force to address issues on borders including those of Central Asian states with Afghanistan. In May, over fears that they would bring violence in their wake, Turkmen officials blocked over 900 ethnic Turkmen families attempting to cross the border from Afghanistan to flee clashes between Afghan forces and the Taliban in their home district of Badghis.
  • Moldovan mayor and opposition leader Renato Usatii was released from custody after being arrested last week on charges of wire tapping. Usatii posted on Facebook recordings of a conversation between a businessman and former Prime Minister Vlad Filat, later arrested on charges of large-scale corruption including taking bribes. Usatii, mayor of Moldova’s second-largest city Balti, was released by a Chisinau court that denied the prosecutor’s request to extend his detention to 30 days. He has led protests against the theft of $1 billion from Moldova’s banking system, and stated publicly that he knowingly broke the law by recording the conversation, and believed it was in the country’s best interest. Usatii fled Moldova in November 2014 after his party was banned from participating in parliamentary elections, but returned last week to run for mayor of Balti.
  • The Kazakh government reported a joint defense venture signed between Kazakhstan and Germany. Kazakhstan Engineering, the national manufacturer of military equipment and weaponry, and German Rheinmetall Eastern Markets company signed a foundation agreement for the joint venture as well as a memorandum of understanding, as Rheinmetall’s chairman met with Kazakh First Deputy Defense Minister Bakytzhan Sagintayev to discuss further possibilities for cooperation. The deal is the first of its kind reported publicly for a German company in Central Asia, after Rheinmetall lost business in Russia after the implementation of July 2014 EU sanctions.
  • A strong earthquake caused the deaths of over 350 people in Afghanistan and Pakistan, a number expected to rise due to downed communications in the Hindu Kush, where the quake was centered. Officials reported 82 people dead in Afghanistan and 253 more in Pakistan, a number that included 12 schoolgirls killed in a stampede to leave their school building. Strong tremors were felt from Tashkent, Uzbekistan and Kabul, Afghanistan to New Delhi in India, alarming residents. The quake was measured at a magnitude of 7.5, similar to the earthquake in 2005 that killed 75,000 people in Pakistan’s northern Swat valley.
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