Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

No Right to Choose in Crimean Referendum

  • Billboard for the March 16 referendum. It offers a choice between Crimea under the Nazi swastika or under the Russian flag.  (Photo: Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
    Billboard for the March 16 referendum. It offers a choice between Crimea under the Nazi swastika or under the Russian flag. (Photo: Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

A referendum is being held in Crimea on March 16, and it is common knowledge that it will be illegitimate.

There are many reasons why: Ukraine does not have legislation covering the conduct of local referendums; an administrative court has ordered preparations for the referendum to be suspended; the acting president of Ukraine has issued a similar ruling, and so on.

The United States, Europe and the Ukrainian government have already stated that they will not recognise the results of the vote. But the local authorities in Crimea are ignoring all of this and are pressing ahead with preparations for the referendum.

The Crimean parliament recently approved the ballot-paper format, set up a electoral committee and passed provisional regulations for the referendum.

An analysis of these provisional regulations confirms that these actions are illegal and farcical.

The regulations do not establish a threshold for the required turnout. So regardless of whether 60 per cent or ten per cent of the population take part, a decision will be taken anyway. Crimea’s fate could be decided by the few hundred people who do not boycott this pseudo-referendum. The regulations make no mention of circumstances in which the referendum could be deemed to have failed.

Monitoring of the vote is prohibited. The provisional regulations state that only citizens of Ukraine registered as resident in Crimea have a right to observe the vote and the count. Other persons may do so only at the election commission’s invitation.

The scope for journalism will be restricted. The regulations prohibit “campaigning by means of journalism” during the referendum. So if you turn up with a video camera, you are a potential "campaigner", and you may be prevented from filming or entering polling stations.

Voter lists: the local polling station commissions are entitled to amend or add to the electoral roll on election day. It will hence be possible to go round Crimea and vote at different polling stations just by showing one’s passport and proof of residence.

The ballot-paper is printed on plain A4 paper containing no elements designed to foil counterfeiting. No further comment is needed on this.

The ballot-paper will contain two questions, which come down to the following:

    1. Are you in favour of Crimea joining Russia?
    2. Are you in favour of returning to the 1992 Constitution, in other words de facto independence for Crimea?

Each question is accompanied by a single space in which to answer. Any entry counts as a yes. Even if you write "no" beside the question on joining Russia, it will count as a yes vote, as there is no option for “no”.

Any mark signifies assent, either to Russia or to Crimean independence. That is the choice. Choosing to remain an autonomous part of Ukraine is impossible, as that is not listed as an option on the ballot-paper.

You cannot abstain. Any unmarked ballot-paper counts as invalid, and only those with a mark against the first or second question will be taken into account.

If you do not go and vote in the referendum, the decision will be made for you by those who do. As noted above, there is no minimum turnout. The regulations omit the necessary condition for any referendum, that the decision is approved only if 50 per cent of those taking part actually voted for it.

Why would this condition really be needed anyway, since voting "no" is impossible, and 100 per cent of ballots will either be for Russia or for "independence"? One of the two options must definitely get over 50 per cent.

This vote has nothing to do with the will of the people. Crimeans are not being given a choice. They are just being faced with the fact that they will not be deciding anything at all any more.

Olexandr Ruzhitsky is a lawyer and social activist.  

This article republished from Ukrainska Pravda with kind permission.

Original article in Ukrainian.