In “Eurointegrators,” media expert and ex-Deputy Minister for Information Policy of Ukraine Tetiana Popova sits down with diplomats, heads of international organizations, and Ukrainian power brokers to discuss Ukraine’s European integration.
In this episode, the guests are David Lupul – ex-official at the Canadian Embassy in Ukraine, expected to be an international observer in elections in Ukraine in 2019, and Svitlana Khutka – Ph.D., an Executive research director of the “Social Indicators” Center, and a Kyiv international institute of sociology expert.
The show is produced by a Ukrainian NGO Information Security and Oboz.TV.
See the text version of the interview:
Popova: Hello, I present today a new episode of the Eurointegrators program, and our guests today are David Lupul – ex-official at the Canadian Embassy in Ukraine, expected to be an international observer in elections in Ukraine in 2019, and Svitlana Khutka – Ph.D., an Executive research director of the “Social Indicators” Center, and a Kyiv international institute of sociology expert.
David, the first question is to you. What are the main functions of an election observer?
Lupul: Well, Tetiana, there are several. One of the things that one keeps in mind is that the election observers are there both in a pre-campaign period, for the day of the election and in the days following election. Because there are several parts to the electoral process. In the pre-campaign period, the election observers are there to observe, to make sure that all of the laws regarding electoral function within that country and in Ukraine are being observed properly, that no one is going out to try to rig the election, that is to try to corrupt the election by altering the free choice of the electors. On Election Day, again, they are there to ensure that the true free voice of citizens’ of Ukraine is being exercised. That there is no intimidation, that all citizens who wish to vote are allowed to vote, that they are allowed to vote in a secure way with no sort of violence, that there is no corruption in a process, no money being handed out to try and alter, influence the votes of electors. And then, after the election polls are closed, that there will be an honest count of the electoral votes, that each vote is counted and that only those votes of legitimate voters are counted.
Popova: A record number of observers is expected for this election. What advantages and what risks does it have?
Lupul: The fact that there are going to be a record number obviously gives the opportunity for the observer community to have the broadest amount of coverage of all of the different polling places in the country. So, the more coverage there is, the less chance there is of any kind of temped falsification of result, or any kind of manipulation of the vote to be out to take place without being observed and reported upon. The risk of course is that because there are so many new observers, some of these observers may not be very experienced in electoral process and may not really be able to detect the kind of tricks that are sometimes used that can be very much hidden and behind the scenes and may not be easily observed.
Popova: Did you work in some other countries as an observer? Maybe in Canada?
Lupul: My work as an observer was not as a part of an international observer force, but I have worked in Canadian election campaigns, both on a provincial and federal level. And I’ve actually been in the room where they count the votes and to ensure that each vote has been registered correctly, that the count is proper, and that in a sense that scrutinization of the process is observed by representatives of various candidates to ensure the integrity of the process.
Popova: Svitlana’s organization has been doing exit polls in elections for many years. What will happen if data from exit polls are very different and the winner is very different from those, which the Central Election Commission presents as the final data? What will be the position of international society and of organizations that observers represent?
Lupul: Well, that is a difficult question to predict precisely what the response will be. But in general, I can say, having witnessed in the media countless elections around the world, where international observers are taking place, that normally if there is a significant difference – we are talking about perhaps 5% or more – between a result in the exit poll as compared to the actual result, there obviously a very serious question will be asked about the integrity. And of course where the work of the international observers comes in, where they say – where there irregularities, was there a flaw in the process, it was observed, where votes could have been simply we call it vote regain, or ballot stuffing where they take ballots and they engineer thousands and thousands of ballots that are not cast by citizens in Ukraine, in this case. So, if that evidence is put force then, I would say, that my prediction would be that the international community would not support the result of that election.
Popova: Svitlana, your organization is doing not only exit polls but also opinion polls. How have these results of election opinion polls changed during recent months? Why are changes so dramatically? Because I do not remember such a big difference in previous election campaigns.
Khutka: Because this campaign is actually quite different from what we had in previous years. First of all, we never had so large pull of the candidates. So far, we have 44 candidates. Actually, we had more, but only 44 were registered. Second, we have the quite clear difference between them, so people with big professional political experience and background and newcomers who can change the general picture quite extensively. And in result, since we have very complicated political and economic context in a country plus this request for having new faces in politics – it actually altogether brought us to the situation when we have quite interesting of patterns of fluctuations in the electoral rankings of different candidates. So, it’s really very high level of uncertainty so far in terms of who of the top-runners will be first, since the difference might be interpreted pretty close for all of them. And also we will see what will happen in a month before technically the day of elections. Because as far as we all know by law we cannot run any studies or electoral polls during a month or so before the election will happen. So it’s a very interesting scenario, which we can see right now in terms of who will win, what can be predicted and how dynamic is change so far.
Popova: You cannot make a research during one month before the second round or even the first round?
Khutka: Technically, by law, there is so-called silence period for sociologists when you cannot do any kind of releases about the possible results of the elections. And normally quite often what happens during this period is cannot be predicted exactly, because different tools – political tools, administrative tools whatever, might be used to motivate people somehow to change their vote. I’m not talking about manipulative ones, we are talking about other different tools, which are available to the candidate, because we had such cases in the past in 1990s, in 200s and so on.
Popova: One month before the second round or the first round?
Khutka: There is a silence period before the first round and before the second one, because for each types of elections in Ukraine, would it be the parliamentary one or the presidential one, you have this period of silence.
Popova: One month?
Khutka: Yes, it’s about one month.
Popova: David, question is to you. How can Ukraine deal with this disinformation during the election period?
Lupul: This is one of the most complicated questions that all governments face today. Certainly we know the results of the experience of other elections in Canada, the Unites States, in Europe in recent years increasingly with the ubiquity of the Internet the fact that there is so much information available on the Internet so difficult to regulate that information, that this information simply is everywhere. But we do know that there is a difference between that information that is created by individuals who have certain candidate trying to promote and they take it as a free expression of the will, and very organized groupings such as was done by the Internet research agency, St. Petersburg based organization that has made a very-very major intervention in the American presidential election in 2016. There are ways you can control advertising as well, because advertising pushes voting very effectively, when it is disinformation, when it is directed in a negative way against certain candidates. We know this from studying elections in many countries, and that if one can try and regulate advertising, and so that the companies that accepted, for instance it’s facebook or television stations, have certain standards by which they, say, cannot accept that kind of advertising. I think you need to look at the fact that research done to see if there is a certain number of ads that are on a certain issue, and it is an issue where seems to be bladen disinformation, that there be people in a public sphere within the government or in non-governmental organizations, that research, and find – where is the source, what is the IP-address of this information, and to see if one could find an origin and then expose it.
Popova: Do you think it’s possible to do it? Because you really need to do it for several hours in election period.
Lupul: Yes, it’s a very difficult thing, particularly to find where this information is coming from, to expose it in such very quick and rapid response. Political campaigns are designed to have that kind of rapid response, but don’t necessarily have the technic or expertise in the IT-field to be able to identify what the source of that is. And I think we need to develop those kinds of tools. In the same way we prepare ourselves as countries to defend ourselves from an army coming to invade us. We should have the same kind of tools as a country. To say what happens if this information is going to come to invade us we need to have some people who are already experts who are trained to do that.
Popova: As far as I understand, you already wrote one book about Ukrainians, and your new book will be about disinformation. So you also came to Ukraine to find some information for your book. Am I right?
Lupul: That’s correct, Tetiana. Actually, I was a co-author of the book. It was a historical book about the emigration of Ukrainian to Canada prior to and during World War I, that period that we call the first wave of the emigration from Ukraine to Canada. My interest in Ukraine has come both from my academic studies, when I was in university as a young man, and also the fact that my last posting in the diplomatic service was at the Canadian embassy here in Kyiv, I was in the emigration office. My area of expertise was to look at fraud, to counter fraud, both in the emigration system, but also to look at fraud and elements such as money laundering and other abuses of financial systems that have any impact beyond Ukraine into the international sphere. So It’s very natural for me as I began my retirement to look around for new vocation for myself, what I am going to do in my spare time, to look and think: well, maybe for my experiences in Ukraine and throughout my career in the Foreign Service of Canada that I could drop on. You know, every day I get up and the headlines about this about Russia, and this about Trump, and this about Putin, and then of course Manafort and Michael Cohen and all of these people who are involved in this. And to look and say – well, there is a lot of information up there, but trying to understand why. Why does this happen? How did it happen and why? What is the motivation for all of this the so-called scandal that has being investigated and the crimes that have been committed, and in which many people have already been convicted in the United States? And so, it was very natural for me to drop on this experiences and to say – let’s go a little bit deeper, let’s try to find out the origin, so that means to look at origins of Russian foreign policy, whether it’s interest in terms of promoting its interest in foreign countries, what kind of influence do they try to exercise in most countries. But also to look and say – well, what is the most important focus for Russian foreign policy? And that is Ukraine. That Ukraine is probably the most important priority in terms of Russian foreign policy, in terms of reconstituting what we look at is the Russian empire and in this, I think the example of what happened in Ukraine, that Paul Manafort came to Ukraine, he helped basically to do a makeover of Viktor Yanukovych and he was given great phrase by people in the political sphere – look, how he took a so uneducated and uncultured Yanukovych and made him a president of Ukraine. Of course that is not really a true story, that is a myth. What Manafort really did was he came and he became the instrument by which Yanukovych by his criminal activities will influence beyond Ukraine to clean up his image in western countries. And that is really I think the source and origins of this whole Russia get.
Popova: Svitlana, the question is to you. How will the exit poll be conducted during this election?
Khutka: Well, first of all, it will be conducted by the Kyiv international institute of sociology and Razumkov Centre, and it will be coordinated by the Democratic Initiative foundation, because there are three factors which are very important, First, we want to deliver very reliable and valid information to the public. Second one is actually to deliver information very quick way to have it very fresh, directly after the polls would be done. Then also it’s a cross company control, because KIIS and Razumkov Centre will have the parallel networks of the touch points for the exit poll secret ballots polling, and it means that we can control how reliable our data are. And also we are the only national exit-poll which deliver all data after all to the National open data bank of social data, any other country doing this. So you can actually test all data.
Popova: How many people will be answering questions?
Khutka: It will be how we expect 18,000 of people, because we plan to have 400 touch points for the asking questions around the country.
Popova: Do you expect that it could be some politicization of your results?
Khutka: You know, in Ukraine we always have kind of this politicization games around any results of rankings, electoral polls, or exit polls. But again, when we’re talking about the national exit poll, which is run by the partners and is supported by the international donors, first of all we are out of any support of any political forces in this case, because we don’t have any financial support from any political forces. I would love to stress this. Second point is as follows that we have, you know, these two separate independent interviewing process, which would be conducted by the Razumkov Centre and Kyiv international institute of sociology, because it will help to deliver this cross company control over the result and how close are the results and how relevant are the results. And also when it’s about the result of exit poll, we should take into account the amount…
Popova: Yes, what about the statistical mistake?
Khutka: Yes, what we are talking about – 5% of people who will vote, they will never covered by the exit polls. Those are people who are voting at home, who are serving at the army, who are at hospitals and who will be voting outside of Ukraine and it’s about 5% of the population, it’s around 1.5 million people altogether. Plus, we also should take into account this small additional percentage of the people who would migrate and who had migrated and will participate in the electoral polls. So altogether, it gives us about 5% of mistake in results, which can be actually gathered. And also, when we are talking about the interpretation of results, normally when you have discrepancy in more than 5%, then you can talk about the necessity to focus on what happened in the counting of votes. But even in this case legally exit polls are not somehow might be used as the tool to reject results of the official elections. But nevertheless it’s a very important tool of public control over the results, where you can if all votes are relevant up to the fixed in exit polls electoral opinion of people. And tools we are using – this technic of secret ballot also helps to provide high level of response from respondents and also high level of the honesty, when it’s about the resulting.
Popova: The importance of your work was never a question for me. I think, for international observers too.
Lupul: Yes, of course.
Popova: Several days ago, one famous blogger Anton Hodza started asking questions of one research which was done by Kyiv international institute of sociology, which was about which percentage of Ukrainians are ready not just to decentralization, but for the autonomy for the occupied territories of Donbas. And then there were some other messages in the same period of time, and it was also a wife of Medvedchuk who made a statement about anti-Ukrainian language law. And Anton Hodza mentioned that it looked like Medvedchuk had a special campaign and he can use researchers to validate his campaign. I even spoke about it with Professor Paniotto, and unfortunately, in this monthly omnibus research which KIIS is doing, you can actually just pay and add your question. Of course, it was not Medvedchuk directly who did it, but you can do it through any NGO or through any company and add your questions. And these questions sometimes can be published or not. But in case when they are published, some part of questions and answers to them – they are using the KIIS’s name and publish these results of 50+% of Ukrainians are ready for the autonomy of Donbas. I don’t know if you will try somehow to predict such cases in the future. Because it’s a very high level of manipulation method. How are you going to predict such type of manipulation? It’s not about your exit polls, it’s about your omnibus research.
Khutka: Whereas it’s about omnibus research, results are valid and relevant. When it’s about the politicization of data in Ukraine – it’s not about sociology, it’s about the politicization. First. Second, quite often it’s a regular question from media – who was the client of some specific research. But by the international norms and standards of running research, if a client would not love to publish his name in a release and would not allow us to release his name or her name or an organization’s name, but would allow to publish the result by itself, we are doing this, because it make sense to make it public. Because when it’s about the sociology, it’s like, you know, the temperature and climate. And it’s like about the weather – you are trying to figure out what the temperature is and how you can work with data. So this is a question to politicians, why people have such opinions. Not to sociologists – why people have such opinions, we’re just gathering these opinions. First. Second – media and politicians could and should be maybe more aware of the opportunity to provide public with more reliable interpretation, not just using as the tool of manipulation. And the problem is in Ukraine, that quite often since sociology and sociologists have very high level of credit and politicians have super low level of credit media are coming just after sociologists, in result we have this mix of trial to disqualify somehow results, which are made by the very reputable companies. Because again, like one of the famous sociologist and actually one of the founders of the KIIS Volodymyr Paniotto told – politicians are coming and leaving, but sociologists stay. And it’s very important to us actually to run very reliable data analysis, because we are doing this constantly, not only like politicians running for one special elections. And for us, it’s very important also to keep it in line with all ethical codes etc. I’m really sorry that pretty often the level of interpretation could be extremely politicized, but on the other hand, I would say quite often the reason to think maybe better on what’s going on in Ukrainian society and to dive into the data. Because it’s not like you are coming with any question, it’s about the checking the relevancy of questions, how actually the alternatives in answering are presented to avoid any manipulation. And we are doing our best in this. How it all is used after all… well…
Popova: Thank you for your work, as an observer and as a sociologist, thanks to all who watched us. See you next week.