First of all, the referendums are “illegal” as Ukrainian legislation does not allow for regional referendums. According to Ukrainian law only popular votes are possible in which all 45 million of the country’s eligible voters are able to cast their ballot. Hence a referendum to change Ukrainian territory could only be recognised by the parliament in Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv (Source 1).
Yet even if legal, the actual practice of the referendums violates many democratic norms of the Code of Good Practice on Referendums adopted by the Council of Europe in 2007. This repertoire of good practice stipulates which criteria a referendum should fulfil. For example, there should be electoral registers that must be permanent or constantly updated, an impartial body is to organise the referendum, and national and international observers should be permitted (Source 2, pp. 6 - 16).
However, as reported, yesterday’s referendums in the East of Ukraine were conducted without any official voter lists and no independent observers oversaw the vote. The secrecy of the vote was violated as ballot papers were casted in vitreous ballot boxes (a tradition in Ukraine) without any envelopes. Moreover, given the fact that the separatists had organised the referendum, the lack of objectivity and impartial information in the whole referendum procedure is obvious.
Given this missing compliance with democratic and constitutional principles, yesterday’s popular votes are a misuse of the legitimate force that a referendum holds. Today, the independence leaders of Donetsk and Luhansk claim that the overwhelming majority of the population want to be independent from Ukraine. Yet, as the referendums are undemocratic and illegitimate, these claims will deepen the conflict, which sadly seems to turn more and more into a violent civil war. A peaceful dialogue between both sides, possibly granting the regions Donetsk and Luhansk more autonomy, is wishful thinking at this stage unfortunately.
- Code of Good Practice on Referendums, Council of Europe
Credits of Image: Google Maps
Text by Cora Pfafferott