KYIV -- If Ukraine's presidential elections marked the rise of the so-called "clone candidates," then its parliamentary elections mark their revenge.
Yes, the "clones" are back -- and with a vengeance.
The appearance of candidates with identical or nearly identical names on Ukrainian ballots has been around for years, but the tactic has garnered fresh attention since the presidential election in April, when at least three are believed to have run.
The best example was that of Yulia Volodymyrivna Tymoshenko, Ukraine's former prime minister and leader of the Batkivshchyna (Fatherland) party, who found herself on the ballot in the first-round presidential vote beside a little-known lawmaker with a nearly identical name -- Yuriy Volodymyrovich Tymoshenko.
Yulia claimed that Yuriy, who admitted to the BBC that someone else had paid his roughly $90,000 registration fee, was put up to it by her political opponent and now former President Petro Poroshenko -- an accusation his campaign denied.
Yulia finished third behind Poroshenko and Volodymyr Zelenskiy, the eventual winner. Yuriy, meanwhile, finished 10th, managing to get 117,693 votes. If Yulia had received all of Yuriy's votes she still wouldn't have overtaken Poroshenko to reach the runoff against Zelenskiy, but she nonetheless believed the "clone" harmed her campaign.
Political experts call candidates like Yuriy "clones" and say they are planted maliciously on ballots by opponents to trick people into voting for the wrong candidate, thus costing another candidate crucial votes.
Ukrainians casting their vote in the early parliamentary elections on July 21 will not only face more difficult political choices, but they will also need to be eagle-eyed, as many more like-named candidates will be looking back at them.
Attack Of The Clones
Ukraine's parliament is elected using a mixed election system. Half of its 450 lawmakers are chosen from national party lists, with each party required to clear a 5 percent threshold to take seats. The other half are elected from constituencies using first-past-the-post voting. The clones have infiltrated the latter races.
Ukraine's parliament approved legislation on July 11 under which all future parliaments would be elected by party-list voting, although the upcoming poll will be unaffected.
Analysis by RFE/RL of more than two dozen constituency ballots shows dozens of clone candidates running with identities similar to incumbents, bigger-name candidates, or those affiliated with popular parties.
In some cases, the clones resemble not other candidates on the ballot, but those in other government positions who are associated with political leaders, including the president.
The best example of the latter is perhaps found in constituency No. 25, where a candidate by the name of Andriy Valeriyovych Bohdan is registered. Bohdan's biography on the ballot makes it appear that he's connected to President Zelenskiy and his Servant of the People party -- and that just maybe he is the same Andriy Bohdan appointed by Zelenskiy as his chief of staff.
Except that Bohdan is Andriy Yosypovych, and he is not running for parliament. Also, Servant of the People has an official candidate -- Maksym Arkadiyovych Buzhansky -- on the constituency's ballot.
On other ballots, the clones are abundant and more straightforward.
In constituency 92, in Uzyn, an hour south of Kyiv, there are four Guzdenkos whose first names are either Viktor or Vitaliy. Two have the same patronymic -- Ivanovych. And there are three Oleksandr Ferenets.
In Kryviy Rih's constituency No. 33, there are two Olha Volodymyrivna Babenkos -- one from Tymoshenko's Batkivshchyna party and one who is self-nominated -- and two Mykola Yuriyoviches, whose last names are Kolesnik and Kolesnyk.
In Novomoskovsk, Dnipropetrovsk region, constituency 38, there is Vladislav Borodin from Servant of the People and Volodymyr Borodin, a self-nominated candidate, as well as two Vadym Nesterenkos.
In Svatove, Luhansk region, constituency 113, there are two Zelenskiys who are self-nominated and unaffiliated with the president and his Servant of the People party. They are running against two Kurylos and three Struks.
In Odesa's constituency 133, there are four Baranskiys -- Viktor, Vitaliy, Vitaliy, and Ihor. The first two are candidates from the ideologically similar but politically separate Opposition Platform and Opposition Bloc, respectively. There's also Gontaruk and Goncharuk (both self-nominated), and two Artem Dmytruks, including one representing the Servant party.
The presence of clone candidates is on Zelenskiy's radar. Following the EU-Ukraine summit on July 8, the president advised voters to be especially careful when voting in the upcoming parliamentary elections and to take note of the presence of clones, many of which he said were meant to steal votes from candidates running with his Servant party or to ride the party's coattails into parliament.
"There are many copies of Servant of the People party [candidates], there are a lot of such things in majority districts," Zelenskiy said.
The president added that his party went to the Central Election Commission and the courts in an attempt to quash the clones. But no law prevents them from participating in elections.
"There is no solution," he said.