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Ukrainian Students Selling Votes On Social Network

The vKontakte group "Buying votes for the elections," where young Ukrainians offer their votes for sale.
The vKontakte group "Buying votes for the elections," where young Ukrainians offer their votes for sale.
Kyiv student Vladislav is not the least bit interested in politics.

But he is eager to cast his ballot in the parliamentary elections on October 28, the first nationwide vote in Ukraine since President Viktor Yanukovych came to power in early 2010.

The reason?

Vladislav is hoping to sell his vote to the highest bidder. He is one of about 50 people openly offering their votes for sale on VKontakte, a popular Russian-language social network.

Reached by RFE/RL, Vladislav said he and nine of his friends were selling their votes, for at least 250 hryvnyas (about $30).

"I was contacted today and was offered 250 hryvnyas. I need to know how much one vote will cost, I need to talk to people," he said. "I can call you back in 20 minutes and tell you."

As a guarantee, Vladislav said he would send a picture of his ballot paper after voting for the candidate chosen by the buyer.

No Hope For Change

The practice is just one in a string of electoral violations observers are warning could take place this weekend.

Vladislav does not appear worried about participating in what is technically electoral fraud. He is a member of an open group on VKontakte unambiguously called "Buying votes for the elections."

The group numbers about 50 members, although many, like Vladislav, are also selling votes for their friends. Most of them indicate their home city and phone number.

Tetyana, another Kyiv student offering her vote on VKontakte, says she is disillusioned with Ukrainian politics and does not believe the elections can bring change.

"There are no concrete candidates whom I would vote for," she says. "I don't see any party or individual really capable of changing our country."

Critical Election

The poll, however, is crucial in determining Ukraine's political course.

A solid win by Yanukovych's ruling Party of Regions would concentrate huge power in the president's hands, a scenario the opposition warns would dramatically accelerate Ukraine's backsliding on the democratic gains of the 2004 Orange Revolution.

The latest polls show the Party of Regions leading with 23 percent support, followed by the opposition Udar party led by heavyweight boxing champion Vitali Klitschko with 16 percent and the United Opposition, which is polling at 15 percent.

Sociologists say rampant poverty, corruption, and a general weariness with Ukraine's chaotic political life explain why voters like Vladislav and Tetyana are willing to trade their votes for cash.

"The notion of civic responsibility, civic behavior, emerged only when an individual can support their basic needs -- food, housing, clothes for himself and his family," says Andriy Bichenko, head of the sociology department at Ukraine's Razumkov think tank.

Experts stress that selling one's vote is a criminal offense punishable by up to two years in prison.

Nonetheless, a recent opinion poll by the Ilko Kucheriv Democratic Initiatives Foundation in Kyiv showed that 10 percent of Ukrainians would agree to sell their votes for up to $60.

This represents 3.6 million voters.

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