- President orders investigation, says fraud was being prepared
- Regional governor demands vote postponement until Nov. 15
Local elections in Ukraine’s port city of Mariupol, a key location on the line separating Ukrainian troops and pro-Russian separatists, were abandoned on Sunday after a local commission rejected paper ballots as inaccurate.
Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko ordered an investigation into the snafu, and voters may get the chance to try again in November.
Voting in the southeastern Ukraine city was first delayed, and then scrapped for the day, because officials didn’t have the correct paper ballots, Yegor Steshenko, deputy chief of the local electoral commission, said in a telephone interview.
The problems emerged on a day millions of Ukrainians cast ballots in a series of contests to elect mayors and other local officials. In areas where the process ran smoothly, voting ended at 8 p.m. local time.
Mariupol, with more than 500,000 residents, is an important seaport in the Donetsk region that was partly seized by pro-Russian troops more than a year ago in a battle between government and Kremlin-backed separatists. The conflict killed more than 8,000 people, according to the recent United Nation estimates.
Local officials said they rejected the Mariupol ballots because they were made incorrectly by the local printing office, identified as Pryazovsky Robochy. One political party was listed twice, while another was left off the ballots entirely, said Natalia Kashchiy, a member of Mariupol electoral commission.
Mykola Tokarsky, the chief executive of the printing office, said only 22 spoiled ballot papers were printed. “That couldn’t influence the entire circulation,” Tokarsky told reporters.
The decision not to hand over ballot papers to polling stations was “absolutely groundless,” Central Electoral Commission Chief Mykhaylo Okhendovsky was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency. It may still have been possible for ballots to be cast before the end of the day in Mariupol, even with “big delays," Okhendovsky said.
Misprinted ballots were also reported in Krasnoarmiysk, also in the Donetsk region about 170 kilometers (105 miles) north of Mariupol.
Donetsk regional governor Pavlo Zhebrivsky suggested the Mariupol vote be rescheduled for Nov. 15, along with the second round of mayoral elections, or be pushed off to early January.
The U.S. ambassador in Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt, called on the authorities to ensure that Mariupol residents can “make their own democratic choice” at the ballot box. “Elections in cities like Mariupol are an opportunity for Ukraine to demonstrate to the people of Donbas that they are part of a united, democratic society,” he told reporters Sunday in Kiev, the national capital.
Mariupol voters have previously backed candidates of the Party of Regions, which was closely aligned with Ukraine’s former president Viktor Yanukovych, who fled the country after protests in Kiev in 2013-2014. The Party of Regions dissolved in 2014. Many supporters now belong to the so-called Opposition Block.
The city’s main employer, the Mariupol Illich metallurgical mill -- one of the biggest in Ukraine -- is owned by the nation’s richest man, Rinat Akhmetov, a former ally of Yanukovych.
A 78-year-old pensioner, Elizaveta Ivanovna, who gave just her patronymic name, wanted to vote for Vadym Boichenko, candidate of the Opposition Block party.
“I was told that there are no ballot papers,” she said. “We are not allowed to make choice, to vote against those nationalists,” said said, referring to pro-European political parties now in power.