Written by Nikolaus von Twickel
As expected, separatist leaders Pushilin and Pasechnik won the elections in the “People’s Republics” – which have been criticized as illegal by Ukraine and the West. Critics – also among the separatists – suspect that the official results were doctored.
Pushilin wins with “just” 60 per cent
“DNR” separatist leader Denis Pushilin was declared winner of the November 11 election with 60.85 per cent. His strongest competitor, Roman Khramenkov of the nominally oppositional Free Donbass (Svobodny Donbass) movement, came second with 14.2 per cent while the remaining three candidates got less than ten per cent (Yelena Shishkina 9.3, Roman Yevstifeyev 7.75 and Vladimir Medvedev 6.5).
In the neighbouring “LNR”, Leonid Pasechnik was confirmed as separatist leader with 68.3 per cent. Oleg Koval of the nominally oppositional Lugansk Economic Union (Lugansk Economicheski Soyus) came second with 16.55 per cent, while the two other candidates –Natalya Sergun and Lyudmila Rusnak won 7.95 and 5.9 per cent respectively.
Pushilin’s and Pasechnik’s victors were widely expected given that their competitors were little known even locally and that credible candidates like former Donetsk commander Alexander Khodakovsky and former Donetsk separatist leader Pavel Gubarev had been excluded from participation. In fact both are thought to exiled in Russia – Russian border guards refused to let Khodakovsky return to register as a candidate while Gubarev is said to have fled after being accused of submitting forged signatures for his registration.
Also elected were the “parliaments” in both republics, where the ruling “movements” won easily with 72.5 per cent of the votes in Donetsk and 74.12 per cent in Luhansk.
The elections were condemned by Ukraine and her western allies for being illegal and violating the Minsk agreement. President Petro Poroshenko called for a boycott and for tougher sanctions against Russia, while Security Council Secretary Oleksandr Turchynov said that participants (he did not say if he also meant voters) were committing a criminal offence under Ukrainian law.
Few signs of free elections
There were few indications that the vote was free or fair and independent observers suspected that the results were falsified in order to give some legitimacy to the two candidates who had never stood in an election before. Critics pointed out that the high turnout of 80 per cent in the “DNR” (77 in the “LNR”) could not possibly be real given the number of polling stations. If, as declared by the election commission, 1.6 million people voted in just 408 ballot stations, then the commission would have to have employed more than 11,000 election workers to ensure smooth procedures, the Donetsk-based analyst Roman Manekin wrote.
Andrei Purgin, a former senior separatist official who has been exiled in Russia since he was ousted by Pushilin as “parliamentary speaker” in 2015, said that the elections were no elections because they offered no choice to voters. “This is an attempt to legalize a small group of people that sees itself as the political class,” he said in an interview.
The Monitoring Mission of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) said in a report, that „two to four people in full combat gear and with assault rifles” were present outside most polling stations. It also quoted civilians as saying that people felt “compelled to vote, as otherwise they would face interruption of salaries or health care.“
Austrian diplomat Martin Sajdik, the OSCE’s senior envoy to the Minsk peace talks, reiterated on November 6 that that holding “the so-called elections does not correspond either to the letter or to the spirit of the Minsk agreements”.
However, Russia and the separatists insisted that the vote was legitimate. Vladislav Surkov, the Kremlin’s chief aide who apparently decides how the pro-Moscow administration of the “People’s Republics” is run, said on November 12 that the “unprecedented turnout” showed the high support among local citizens for the pro-Russian course. “This showed the whole world that Donbass is inhabitated by a proud and intelligent people who believe in their strength,” Surkov was quoted as saying in a congratulatory letter according to his close confidant Alexei Chesnakov.
Vladimir Bidyovka, the faction leader of Pushilin’s Donetsk Republic movement in “parliament”, said that by going to the polls the people showed that they rejected Ukraine’s “neofascist politics. “We won’t leave the path chosen in 2014, we will return home to the Russian Federation,” he said in comments carried on the parliament’s website.