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Dubious referendum in eastern Ukraine

Pro-Russian separatists in the eastern Ukraine regions of Donetsk and Luhansk are planning a referendum for "state independence." Legally, the vote is illegitimate for a number of reasons.

An appeal to Russian President Vladimir Putin did not achieve anything. Pro-Russian separatists in the eastern Ukraine regions of Donetsk and Luhansk will hold a planned referendum on their possible secession from Ukraine. Most likely, the question put to the people will be: "Do you support state autonomy for Donetsk / Luhansk People's Republic?"

The word "independence" is missing - leaving room for interpretation about whether it will be pro-Russian forces responsible for the immediate secession, or whether it only means more autonomy for the regions. The vote is scheduled to begin at 7 a.m. and end at 9 p.m. CEST Sunday (11.05.2014). According to the separatists, more than two million people in the Donetsk region alone will participate in the referendum.

The governments in Kyiv and Western countries do not recognize the legitimacy of the referendum for the following reasons:

Illegitimate political authorities

The referendum is being planned and carried out by illegitimate political authorities. The self-proclaimed "People's Republic" of Donetsk and Luhansk were proclaimed in April 2014 by unknown and heavily armed activists. They previously occupied administrative buildings, such as city councils, and police headquarters. The group's leaders were not democratically elected.

A group of men, mostly in black clothing, in front of a black, blue and red separatist flag

Kyiv and the West say the self-proclaimed leaders are illegitimate

Illegal referendum

Ukrainian legislation does not allow for regional referendums. Only referendums in which all 45 million of the country's eligible voters are able to cast their ballot are permitted. A referendum on change to Ukrainian territory can only be recognized by the parliament in Kyiv.

No official voter lists

The self-proclaimed "People's Republic" in Donetsk and Luhanskk have no access to official voter lists. The Ukrainian Secret Service (SBU) suspended electronic access to these lists in early April. The separatists claim they will use published voter lists from 2012.

In March, Kyiv blocked voter lists on the Crimean peninsula. That did not prevent local pro-Russian activists from carrying out a referendum on secession from Ukraine.

No independent observers

No independent observers will be monitoring the referendum. Neither the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) nor the Council of Europe will send representatives. Nor is Russia sending any officials to oversee the vote.

A man photocopies ballots

Photocopiers are used to reproduce ballot papers

Not all eligable voters will be taking part

Pro-Russian activists do not control the whole of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions. Their influence is concentrated and limited to a dozen cities. But even in these cities, separatist power is limited. In several cities, the Ukrainian army and police forces are undertaking an "anti-terrorist operation."

No majority for secession

According to opinion pollsters in Ukraine, neither the region of Donetsk nor Luhansk has a clear majority in favor of secession from Ukraine. Around 30 percent are in favor of annexation and links to Russia, according to a study conducted by the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology (KMIS) in mid-April on behalf of the weekly "Dzerkalo tyshnja" newspaper. More than half the respondents were against plans for secession. These results have been confirmed by other surveys undertaken by Kyiv and Donetsk pollsters.

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