Michael MacKay, Radio Lemberg, 22.02.2019
As a member of the Council of Europe, Ukraine participates in the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities. This body observes local and regional elections in Council of Europe member states. In the midst of an election campaign (Ukraine will have the first round of presidential elections on March 31) the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe will hold a conference in Kyiv on 27 February. This will be followed by a workshop for local authorities on February 28, organized jointly with the Association of Ukrainian Cities. The purpose of the conference and workshop is to achieve better inclusion and protection of Internally Displace Persons (IDPs) to ensure their electoral participation as candidates and as voters.
The Russian Federation invaded Ukraine on 20 February 2014, five years ago. Millions of Ukrainian citizens were made homeless by the Russian invaders. Today, over one and a half million Ukrainians are officially registered as “internally displaced persons,” meaning they are refugees in their own country. Russian aggression has forced these people to leave the place where they are normally resident and normally vote. Putin’s War is an attack on normal democracy.
Apart from many other hardships, Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) have been disenfranchised by Putin’s War. In the presidential and parliamentary elections of 2014, Russian invasion-occupation forces stopped Ukrainian citizens from voting in Crimea and in part of Luhansk and Donetsk regions. The Russians will frustrate Ukrainian democracy again in 2019.
Given that IDPs will not be able to vote in their normal residence, creative solutions must be found to guarantee the right to vote for them – as it must be guaranteed for all Ukrainian citizens.
Renate Zikmund is Head of Service of Statutory Activities of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe. Speaking ahead of the conference in Kyiv next week she said : “We aim to discuss the steps needed to ensure the participation of the IDPs in elections.”
The Russian Federation has invaded and temporarily occupies about seven percent of the territory of Ukraine. IDPs who temporarily reside in Ukraine in places not invaded and occupied by the Russian Federation will be provided the means to vote. But the ‘captive nation’ of Ukrainians in the temporarily Russian-occupied territory of Crimea and part of Donbas cannot be provided the means to vote. They will be actively denied the franchise by Russian Federation occupation authorities.
Renate Zikmund points out that this is a complicated problem and not one to be solved by the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe. It is a problem – forced upon them by Russian aggression – for the Ukrainian authorities to solve. “There are people who live in the non-government controlled areas but are eager to take part in the elections. We know about such a situation. But this remains an open question. We have no answer to it. This, in fact, may be a talking point with Ukrainian partners in Kyiv. The Congress is open for such a discussion," Renate Zikmund said.
Regretably, none of of the leading presidential candidates in Ukraine are making IDPs a priority of the campaign. The compassionate, “looking after one’s own” spirit of Ukrainian society is not being expressed at this level of political discourse. As a leading democratic country, Ukraine should be taking the lead in finding innovative solutions to electoral disenfranchisement caused by Russian aggression. Ukrainian citizens who are IDPs should not be ignored in the upcoming elections. They should be a treasured constituency whose participation is actively sought. This is how Ukraine can win a victory over aggressor Muscovy: at the polls.