Ukrainians go to polls amid fighting in east

Ukrainians vote today in general elections overshadowed by war and economic crisis in the hope of creating a new parliament and government capable of providing peace and prosperity.

Election officials prepare for the vote in Slovyansk, formerly rebel-held. Picture: Reuters
Election officials prepare for the vote in Slovyansk, formerly rebel-held. Picture: Reuters

It is the first parliamentary election in Ukraine since mass protests in Kiev swept president Viktor Yanukovich from power, and the subsequent Russian invasion and annexation of the Crimea.

The vote comes despite fighting in eastern Ukraine between government forces and Russian-backed separatists, with large areas under the control of rebel leaders who have refused to allow Kiev parliamentary elections to proceed.

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“We have no diplomatic ties with Ukraine,” said Roman Lyagin, head of the election committee at the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic. “We are in a state of war with them at the moment so having their voting booths on our soil is impossible.

“We have our own task which is to hold an election for our prime minister and people’s council, and to make those elections as legitimate as possible,” he added, referring to a 3 November rebel vote.

The Central Election Committee in Kiev said 13 from 32 constituencies would see no voting, pulling down the number of MPs from 450 to 420. In total, some three million voters live in areas affected by the eastern war that has claimed about 3,700 lives and inflicted huge damage to housing and infrastructure. There are 36.5 million Ukrainians eligible to vote.

There have also been allegations of vote-buying and intimidation in areas close to the war zone outside rebel control, and of corruption throughout Ukraine.

“Corruption is a problem dogging the election,” said Tana de Zulueta, from an election-monitoring Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe group.

“There is little trust in the ­election system owing to past outright corruption,” she said. Many Ukrainians hope the elections will bring political stability, and create a government able to cope with an economy near collapse.

A poll carried out 9-18 October put the bloc allied to president Petro Poroshenko well in the lead on 30 per cent. The Poroshenko Bloc has the slogan “It’s Time to Unite”. It was only founded in August but has won support with its western outlook and pledge to get to grips with corruption.

It has also proposed changes to the constitution such as ­devolving power, and also the popular measure of lifting MPs’ immunity from ­prosecution.

But the bloc is unlikely to win an outright majority and will have to try to form a coalition with one of the other pro-western parties. Yanukovich’s once powerful Party of Regions disintegrated following the protests that ousted him, and its remnant, now operating under the name Opposition Bloc, is predicted to get about 6 per cent.

With no effective opposition Ukraine’s next government is expected to be pro-western to its core and may face Moscow’s antipathy.

Russia already stands accused of fomenting war in eastern Ukraine in a bid to destabilise its neighbour and drag it from the clutches of the West.

Last week Russian president Vladimir Putin ominously said that, while he respected Ukraine’s territorial integrity, the “history of its formation and current borders” was a “rather complex process”.