The self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) has begun preparations for the “Primaries-2016” republic-wide popular vote. According to DPR head Alexander Zakharchenko, it must take place before elections for local administration heads, recently rescheduled for November 6th of this year. The previous date for these elections had been 24 July, and before that – 18 October 2015.
The latest date change in the republic is explained by the Ukrainian leadership’s consistent unwilling to pursue the “set of measures for implementing the Minsk Agreements”. “Kiev does not want to create the conditions for holding elections on our territory according to the rules adopted at Minsk,” says the DPR head. In his words, the primaries are being held in order to “on one hand, solve our own problems related to the construction of a state system and, on the other, to demonstrate that the claims brought by the Ukrainian side are null.”
The idea of holding primaries in the DPR was borrowed from Russian political practice. This is in reference to the United Russia primaries – preliminary internal elections for selecting candidates for parliamentary races. The most recent United Russia primaries were held on 22 May of this year, and it is these primaries specifically that inspired the political strategists working in the DPR to hold a similar event.
Right now the DPR authorities are working on solving the current problem, which is showing the primaries to be a transparent and legitimate political process. International observers from Germany, Finland and Serbia have already been in the republic for this.
In addition, round tables and republic-wide conference are being held, with the latter, according to local media, “having gathered together 500 community representatives – from students to veterans, from miners to economists – along with 150 guests.”
The opinions of Ukrainian and Russian experts regarding the significance of primaries in the DPR for resolving the conflict with Ukraine could not be more different. Maria Zolkina, an analyst from the Democratic Initiatives Fund, is convinced that the situation with the primaries “has nothing in common with a political process”. “It’s not worth paying too much attention to these processes. In this case, they are trying to ‘sell air’ in the DPR and in the Lugansk People’s Republic… Separately, conditions for an election have not yet been discussed; there is no consensus either in the Minsk Trilateral Contact Group or in the Normandy format. And there is no definitive list of conditions according to which the international community and the Ukrainian side could recognize this process as elections,” the expert noted in commentary to Europe Insight.
In Zolkina’s opinion, if, after the primaries in the DPR, elections follow which are not agreed upon with Kiev, then “they will have no legitimate power. Moreover, from the point of view of negotiations, it is more advantageous for Ukraine as it bears witness to the fact that [Donetsk and Lugansk] are not willing to carry out the Minsk Agreements”.
In the opinion of the DPR’s former Foreign Ministry spokesperson in Moscow, now running for a seat in the Russian parliament, Darya Mitina, the republic is trying to stimulate Kiev using the primaries as an incentive. “Insofar as Ukraine is going for the permanent failure of the Minsk Agreements (not carrying out constitutional reforms, not withdrawing heavy weaponry, not disarming volunteer battalions), the republics need to encourage acceleration of the process. The elections which should have already happened long ago are objectively needed. The primaries are a Sword of Damocles hanging over Kiev. “Once you do not fulfil the Minsk Agreements, you are sabotaging, ruining… So we are now going to hold elections according to our own laws. We have the complete legal basis. We are not obligated to wait until you grow a conscience,” she said in comments to Europe Insight.