MOSCOW, Nov 3 – Voters in rebel-held eastern Ukraine turned out at the polls Sunday to elect members of Parliament and prime ministers in the pro-Russian separatist provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk in a vote criticized by the Ukrainian government in Kiev and Western governments. Against a backdrop of violence and bloodshed, the vote played out despite a truce on paper between pro-Russian separatist groups and Ukrainian government forces.
Moscow has said it will recognize the results, while the central Ukraine government in Kiev, the United States and European Union have condemned the elections, calling them “illegitimate” and a violation of the Minsk agreement. The self-proclaimed People’s Republic of Donetsk announced that its current Prime Minister, Aleksandr Zakharchenko, had won the vote there.
After all the ballot papers were counted, Zakharchenko secured 765,350 votes, Roman Lyagin, the leader of the Central Election Commission in Donetsk, told a news conference Monday. He didn’t say what percentage of the vote that was. “Everything went better than expected,” Lyagin had earlier told Novorossiya, the press center for the separatist Republics of Donetsk and Luhansk.
In the self-declared Luhansk People’s Republic, the head of the Central Election Commission said more then a half million people turned out to cast ballots at over 100 polling stations, including three inside Russia, according to preliminary numbers from the CEC’s website. The vote count is now under way. Earlier Sunday, Luhansk CEC head Sergei Kozyakov told Itar-Tass so many people turned out to vote they extended polling station hours at several locations until 10 p.m.
The Russian news agency also reported on a statement from the Russian Foreign Ministry, which said it considers the vote valid. “The elections in the Donetsk and Lugansk regions were held in an organized way in general and with high voter turnout,” the ministry said, according to Itar-Tass. “We respect the will expression of the citizens of the southeast.”
Authorities in Kiev are basically ignoring the election. In a statement Sunday, the Security Service of Ukraine said “it is a false election … and a farce organized by criminals to collect data about people.” Before the vote, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko called the ballot “pseudo elections … by terrorists and bandits.” Ukrainian authorities also said Sunday they are launching a criminal investigation into the separatist elections, calling it “a power grab,” Agence France-Presse reported, citing the Security Service of Ukraine.