In Ukraine, the turmoil around the presidential election, the first round of which took place on March 31, continues.
While the Central Election Commission (CEC) is trying to dot the ‘I’ in official voting results, the presidential race leaders – entertainer Volodymyr Zelensky and the current head of state Petro Poroshenko – still cannot reach an agreement: to debate or not to debate?
If at first the headquarters of the showman rejected such an opportunity, but now current president is having doubts. In particular, will holding debates at the NSC Olimpiyskiy stadium instead of TV studio be a violation of the election law?
Well, we will try to answer this question.
‘The one who avoids it has nothing to say’
The talks on holding debates between presidential race leaders began long before they were chosen. Before the first round of elections, the vice-speaker of Verkhovna Rada Iryna Gerashchenko and other MPs from Petro Poroshenko Bloc faction, proposed an initiative to hold the debates of presidential candidates before the second round.
According to Gerashchenko, voters must make a conscious choice instead of ‘skype-choice’. “Petro Poroshenko is ready for debates with anyone who will pass to the second round. However, if Zelensky character passes, there is a feeling that the puppeteers will try to hide him from people for three weeks,” she explained.
The parliament did not consider such bill, but the president himself thought about holding debates before the second round of elections. So, after the announcement of the exit polls on March 31, Petro Poroshenko indirectly summoned Volodymyr Zelensky to talk publicly. “A key element of second round election should be the debates, and if someone avoids it, it means that he has nothing to say,” he said.
Zelensky answered that same day that he was ready for such a conversation, but later his headquarters clarified this position several with ‘ifs’:
- if his schedule as artistic director of the studio 95 Kvartal allows it;
- if they hear an apology for ‘Kolomoisky’s puppet’.
At the same time, the candidate’s headquarters added that they do not see the point in holding a debate before the second round of elections, because this is not a public inquiry. “The question is whether this is necessary (the debates, - 112.international) ... If people need it - yes, it is possible. But there is no such request in society,” Zelensky’s political technologist Dmytro Razumkov said.
Immediately after that, social network users launched flashmob #want_to see_debates, and the relevant petitions appeared on the parliamentary and presidential websites.
‘You dreamed that I would run away, ditch it and hide. No. I'm not like you in 2014’
A new twist of conflict over the debates arose after the leader of the presidential race Volodymyr Zelensky made public a video address to the incumbent head of state.
“I tell Petro Poroshenko: You call me to debates. You dreamed that I would run away, ditch it and hide. No. I'm not like you in 2014,” the entertainer said.
As a condition for public speaking, he named the place - NSC Olimpiyskiy. “The debates will be held before the people of Ukraine, all channels have the right to broadcast live, all the journalists have the right to attend,” he announced.
At the same time, Zelensky emphasized that Poroshenko should respect one third of the citizens of the country and declare that he is going to the debates “not with a “lowlife,” not with a “Kremlin or Kolomoisky’s puppet,” not with a “clown” or ‘vatnik,” but with the presidential candidate Volodymyr Zelensky.”
“I give you 24 hours, think,” he added, and ZeTeam on its Facebook page started a countdown.
The first reaction of the president's team to Zelensky's video was a refusal. “The president of Poroshenko is a European, and he will not meet at the stadium, he will meet in a TV studio for a normal, professional debate...And President of the Football Federation of Ukraine Pavelko can come to the stadium with Zelensky to play football,” the lawmaker from the PPB Mariya Ionova noted.
Later, another interesting detail was found out: allegedly holding a debate at the stadium is a violation of law.
The Law “On the Election of the President of Ukraine” specifies that "TV debates are held on the last Friday before the day of repeat voting between 19:00 and 22:00 live.” The question is rhetorical, but what would you do? Abide to the law? Break the law?” Petro Poroshenko asked citizens through his Telegram-channel.
“Stadium it is. I'm waiting for you, Volodymyr Oleksandrovych”
However, this did not end at that. On April 4, at about 5:00 a.m., the video-address of the current president was made public. In the address, he formally responded to the conditions of Volodymyr Zelensky.
According to Poroshenko, he was glad to receive a positive, albeit uncertain, response to his invitation.
The president stressed that the debates are not a show and should not take place at the stadiums, but he agrees on the NSC Olimpiyskiy.
“The rules of the debate are defined in the law on the election of the president, please read it. They can take place on the basis of Public Television and broadcasted on all TV channels for tens of millions of people. Such rules are already established, but the stadium it is. I am waiting for you, Volodymyr Oleksandrovych,” Poroshenko summed up.
However, such a response did not satisfy the Zelensky headquarters, saying that the head of state expressed readiness to fulfill one of the conditions, but did not say anything about others. “We are still waiting for apologies from Poroshenko,” the coordinator of Zelensky headquarters Oleksandr Kornienko said.
Possibly, both candidates read the law wrong
The mentioned video messages of the candidates for presidency were estimated by the National Public Broadcasting Company, which, according to the law, should organize the TV debates and by the Central Election Commission, which is authorized to solve issues of their financing.
Particularly, Chairman of the Board of the National Public Broadcasting Company Zurab Alasaniya noted that the TV company is ready to hold the debates and begins the negotiations with all sides. “We have consent of both of the candidates, there is only Central Election Commission left which has to agree it by law – pay from the state budget. We begin negotiations with all the parties,” he noted.
In its turn, the Central Election Commission noted that it has no idea about which debates the leaders of the presidential race are talking about. “I do not know what the candidates are talking about, possibly, both of them red the law badly. There are the election debates, the 62nd article of the law and regulation of the Central Election Commission concerns them. When one of the candidates calls another to the debates, obviously, the issue is about point 1, article 3 of the 58th law. There is the difference,” CEC Deputy Head Yevhen Radchenko stated.
ccording to him, the article 62 provides the procedure and terms of the holding of the election TV-debates at the national TV channel, which should be paid from the state budget, while article 58 provides the holding of the public debates, discussions and press conferences, which should be paid from the election funds of the candidates.
Besides, Radchenko reminded that according to the law, the candidates can renew the agitation only after the adoption of the protocol on the results of the elections on March 31 by the Central Election Commission and announcement of the second tour. But it has not taken place yet.
In other words, if Zelensky called Poroshenko to debates and was referring to the debates as the election campaigning then the holding of such debates at the stadium is not the violation of the norm of the law on the elections of the president; however, the candidates should organize such debates.
As Olympic National Sports Complex noted, it did not receive any offers to hold the debates.
Moreover, if it will be provided, then the offer is going to be agreed routinely despite the schedule of the events at the stadium. “Olympic Stadium is apolitical state entity and does not participate in the election campaign,” the press service of the stadium added.
Law “On elections of the President of Ukraine”
To be clear on debates, let’s see what is written in the law on the elections of the presidents to which everybody refers.
Article 58 provides the definition of the election agitation, its forms, the rights and terms to hold it, the financing of the agitation. Besides, the article provides the list of the activities, which are not considered as the election agitation.
In other words, debates as the form of the election campaigning mentioned only once. The law does not state directly, who should finance them. But it is noted that the agitation can take place at the cost of the budget and at the cost of the official funds of the candidates.
Point 7 of the article states that the candidate for the presidency in Ukraine possesses the right to rent the buildings and accommodations of all forms of ownership for holding of the agitations, rallies, debates, discussion and other public events of the election campaigning on a contractual basis at the cost of the election fund. It means that it is possible to rent the stadium for the holding of debates as it is provided by the law.
Article 62 provides the procedure and terms of the election debates. It specifies the bodies, which should hold them; how they should be financed and order of the debates.
As we see, the document clearly states that the debates take place at the cost of the state budget in the case of the announcement of the second tour by the Central Election Commission. It can take place the last Friday before the second tour between 7 and 8 p.m. on the air, which lasts not longer than 60 minutes.
However, there is no mentioning that the broadcasting should take place in the TV-studio. It is stated in the regulation of the Central Election Commission on the commitment of the regulations of point 1-5 of article 62. But, as we know, the law has the higher power.