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Controversial Donbas elections law discussed in Minsk

Photo: UNIAN
Controversial Donbas elections law discussed in Minsk
Translated by: Anna Mostovych

Serhiy Rachmanin, deputy editor of Dzerkalo Tyzhnia (Mirror of the Week), in a article published by the newspaper on September 18, writes that during the meeting of the Trilateral Contact Group in Minsk, September 8, active discussions were held on drafting a special law for holding elections in the occupied Donbas territories. The Trilateral Contact Group, composed of representatives of Ukraine, Russia and the OSCE, had met to discuss implementation of the Minsk agreements.

Rakhmanin writes that it became clear that these discussions had been held after a meeting of the heads of the foreign ministries of the Normandy Four (Germany, France, Ukraine, Russia) that took place in Berlin on September 12. After the meeting, the German Foreign Ministry published a statement that noted, in particular, that “conditions and timing of local elections would be developed in the working group on political issues of the Trilateral Contact Group. They are based on the proposal of the coordinator of the working group, Pierre Morel.” Ambassador Pierre Morel, a French diplomat, is coordinating the special working group for the OSCE.

Furthermore, the head of the German Foreign Ministry, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, commenting on the Berlin talks, expressed the hope that contentious issues would be settled before the summit of the Normandy Four, to be held in Paris on October 2.

A similar statement was made by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who added there was a new “opportunity to find common ground” on the issue of local elections on territories not under Kyiv’s control. According to Lavrov, Pierre Morel, the subgroup’s coordinator, “proposed solutions … They do not entirely satisfy the Ukrainian side and the representatives of the self-proclaimed DNR and LNR. But our common view (of Russia, France, Germany) is that these discrepancies can be overcome.”

The notorious “Morel plan” has been mentioned in the media occasionally, but there have been few explanations of what it is. Officially, the “Morel plan” is called “Elements for a temporary law on local elections in certain regions of the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts.”

In short, Rakhmanin writes, the subgroup of the Trilateral Contact Group is discussing the possibility of developing a special law that would allow elections to be held in the occupied territories under the auspices of Kyiv. He adds that this possibility has been validated by a decision of the heads of foreign ministries of the four states. This possibility continues to be discussed by the parties, and it will be discussed right up to the Paris summit of the ‘Normandy Four,’ where a final decision will be reached. These discussions will continue despite the recently issued ‘decree’ by Aleksandr Zakharchenko, the self-proclaimed head of the self-proclaimed “Donetsk People’s Republic,” who plans to hold his own elections.

According to Rakhmanin, who says his information has been confirmed by individuals involved in the Minsk process, the “Morel plan” is only a plan, but it provides for “specifics on elections ” for those who are claiming “specifics on self-rule.” Furthermore, it provides for the passing of a law that seriously contradicts Ukrainian electoral law and the Ukrainian Constitution. The Morel proposals have nothing in common with the safeguards included by Ukraine’s Verkhovna Rada (parliament) in the law on “specifics,” he says, and they have little to do with the formula that “the leading politicians are repeating tirelessly from podiums and TV screens” — disarmament, troop withdrawal, liberation of prisoners, return of the full jurisdiction by Ukraine, control of the borders, and only then elections and “special rules on self-government.”

But none of this exists in the Morel plan, Rakhmanin argues. For example, Kyiv may consider disarmament of the territory a necessary condition for holding elections, but Moscow and Berlin consider a ceasefire and the presence of OSCE observers sufficient. Kyiv may consider that Zacharchenko’s “decree” breaks the Minsk agreements, but Angela Merkel and Vladimir Putin do not — because a “decree” can be cancelled as easily as it is issued.

The elections “plan” would allow those who have not lived in these territories for the past five years to have the right to run for the post of head of the city council. In addition, the “Committee for Joint Accreditation,” the de-facto and de jure election commission for the territories, would be formed by the illegal local authorities.

Rakhmanin finds it disturbing that the Ukrainian side agreed to the discussion of this plan at the Berlin meeting, where Ukraine was represented by the head of the Foreign Ministry, “who does nothing without the knowledge of the president.”

He points out that members of the Ukrainian delegation have many questions about this document and that they find the proposed restrictions on media access during elections unacceptable and want further clarification on mechanisms to prevent participation in the elections campaigns of those suspected of war crimes.

When asked about the Morel plan during an interview with Ukrainian TV channels on Monday, September 21, President Petro Poroshenko said he regards the plan proposed by Pierre Morel as the personal opinion of its author, and that the OSCE’s function in the negotiations on the Donbas is a “moderation issue.”

“Ukraine’s position on the implementation of the Minsk agreements is absolutely clear and consistent,” he said….Elections will be conducted according to the Ukrainian legislation, and, if any changes need to be made, they will have to be discussed and go through the Ukrainian parliament.”

Translated by: Anna Mostovych
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