This is not a Joke: Darth Vader Could be a Ray of Light in Ukraine’s Coming Election
Ukranian President Petro Poroshenko’s party is toe to toe with that of Prime Minister Arseniy Yatseniuk in a tally of more than 50 percent of votes from Sunday’s election. Both men have said that they expect other parties to join coalition talks to form a government once a leader emerges.  While the two top seats will likely go to familiar figures, the parliament will include numerous new faces – although it’s unlikely that the Star Wars’ dark lord will be among them.  Sadly for Vader, the Internet Party does look set to win any seats as no polling agency predicts the candidate will meet the 5% threshold. Ukrainians went to the polls Sunday October 26 2014 to elect a new parliament that was expected to be dominated by pro-Western parties, but not everyone was able to vote. “Darth Vader,” a parliamentary candidate from the Internet Party of Ukraine, was turned away from a polling station when he refused to take off his mask so he could be identified against his ID.  The Sith lord is well known in Ukrainian politics, having previously mounted unsuccessful campaigns for mayor of Kiev and Odessa. Representative of the dark side of the Force, the MP candidate was registered by Ukraine’s Central Election Committee, along with other famous movie saga characters, including Yoda, Padme Amidala, Chewbacca, and Palpatine. Although the party was founded in 2006 by alleged Ukrainian hacker Dmytry Golubov, the identity of the man beneath the mask remains a point of speculation in Ukraine.  Vader finished fourth in Odessa’s mayoral election, though this did not deter him from pronouncing himself the winner. His well-produced election spots have featured videos of his lightsaber altercation with muggers in the parking space of a Kiev department store, his march to seize the city of Odessa and montages of him and his fellow Star Wars retainers affectionately caressing public monuments across Ukraine’s biggest cities.As infortunate as it may sound, the fact that Darth Vader was refused at the polling station may be a positive sign for ensuring free and fair elections in Ukraine, according to Alexandra Hrycak, a professor of Sociology at Reed College. “The previous parliamentary election in 2012 was widely viewed by domestic scholars and analysts as signaling the end of Ukrainian democracy,” she tells ThinkProgress in an email. 
“The election campaign was dirty,” Hrycak adds, and there was a widespread misuse of state resources, the bribing of voters, and other forms of vote-rigging in favor of those candidates backed by Ukraine’s historical elites. The country’s oligarchy also used “technical candidates” as a way to distract voters from those who favored ties with the European Union over the maintenance of historical connections to Russia. These were individuals who didn’t represent political positions so much as distract from them. “[They] were given backing by local political interests to distract voters away from voting for pro-Western candidates that oligarchs feared might win control of parliament,” Hrycak explains. She says that it is possible that “Darth Vader” is part of an oligarchy-led effort, but adds that he’s become a surprise and came to symbolize “fair elections” in this most recent round of voting. “It is a positive sign that he was not allowed to vote with his face covered,” Hrycak writes.  “During this election campaign, it has been a practice of the Russian-backed terrorists to cover their faces to avoid being identified.” Pollsters did not expect his party to win parliamentary seats, although he had been enthusiastically greeted by voters on the campaign trail. According to a campaign manager, Vader said he “would die if he took his helmet off,” although his refusal to show his true face points to a contradiction with his party’s policy of promoting transparency.  “Here is my face on the passport. Where does the law say that I have to take off my mask?” Vader said, according to The Telegraph. “I thought this might happen,” he told reporters afterward, according to AFP. “But I am still disappointed. My rights have been violated again.”
While Vader may have refused to identify himself, many candidates in Ukraine have been accused of hiding the identities of those who influence their political views. In Ukraine, corruption is “a systemic problem…across the board” according to Transparency International which ranked the country as 144 out of 177 in its 2013 Corruption Perceptions Index.  For his part, Poroshenko addressed this issue head on the eve of parliamentary elections. “Please, choose honestly,” he said. “Remember only that a vote for the money is now an offense not only of those who buy, but also of those who sell. Measuring your vote with hryvnias [Ukraine’s currency] means selling Fatherland. It is unlawful and sinful hundred times when thousands of people risk their lives defending our Homeland.” 
But some – including members of his own party – have accused Poroshenko of helping to shape political outcomes, including for one candidate who is believed to have been buying individual votes for 200 hryvnias, or about $15. Called the “Chocolate King” because of his candy business, Poroshenko vowed to reign in corruption before taking office in May, but some fear that he’s too close to the political establishment – and to the country’s elite – to make any bold moves on that front.  Oles Dovhyi is a former Kiev city government official who is leading a race in a rural district 250 miles from the capital — perhaps only because of “corrupt back-room dealing approved by someone close to Mr. Poroshenko, if not the president himself,” according to a recent New York Times article.  The piece went on to describe the how influence is for sale in Ukraine – even despite the pro-democracy protests which ousted former President Viktor Yanukovych in February when he refused to sign an agreement to being about closer ties with the European Union.
“For many supporters of the street protests that toppled Mr. Yanukovych, the elections were envisioned as a final step in transforming the government from an opaque kleptocracy beholden to the president, his oligarch backers and the Kremlin, to a transparent, reform-minded, pro-Western administration with a Parliament accountable to the people. The elections are also crucial to the United States and its European allies, which have staked enormous political and financial capital on Ukraine’s future.
Events here, however, suggest that transformation may take a lot longer.
Ukrainian politics have long been dominated by big business interests, mainly the industrial titans known as oligarchs, who finance the campaigns of parties and candidates in exchange for influence within the presidential administration and for control of some seats in Parliament, called the Verkhovna Rada. The protests centered in Independence Square, known as Maidan, have not changed that — at least not yet.” 
But Alexandra Hrycak says its a good day for Ukrainian democracy, in part, because the country’s oligarchs no longer make up a centralized network. “The previous election was seen as largely rigged by a single ‘oligarchy,’ — the clan of oligarchs closest to ex-president Yanukovych,” she says, Now, that network of power is fading, in part because of conflict between Ukraine and pro-Russian separatists in Donetsk where the oligarchs were primarily based. Some three million voters in separatist-controlled areas did not cast ballots. Residents of Crimea who kept their Ukrainian citizenship despite the Russian annexation of the peninsula in March were able to vote only if they traveled to polling stations in Ukraine.  Still, even despite the conflict, Hrycak says that they’re a considerable improvement from parliamentary elections two years ago. She sees the election as a vote of confidence for the leadership for countering increasing authoritarianism and months of intense violence. Even if he almost has no real chance of winning this election, Darth Vader’s VK social media account has over 18,000 followers and has made a habit of parading across Ukraine’s larger cities accompanied by his Star Wars running mates, as well as stormtrooper and imperial guards. Election billboards featuring the characters-cum-candidates are can even be seen around major cities. The party’s policies include a promise to change Ukraine’s political system into an e-government, which will allow Ukrainians to vote, claim social services, interact with government officials, track the budget and license their business entirely online. The party promises to set up “transparent” and “interactive portals”, “free computer courses for all who want them” while its candidate Darth Vader has committed to “annihilating bureaucrats”. He also planned to move Chernobyl further from the Ukrainian capital and “nationalize the Black sea,” making Turkey and Russia pay to use its waters in the Odessa Region. Popular policies in Vader’s public appearances in previous campaigns have been “free wifi for all”, while the prime ministerial candidate promised to “regain Crimea in the space of 3 days” after a brief exchange with Russian president Putin earlier in the year.  According to the online biography, Vader was born in Kiev to the family of a composer and a fashion model. He also took part in one of the Chechen Wars. Ahead of the elections, a YouTube video of the candidate removing his helmet and mask was released, but it only showed the rear of Vader’s head. Withholding his identity, the video demonstrated the Sith Lord to be truly Ukrainian, sporting the country’s traditional haircut. 
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