One month before the Election Day: the course of early parliamentary election campaign

Despite the challenges with the unreformed election law, and regardless of the advanced pace of the electoral process, key election stages ran in compliance with the acting law. It was stated by representatives of the Civil Network OPORA at a press-conference on June, 21, in Kyiv.

According to Ms Olga Aivazovska, a coordinator for electoral and political programs at OPORA, the election process ran in a continuous expectation for the decision of the Constitutional Court on the legitimacy of the Presidential Decree on the dissolution of Verkhovna Rada. On June 11, 2019, the Grand Chamber of the Constitutional Court started the consideration of motion from over 62 MPs on the constitutional nature of the Presidential Decree on the dissolution of Verkhovna Rada in a format of oral proceedings. As soon as on June, 20, the Constitutional Court adopted a decision recognising the Presidential Decree as compliant with the Constitution of Ukraine (i.e., being constitutional). The court defined the current situation as a constitutional conflict between the President and the Parliament that had no legal solution and stated the resolution of the conflict by means of holding the early elections, as compliant with the provisions of part 2 of Article 5 of the Constitution of Ukraine. The unpredictable decision of the Constitutional Court and fears of all stakeholders that the Court decision might be politically biased disoriented potential electoral actors and gave them grounds to doubt the legitimacy of the process itself. The decision of the Constitutional Court will in part lead to the “defrosting” and resumption of trust for the electoral process. However, it may equally lead to the next round of political confrontation. OPORA hereby calls all political actors to avoid public discrediting of state institutions for electoral or other party-related political goals.

In legal terms, a key challenge in the early parliamentary elections is still in the unreformed election law, such as the same electoral system to elect members of Parliament as before. At the ad-hoc meeting on June, 22, the Parliament rejected the consideration of a hastily drafted law on introducing changes to the acting Law of Ukraine “On Election of People’s Deputies” on cancellation of the majoritarian system and transition to a proportionate system with finalised lists. Parliamentary political forces do not show any interest, either, in the high quality and efficient fine-tuning of the draft Election Code currently undergoing the second reading.

“The peculiarity of the election process is its extremely accelerated pace (in fact, the campaign can only enjoy 58 days), which caused a number of challenges. Thus, the CEC faced a problem of fitting within the statutory terms for public procurement in the context of the fast election track, and the Parliament’s self-removal from the legislative resolution of the problem. Despite the public statements of controversies between the Government (Ministry for Economic Development and Trade) and the CEC, a solution was suggested on holding the procurement in a method that would be compliant with the law, while not disrupting the electoral process as such. The Decree of the Ministry for Economic Development No 898 “On Introducing Changes to The Rulebook on Identifying a Procurement Object” authorised the division of large-scale procurements into smaller lots, in order to avoid complicated and lengthy tendering procedures,” says Ms Aivazovska.

Since May 24, 2019, the CEC has adopted 198 resolutions, most of which were about the registration of candidates, candidates’ proxies, and also on introducing changes to the membership of district election commissions. In addition, the Commission also approved three Election Law Understandings and introduced changes to the 13 acting resolutions. In particular, a positive note shall be given to the changes introduced to the resolution of the Central Election Commission dated September, 13, 2012, No 893 “On Providing for a Voter’s Temporary Change of Voting Place Without Changing the Voting Address” that deleted a provision about the required presentation of supporting documents for temporary change of the voting place. During the election process, the CEC adopted a resolution on consideration of one complaint. The complaint from a political party “Internet Party of Ukraine” against the CEC resolution was left without consideration in essence since the CEC considered complaints only in relation to the inaction of the DEC. Besides, the “Internet Party of Ukraine” failed to present any confirmation for the nomination of its candidates. That is why it is considered an improper filing subject.

According to Mr Oleksandr Neberykut, an analyst at OPORA, the establishment of election commissions is one of the key stages of the electoral process. Despite the reduced timeline of the election process, the CEC managed to organise it within the statutory terms, in line with all the legal procedures and in a fully transparent manner. The right to nominate their candidates to the DECs was used by all 6 parties that have parliamentary factions. In addition, 25 out of 29 parties also nominated candidate lists in national multi-mandate election district at the early parliamentary elections of Ukraine on October 26, 2014. The total number of candidates submitted for DEC membership amounted to 5,756 persons, of whom 1,179 persons were to be included of obligation (as submitted by the parties with available factions in the Rada); and 4,577 candidates nominated by political parties were to be included by the draw. Therefore, 4,577 persons ran for the 2,403 vacant seats in election commissions. All district commissions were established with the maximum membership (18 persons), while the total number of members included in the DECs was 3,582 (59% of women among them). Five out of six parliamentary parties (factions) delegated their candidates to the maximum authorised number of DECs (199).

“Over one-third of members (38%, or 1,356 persons) of the newly created DECs were also members of election commissions at the 2019 presidential elections. In particular, 172 out of 309 current DEC members delegated by the “BPP Solidarnist” at the recent presidential elections represented in the commissions Petro Poroshenko, Yuliya Lytvynenko, and Volodymyr Petrov. On the other hand, 147 out of 290 current DEC members from the parties “Zastup,” “Yedyna Rodyna” (“Single Family”) and “Ukrayina Maybutnioho” (“Ukraine of the Future”) represented Volodymyr Zelenskyi,” states Mr Neberykut.

The organisation of party conventions (meetings, conferences) with the nomination of candidates for the early parliamentary elections ran in a relatively transparent manner, but the facts of random publication of candidates were not occasional. Equally, not infrequent revisions of lists and replacements of candidates shortly after the public panels of conventions indicate to signs of breaking legal requirements. OPORA supports a position of the Venice Commission and other international institutions on inadmissible excessive interference of the state into internal party processes, provided there is due and efficient control over parties’ implementation of their statutory requirements when holding conventions and nominating candidates.

Civil Society Organisations show high interest in this election. Of them, 170 requested from the CEC to be granted permits to have their official representatives during the elections. The number of organisations granted with the permit is higher than at the 2019 presidential elections (163 vs 138). 95 (58%) CSOs have had prior experience of observation over elections but most of them only did it once, at the 2019 regular Presidential elections. For other 68 CSOs, this election process is going to be a virgin experience as most of them had only been founded shortly before the elections.

According to Ms Aivazovska, OPORA keeps documenting links of CSOs to the candidates and the parties, which undermines trust for the non-party related observation and discredits this format of civic control. In the context when the law allows for official observation on behalf of parties and candidates, observation activities of the politically affiliated CSOs pose risks of politically motivated interference with the election process (particularly, on election day).

As of the last day of the period for presentation of documents for registration (June, 20), the CEC registered 1,913 candidates for people’s deputies, of whom 1,021 candidates have been delegated by political party lists within the national constituency, and 892 candidates have been delegated in one-mandate constituencies (including 744 self-nominated candidates, and 148 party-nominated candidates). Despite the ongoing process of screening the documents submitted by candidates and parties, the estimated number of candidates willing to run for office is going to be much lower than at the 2014 early elections (3,379 candidates for deputies), or at the 2012 regular parliamentary elections (2,784 candidates).

According to the National Police of Ukraine, from May, 21, until May, 31, police initiated 19 criminal proceedings on voting rights violations: eight cases under Article 158 (falsification of electoral documentation), seven – under Article 160 (vote buying), three – under Article 157 (obstructions to exercise of voting rights), one under Article 158-1. From June, 1, until June, 20, 11 criminal cases have been filed on the election-related violations (one for each – part. 3 of Article 175 (obstructions to exercise of voting rights), part 2 of Article 158, part 4 of Article 158 (falsification of electoral documentation), part 3 of Article 160 (indirect vote buying); two for each of the following: part 1 of Article 159-1 (abuse of funding procedures of parties and election campaigns), and part 2 of Article 160 (offering an illegitimate benefit to voters); three proceedings – under part 1 of Article 160 (acceptance of illegitimate benefits by voters). In addition, 7 files on administrative offence were drawn – one under part 1 of Article 212-14 (placement of campaigning materials in unsanctioned locations), six – under Article 212-13 (campaigning without the source data).

“In the course of the electoral process, OPORA observers submitted 41 reports on administrative offence, pursuant to Art. 212-13 of the Code of Ukraine on Administrative Offense (campaigning without the source data) on over 100 facts of breaching the electoral law. The reports mentioned 27 electoral subjects in 12 regions of Ukraine. The highest number of reports was recorded by OPORA observers in Kharkiv region, which covered placements of outdoor advertising without the source data for the candidate Kostiantyn Nemichev (registered within the RED 170 but posting his campaigning materials also in other election districts),” – shares Ms Olha Kotsiuruba, legal advisor at OPORA.

Source: Civil Network OPORA