Notes from Lugansk, capital of self-proclaimed « Луганская народная республика – People’s Republic of Lugansk » (LNR)
Lugansk is preparing for general and presidential elections on Sunday, 2nd November. The poll takes place separately from general elections in « Донецкая народная республика – Donetsk’s People’s Republic » (DNR). Although both Republics are supposedly constitutive parts of a larger political body named « Новороссия – New Russia », both entities shall have their own Parliaments and Presidents.
In LNR, three political parties run for Parliament: « Мир Луганщине – Peace to Lugansk » ; « народный союз » – People’s Union » and « Луганский экономический союз – Lugansk’s Economic Union ». Four candidates run for presidency: acting President and head of the « Peace to Lugansk Party » Igor Plotnitski, trade union leader Oleg Akimov, Health Minister Larisa Ayrapetyan and businessman Viktor Penner.
It is not obvious to everyone. « There are maybe three or four parties… », LNR’s main press attachée hesitates. She eludes the question: « You will find all relevant information on the website ». The website of the LNR’s Election commission is targeted by cyber-attacks for a few days. The last piece of news has been posted on 17th October. A woman answers the phone on the indicated number. « How many parties are going to run in the election tomorrow? » « I need to check this information. Call me back in 5 minutes please ». Called back 10 minutes later, the lady gives the names of the three parties. « How many voters are registered to take part in the election tomorrow? » « Sorry, it is impossible for me to have this information », the voice snaps. And the LNR entral Election Commission’s employee hangs up.
The region, namely its capital city, suffered heavily during the active phase of the war. Tens of thousands fled the region. In some respects, life has come back to Lugansk’s streets. Shops are open although their shelves are quasi-empty. Universities are open although it is more than unclear where the diplomas they issue are going to be recognized. Early voting has started on Saturday, 1st November, in distant and remote areas of the LNR. According to the Central Election Commission, voters’ turnout is very high. For instance, the turnout rate in Sverdlovsk district is over 90%.
Unlike in the DNR, no opinion poll is available in the LNR. Yet the main contenders for this election are well-known. « Peace to Lugansk » seems to be in the lead. On Lugansk’s streets, few posters warn the population of upcoming elections. Most of the posters exhibits soldiers, pensioners, young couples and miners who incite voters to come and vote. « Будут все свои – It will all be yours » the posters read. A few more posters advertise the « Peace to Lugansk » party and its three leaders. Igor Plotnitski, Gennadiy Tsipkalov, acting Prime Minister, and Alekseï Kariakin, acting President of the Parliament. The other candidates are nowhere to be seen.
New posters are noticeable, as most of the city’s advertisements have not been changed for a long time. Some billboards still call voters to come to vote to the referendum on independence, held on 11th May.
Ukraine’s central government still considers territories now controlled by LNR & DNR authorities as parts of its national territory. Yet the polls take place one week after Ukraine’s general elections, in a very distinctive manner. Kyiv along with Western governments expressed dissatisfaction to Moscow’s support for these elections. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin denounced « totally fake, unlawful elections with people trying to elect so-called presidents of Donetsk and Luhansk and a so-called parliament ».
According to a 16th September Ukrainian law on a « special status » for the East of Ukraine, local elections were to be held on LNR & DNR territories on 7th December, in line with Ukrainian legislation. From Lugansk, it seems clear these elections will not take place. Their effective holding is nonetheless one of the conditions for the implementation of Petro Poroshenko’s peace plan. Russian President Vladimir Putin says that all that was agreed upon in Minsk was to hold elections « in co-ordination with, not in line with » Ukrainian election plans.