A month before the election day: campaign trends based on independent civic observation findings

Misuse of administrative resources and transparency of campaign financing became two major challenges in February. This information was reported by representatives of Civil Network OPORA during a press conference in Kyiv held on December 5.

As the official registration of candidates finished, intensity and scale of campaigning have increased. At the same time, the number of active candidates, who organise various public campaigning events, is not more than 26-28 persons. In February, the following three candidates for the President organised the most wide-scale campaigning events using versatile types of voter engagement: Petro Poroshenko, Yuliia Tymoshenko and Oleh Liashko. Andrii Sadovyi and Anatolii Hrytsenko were less active and all-embracing in their campaigning efforts. The third group of the most active candidates, who used only certain types of campaigning or were focused on the certain regions includes: Volodymyr Zelenskyi (used only outdoor advertising and online media for a wide-scale campaigning); Ruslan Koshulynskyi (campaign is restricted to some regions); Oleksandr Shevchenko (a versatile campaign, organised in most of the oblasts, but street actions are scarcely used); Oleksandr Vilkul, Yurii Boiko, Serhii Taruta (these three candidates are campaigning actively only in some regions of Ukraine).

We are concerned about incidents involving use of force against campaigning efforts of candidates for the President of Ukraine. Thus, such obstruction to campaigning included ruffian actions against campaigners, damaging the political advertising on outdoor advertising means. These incidents should have become a sign for law-enforcement bodies of Ukraine urging to prevent any obstruction to campaigning activities.

Although some candidates for the President of Ukraine have a practical opportunity to misuse of administrative resources at national and local levels, the combination of in office and campaigning activities of candidate for the President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko is the biggest hazard for competitiveness of elections. The effective President should draw an explicit line between his duties and campaign efforts. Besides that, to prevent misuses of administrative resources, state authorities should stick to their areas of responsibility and division of powers. In other words, state bodies, which are responsible for pensions and housing subsidies, should get an exclusive authority to inform the citizens about the corresponding matters. Candidates for the President of Ukraine, on the other hand, must be excluded from the process of communication on these payments from the State Budget of Ukraine and local budgets. Such state policy will complement to the principle of equal opportunities for candidates for the President of Ukraine and competitiveness of the election process.

Besides that, OPORA’s observers reported that charitable events are organised and goods and services are provided to the citizens on a wide-scale by local organisations of political parties and members of local councils. Politicians realizing infrastructural assistance projects for state organisations and institutions is another direction of political charity. According to OPORA’s estimations, local cells of the Radical Party of Oleh Liashko, AUU Batkivshchyna, Opposition Bloc, Petro Poroshenko Bloc “Solidarity”, AUU “Svoboda”, and Samopomich Union were the most active in realisation of charitable events. These activities were usually not related to activities of candidates for the President of Ukraine directly. However, taking into consideration the party affiliation of local political leaders, such events do influence the presidential campaign. Another factor influencing the regular election of the President of Ukraine is activities of MPs, who started public activities in electoral constituencies, aimed to prepare to the upcoming parliamentary election. Therefore, OPORA calls on local organisations of political parties and candidates for the President of Ukraine themselves, to refrain from any politically motivated charitable activities during the election process. This measure will improve the general situation with adherence to electoral legislation. This urge also concerns situations, when a charitable activity is not against the legislation, and can not be classified as voter bribery from the legal perspective, but is de-facto aimed at giving financial incentive to the voters.

A key organisational stage of electoral process in February was the establishment of district election commissions and the launch of their operations. Despite some complications on the stage of conducting first meetings, the DECs are duly prepared to exercise powers to organize and run the voting. The election commissions have a wide representation of Ukrainian Presidential candidates. However, unfortunately, the possibilities to manipulate with quotas of “technical” candidates in their composition are still poignant. In addition, a big number of people in the newly established election commissions also highlights the issue of shadow funding of activities of DECs members, since the law provides for remuneration of work only for some commission members (max. 4 persons).

On February 18, 2019, CEC established 199 district election commissions with the key functions to enrol polling station commissions members and to ascertain voting results within the territorial constituencies. The process of establishing district election commissions ran in a transparent way, with the CEC complying with legal requirements and election timeline.

43 of 44 presidential candidates obtained the desired representation in the DEC, according to the number of candidates submitted thereto. Thus, 32 candidates received the maximum or near maximum number of members in the DECs composition. One candidate only (Arkadiy Kornatskyi) failed to submit any candidates for the DEC membership. The total number of members of commissions established as of February 18, 2019, is 7,355 persons.

The numerical composition of the established district election commissions is on average three times exceeding the lowest required norm on the number of commission members (12 persons) and makes 37 persons. The smallest DEC of all includes 29 persons, the largest has 43. The least popular regions among the candidates are Transcarpathia, Kirovohrad, and Rivne oblasts. In each of the regions, eight presidential candidates failed to submit their nominees to the DECs. The opposite situation is found in the DECs of Kharkiv oblast where no representatives were delegated from two candidates only – Dmytro Dobrodomov and Arkadiy Kornatskyi. The number of persons included into election commissions is slightly excessive in terms of their efficient performance of functions and high-quality decision making. It could complicate the activities of the election commissions but at the same time, it is an additional factor for cross-control and the preventive factor against the monopolist impact on the commission operations by certain candidates.

65% of members of the DECs have previous experience of working in election commissions. Over the previous electoral cycles, there has been a slight decrease in the share of persons with previous work experience in the district election commissions. In the 2010 presidential election, 78% of members had previous experience in district election commissions; in 2014 – 72%.  In terms of gender, the DECs composition is gender-balanced – 55% of women and 45% of men. The same refers to the managerial share of the DECs where the distribution is 58% women to 42% men.

Vast majority of meetings of district election commissions did have a problem of low participation of the DECs members in the first sessions but they still took place within the term stipulated by the law. According to OPORA estimates, about 41% of DECs members did not show up for the first meetings of commissions. It suggests that the candidates as electoral actors are not disciplined and responsible enough in making lists of candidate to be delegated to election commissions, as they enter some persons there who are not prepared to fulfil the functions assigned to them. Thus, of the 197 candidates submitted to DECs by Vitaliy Kupriy, 157 persons (or 80%) failed to attend the first DEC meeting. Similar negative attendance rates of the first meetings are also found about other DEC members submitted by other candidates, such as Viktor Bondar (79% of absentees), Oleksandr Vashchenko (74%), Ihor Shevchenko (69%), Oleksandr Danyliuk (64%), Yuriy Tymoshenko (56%), Oleksandr Moroz (55%), Vitaliy Skotsyk (52%).

Moreover, during the forthcoming presidential election in Ukraine, there have been registered record hitting numbers of civil society organisations who are entitled to do observations over the electoral process. Of 139 CSOs, 85 organisations fail to have any observation experience in the elections in Ukraine, over 30 NGOs are directly linked to the interests of presidential candidates of Ukraine. The situation is favourable for politically motivated actions of the quasi observation entities in the interests of certain election actors.

OPORA experts also emphasise that observers failed to document incidents related to vote buying within the “vote in exchange for the illegitimate benefit” scheme. However, claims of the SBU on the identified facts of organisation of vote buying in the interests of the candidate Yuliya Tymoshenko and the available reports on monetary remunerations to campaigners of Petro Poroshenko need to be timely investigated. In addition, in February, OPORA observers documented a number of cases of spreading information on the organization of vote buying which were deliberately provocative but proved to be false. In Volhynia region, for example, a citizen was brought to administrative liability for untruthful report to the police on vote buying. By decision of the court, the fine for the wrong-doer was UAH 51.

Also, in February, the CEC provided explanations on the issue of vote buying and peculiarities of engaging citizens into campaigning in favour of presidential candidates. According to this explanation, managers of election funds of candidates have the right to sign with voters only unsalaried contracts for campaigning. On the other hand, there can be possible reimbursement to voters for the costs they incurred due to campaigning (transport, travel, cost of telephone connection, etc.). However, with no efficient control system and verification of the payments, and no real reporting of contracting legal entities managing election funds, investigations of facts of vote buying can be doubted. It is because neither legislative level nor the by-laws currently have tools to prevent offers of illegitimate benefits to voters in the form of reimbursing logistics expenses for campaigning. OPORA deems it necessary to review the current Explanatory Statement of the CEC engaging a wide range of experts in elections and in financial activities.

At the moment of publishing the report, judicial proceedings are still underway on the legitimacy of the Explanatory Statement of the CEC initiated by representatives of presidential candidates Anatoliy Hrytsenko and Vitaliy Kupriy. The sixth administrative court of appeals as the first instance court approved opposite opinions on the Explanatory Statement that are appealed against on the level of the Supreme Court of Ukraine.

Source: Civil Network OPORA