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The move
comes after Russia installed web cameras and provided a live feed from polling
stations during the March presidential election.  The web cameras were installed in response to
accusations of vote tampering during the previous parliamentary election,
supported by voter videos from polling stations uploaded to YouTube.

announcing plans for the legislation, Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov
emphasized that web cameras would eliminate any accusations of election fraud.

 “We have decided to set up web cameras at each
polling station. This will remove all speculation about the possibility of
election fraud.  Interestingly those who
talked most about potential election fraud voted against the web cameras. We
will get the job done, and everyone will have an opportunity to observe the
elections online,” said the Ukrainian prime minister. 

itself from claims of election fraud is no minor concern for Yanukovych and the
Party of the Regions, whose involvement in the flawed first round of the 2004
presidential election led to the Orange Revolution and the eventual election of
Viktor Yushchenko.  Though the 2010
presidential election that saw Yanukovych take the presidency was deemed to be
free and fair, Ukraine has consistently slid backwards in global freedom
rankings since. 

When member
of Ukrainian parliament, Valeriy Konovalyuk, initially proposed the legislation
in March, protecting the Party of the Regions from allegations of voter fraud
also featured heavily in his justification:

“The Installation
of video cameras and direct and continuous broadcast of the vote not only
provide effective control of the electoral process and prevent various kinds of
abuse and violation of election laws, but also protect Ukraine from unfounded
and adventurous accusations of undemocratic elections.”

His claim
that the “law will be implemented within the costs provided by the Central
Election Commission for election of deputies of Ukraine in 2012 and funded by
international grants and technical assistance,” however, never
materialized as the international community proved less enthusiastic about web
cameras’ ability to ensure free and fair elections than the Ukrainian

The Russian
and Ukrainian web camera projects, however, are linked by more than
philosophy.  The Russian firm Sitroniks,
owned by Russian oligarch Vladimir Yevtushenkov, installed the cameras in
Russia and it set to receive the same contract in Ukraine without competitive

The head of
the Ukrainian Central Elections Committee, Vladimir Shapoval, explained, “There
are situation where a request for tender simply isn’t possible because there is
no one else to do the job.”  Shapoval,
however, expressed frustration at the “purely political” decision that led to
the project and saw $135 million in funding materialize in three days after the
Central Election Commission’s budget had previously been cut by a third. 

“I think
it’s just a very successful lobbying project,” commented Andrew Duda of Kyiv-Mohyla

Web cameras
ability to deter election fraud is also highly questionable.  Though anyone one is able to “look in” on any
of the polling stations, there is no clear mechanism for reporting fraud if it
is found, and it is unclear whether the footage could be used in court. 

The Organization
for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which observed the Russian presidential
election, stated in its report that there were difficulties obtaining the
recordings with access being denied without explanation and footage length
limited to thirty minutes.  In Russia the
cameras were switched off during the counting of ballots due to a law
prohibiting the announcing election results before all polling stations had

The main
critique, however, was that the web cameras failed to capture the most common
form of voter fraud in the region: carousel voting, whereby large groups are
bused to different polling stations in order to cast multiple ballots. 

Given this
background it is not immediately clear why the Ukrainian government decided to
pursue the installation of web cameras so aggressively.  They neither deter the most common form of
election fraud nor provide a clear framework for the use of the footage in
cases of fraud, and are a white elephant project for a country still in
economic crisis.

What the
cameras do is provide an “official” video and Internet narrative to negate any
“unofficial” videos posted on the Internet by ordinary voters.  With the advent of more portable video
technology the election game has changed with Russia and Ukraine struggling not
only to appease foreign observers, but also their own voters.  That was something the Russian government
initially found itself unable to do. 

In response
to videos of the Russian parliamentary election that seemed to show fraud, the
best the government could do was claim that they had been filmed in a studio
before the election.  By the time the
presidential election rolled around the very existence of the cameras was
deemed enough to eliminate any fraud. 
The small camera phone of the voter could not compete with the giant eye
of state, which it was all too happy to share with others, but only on its

The Party
of the Region’s sees a potential political threat in its poor track record in
running elections.  Installing web
cameras is one way to confront that threat, but it is an attempt to introduce a
Trojan horse of transparency.  One that
even if it does not contain a lurking plot to steal away the election, is still

Ian Bateson is a freelance American  journalist. Follow Ian Bateson on Twitter


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