Predicting the Result of the Crimean Referendum

Tuesday, March 11, 2014, 13:18, by Euan MacDonald

Russia has an unhappy history of arranging referendums in other countries concerning their own independence. Take the example of Latvia:

“[In] July 14–15, 1940, rigged elections were held in Latvia and the other Baltic states. Only one pre-approved list of candidates was allowed for elections for the “People’s Parliament.” The ballots held the following instructions: “Only the list of the Latvian Working People’s Bloc must be deposited in the ballot box. The ballot must be deposited without any changes.” The alleged voter activity index was 97.6%. Most notably, the complete election results were published in Moscow 12 hours before the election closed. Soviet electoral documents found later substantiated that the results were completely fabricated. Tribunals were set up to punish “traitors to the people.” those who had fallen short of the “political duty” of voting Latvia into the USSR. Those who failed to have their passports stamped for so voting were allowed to be shot in the back of the head.”

Above paragraph adapted from

Sound familiar? Today in Crimea, we’re hearing the same depressing tune with variations: Ethnic Ukrainians and Tatars are having their passports confiscated or destroyed to prevent them from voting “unpatriotically” in next Sunday’s referendum on Crimea joining the Russian Federation. In fact, Crimea is de facto part of the Russian Federation already – the referendum is simply Moscow’s way of trying to make it appear de jure as well.

The Crimean Tatars, while being prevented from voting, probably would have boycotted this farcical, unconstitutional, illegal vote anyway, as would most ethnic Ukrainians. Together, they make up about 40% of the population, although nobody’s actually sure, as the last population estimates were compiled in 2007. A telephone poll by a Crimean Tatar television station conducted last week, before all non-Russian TV stations were taken off the air, put support among Tatars for Crimea joining Russia at 16%. If we’re generous, and assume a similar figure of pro-Russia support among ethnic Ukrainians, then that means that any “yes” vote from Tatars and Ukrainians would total about 6.4% of the total vote. Let’s be generous again and say 7%.

So that leaves the ethnic Russian population of Crimea – the remaining 60% – whom you would expect to be solidly behind any vote to join Russia. But your expectations would be wrong. As foreign journalists have found, from interviewing ethnic Russians on the peninsula, by no means of them relish joining Mother Russia. The opposition comes primarily from the large constituency of younger ethnic Russians who have grown up in independent Ukraine and who see Russia as a foreign country. There is also significant opposition among the middle class to annexation by Russia. It’s difficult to estimate how many ethnic Russian voters would support it, as polling data is scarce, but let’s be generous again and assume 65%. That’s about 40% of the whole electorate.

Together, these generous estimates would result in a 47% “yes” vote at next Sunday’s referendum, if the vote were free and fair and if the turnout was correctly proportional for each of the three ethnic constituencies.

But that prediction doesn’t mean a thing, of course.

Predicting the result of the Crimean referendum next Sunday is a pointless exercise, as no vote conducted at the point of a Kalashnikov could ever be described as democratic. Besides, we already know what the result will be, straight from the bear’s mouth: Crimea’s First Deputy Prime Minister Rustam Temirgaliev has told the BBC that he expects the vote to be 70-75% for. The Kremlin needs a solid but believeable majority, and that’s what it will get, by foul means or fouler.

Just ask the Latvians.


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