Many analysts have warned that local referenda on autonomy in the Donbas could lead to “a parade of sovereignties” in Ukraine, threatening its survival. But now Oleh Rybachuk says that local elections scheduled for this fall could also weaken Ukraine because the country is “not prepared for them.”
In a commentary for Kyiv’s “Novoye vremya,” the former deputy prime minister for European integration, says that “by means of democratic institutions, it is possible to bring to power absolutely anti-Ukrainian politicians” unless Kyiv establishes new rules for these contests.
At the present time, he says, Ukrainians are “completely disoriented and likely are not even prepared to make a conscious choice.” The explosive growth in information “does not give them the opportunity to rationally assess the situation and analyze all the candidates.” After all, “the war is continuing and Russian TV channels are working.”
“In such situations,” Rybachuk says, the population almost requires “psychological rehabilitation.” But that may not happen in time because political technologists are going to be working overtime to manipulate the people, something that will be all the easier because “normal European parties with real political culture and responsibility haven’t appeared in Ukraine yet.”
That means that even those who oppose Ukraine’s current course can present themselves as supporters, and many will not have the ability to make the necessary distinctions. If that happens, “absolutely anti-Ukrainian politicians who do not want to see Ukraine being a strong European state could come to power via democratic institutions.”
There is a related “potential threat to democracy” and that is Russia, Rybachuk says. “The goal of Putin is to make Ukraine a state that cannot be administered, to transform it from a unitary country into something like Bosnia and Herzegovina with a mass of semi-feudal administrative formations over which the state has no influence.”
Unless something happens soon, the local elections will not be “a competition of political parties but a series of appeals to emotions, fears, the youth of voters and so on.” Kyiv needs to “change the laws and rules of the game in order that the electors can be prepared for a rational choice.”
Among the steps that might involve would be a sharp reduction in political advertising on television, given how that is used as a means of manipulation, Rybachuk says. Unfortunately, at present, the elections are only a few months away, and Ukraine does not even have a corresponding law for them.
“In order to reduce the negative consequences” of this election, he argues in conclusion, “it was necessary to have done our homework earlier. But today,” he says, he “fears that the new and untried law about local elections will bring us legalized ‘peoples republics’ in local councils,” something that will not work to the advantage of Ukraine or Ukrainians.