Young Ukrainians will be disappointed after rock star Sviatoslav Vakarchuk confirmed he won’t run in the upcoming Ukrainian presidential election in a posting on his Facebook page on January 27.
At the same time, an official tally of the number of eligible voters seems to overestimate the total and opens up room for vote rigging, warn analysts in Kyiv.
The western educated Vakarchuk was one of two alternative non-establishment possible candidates in the race with a real chance of mounting a challenge to the incumbent political elite, and he appealed especially to the youth vote, who are looking for a change of direction.
A new poll released on January 29 confirmed that opposition leader, former prime minister and head of Batkivshchyna (Fatherland) party Yulia Tymoshenko is still the frontrunner with 20%, followed by comedian Vladimir Zelenskiy in second place with 12.6%, the other alternative candidate. Incumbent President Petro Poroshenko is in fourth place with 8.3%.
However, the pro-EU and liberal Vakarchuk hinted he might compete in the parliamentary elections in October, which will also be important for Ukraine’s future as the pro-Russian forces are expected to form a powerful bloc in opposition.
“Together with my team, I will work for the victory of pro-European forces,” he wrote. “I will work to bring to government as many young professionals as possible. People of the future. Those for whom justice and the state interest are the most important,” Vakarchuk wrote on Facebook.
Vakarchuk met with Poroshenko in late December to discuss his potential presidential run, the pravda.com.ua news site reported on January 28, although Vakarchuk’s press service later denied a meeting took place.
In exchange for withdrawing his candidacy, Poroshenko allegedly agreed to two key political demands, according to opposition MP Serhiy Leshchenko, a staunch Poroshenko critic. They are launching the independent anti-corruption court ahead of the elections, which the president promised to do last week, and amending the election law to hold the October parliamentary vote based on open lists of candidates, as opposed to the closed lists currently, in which candidates are selected by parties.
“Vakarchuk had a chance to legitimately compete for the presidency had he approached the campaign more seriously. But by the first week of January (when the campaign season officially began), he lost much of the momentum he would have had by stalling on an announcement. It’s entirely possible he traded his electoral capital in exchange for concessions from the president. Time will tell whether he truly struck a deal with the president for open-list voting in October, which would be very positive for Ukrainian politics. We believe Vakarchuk is also capable of gaining a modest parliamentary faction (earning between 5-8% of the vote), which will also be positive for Ukraine,” Zenon Zawada of Concorde Capital said in a note.
Number of registered votes in question
The number of citizens registered to vote in the March presidential election will be similar to the amount registered for the 2014 presidential vote, said Oleksandr Stelmakh, the head of the State Voter Register Service. As of January 13mn Ukrainian citizens are registered to vote, if the residents of occupied Crimea and Donbas are excluded, he said, as reported by the pravda.com.ua news site on January 27.
The number of registered voters decreased by 80,000 since 2014, he estimated, adding that voter registers are renewed every month. They will also be reviewed and updated ten and four days before the March 31 vote, he said.
However, analysts questioned the official voter tally pointing out that the population has shrunk since the last elections in 2014, as the mortality rate has far outstripped the birth rate. Moreover, at least 5mn Ukrainians are out of the country, working abroad, but still listed in the registers. According to the official numbers there are only 80,000 fewer eligible Ukrainian voters compared to 2014, which analysts say is not creditable.
“So given the large numbers of dead voters and absent voters still on the registers, the dominant political forces (Poroshenko Bloc, Opposition Bloc, Fatherland) have large flexibility in engaging in vote manipulations in those election commissions where they have an advantage in loyal representatives,” Zawada said.
“Naturally, the president has the largest advantage in not only influencing local election commissions, but also election bodies at the regional and national levels (including forming the register). So this dubious estimate of eligible voters, as well as potential voters, works to the president’s advantage. Grytsenko’s inability to review the state voter register is cause for even more concern,” Zawada added.