Summary of independent citizen observation before presidential election in Ukraine

In the last month of electoral campaigning, the most active candidates applied the maximum effort to mobilise and use the available resources (such as human, budget, financial, political influence in executive authorities) for pre-election campaigning. The factor of abusing administrative resources and the “shadow” nature of funding electoral costs shall be mostly considered in terms of compliance with democratic electoral standards within Presidential election. It was the statement of representatives of the Civil Network OPORA at a press-conference on March, 29, in Kyiv.

In March, the intensity of campaigning has largely increased due to conducting mass public events and outdoor campaigning aimed at direct contact with voters on the part of the teams of the most active candidates. Volodymyr Zelenskyi was the exception of therefor as he focused on media campaigning and dissemination of visual political advertising. As a result, there have been more cases of public opposition and conflicts involving various political and non-governmental associations, including also those not directly engaged in the presidential race. The facts of collecting personal data of voters usually accompanying outdoor campaigning events do pose risks for illegitimate use of this data with the purpose to influence voting results.

During the entire election process, five presidential candidates (Petro Poroshenko, Yuliya Tymoshenko, Anatoliy Hrytsenko, Oleh Liashko, and Volodymyr Zelenskyi) conducted large-scale national campaigning covering all regions of Ukraine (except for the temporarily occupied areas) and included the combination of all possible forms of campaigning. In fact, Volodymyr Zelenskyi rather focused on media campaigning and dissemination of visual political advertising than on public meetings with voters. Campaigning of other candidates was rather selective as to methods and geographical coverage. Over one-third of candidates (16 out of 39) did not run any full-scale election campaigns, despite the fact that many of them provided for their significant representation among members of election commissions of different levels.

In some regions of Ukraine, observers noted the use of public and local budget programs in favour of a presidential candidate Petro Poroshenko. Over the reporting period, the Government of Ukraine implemented activities on indexation of pensions and monetisation of subsidies to cover citizen utility services. According to OPORA observers, governmental activities in the field of social welfare became an important part of the election campaign, taking into account their mentioning in the campaigning materials of the presidential candidate Petro Poroshenko. Moreover, another widespread practice was either public or concealed participation of public officials or civil servants from local authorities in pre-election campaigning of candidates for the position of the President of Ukraine. Officials of different levels publicly expressed their support for certain presidential candidates or supported organisation of their campaigning activities.

In addition, throughout the entire election process on the local level, it has been discussed issues of intensifying local budget programs to pay the one-off financial aid to citizens. Before and after the start of the election process, local authorities adopted decisions on increasing the funding for ongoing programs or approved new programs on financial aid to citizens (Mykolayiv, Odesa, Kyiv regions, Ternopil, Dnipro, a.o.). Despite the fact that OPORA observers failed to detect any facts of direct application of the programs in favour of campaigning of specific presidential candidates, electoral subjects kept putting attention to risks of misusing budget resources.

Low competence and professional background, as well as bare ill-preparedness of election commission members of lower levels to fulfil their functions are still the key undermining factors in the course of organising the electoral process. Due to improper preparation and compilation of lists of candidates for members of election commissions, the actual operations of the commissions started with a one-week delay. The membership of the DEC has been changed less than a week before the election day, and the process is still underway. According to OPORA’s provisional estimates, the scale of substitutions on the level of polling station commissions is even higher. It was only due to the availability of more than required candidates included into election commissions that they could properly operate, even with mass substitutions taking place. Despite the fact that election commissions face various challenges in applying legitimate procedures (such as, for example, in the situations with the distribution of managerial positions in the polling station commissions), upon the whole, election administration bodies are prepared to provide for proper level of organisation of election process, particularly on the election day.

On the threshold of the election, a key challenge for the Central Election Commission, in addition to high quality and efficient organisation of electoral process, was the provision of proper publicity and inclusive approach in the course of operations and decision-making. This issue is of special sensitivity on election day, and in the context of low public trust to state institutions. It was a significant decision for the CEC to establish 80 special election districts on exceptional terms, on the grounds of request from the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine (65 special election districts on the territory of Donetsk oblast, 14 – in Luhansk oblast, 1 – in Lviv oblast). Decision of the CEC on that matter was not unanimous, as 2 out of 16 Commission members abstained from the voting. Two CEC members had doubts as to the justification for establishing special election district on the territory of Lviv oblast, or as to possibility to fully comply with electoral standards in special election districts on the territory of all the three regions of Ukraine. The peculiarity of the polling station commissions in special election districts created on exceptional terms is the fact that the members are military service persons. Besides, presidential candidates in Ukraine did not have a right to nominate their representatives for members of these commissions.

OPORA highly appreciates the efforts and work undertaken by the Service of Administrator of the State Register of Voters to provide for the procedure of temporary change of voting places without changing the voting address. This year, at the presidential election, voting places have been changed by 315,725 persons. They include 71,125 persons who are members of district and polling station commissions who will work outside the locations of their registration address. Currently, it is a record high number of voters who have taken care in advance of their capacity to vote at the place of staying on March, 31. Thus, at the 2014 early presidential election, there were 171,078 persons willing to do so, while at the regular parliamentary election in the same year – there were 190,283 of such voters.

The number of incidents identified and officially documented by law-enforcement bodies as such that had features of vote-buying, according to OPORA estimates, is somewhat lower than the amount of information reports regularly replicated by political rivals. The risks of applying illegitimate methods of influencing voting behaviours (including also by bribery with money) are by all means extremely high. However, the only argument for assessing such actions can be in the properly recorded and documented evidence base. On this stage of the election process, it is no less important to account for the role of preventive and protective measures against electoral fraud.

Over the observation period, observers of the Civil Network OPORA submitted 616 requests to the National Police. Among the claims on cases that had signs of administrative offence, most of them (498) were related to placement or dissemination of campaigning materials without any source data. As to cases that could qualify as indirect vote-buying – there were 53 reports; on placing campaigning materials in prohibited places– 28 reports; on placing campaigning materials against the municipal landscaping rules – 4 reports; in one case, the report was on breaking the rules of funding the election campaign. Among the highest ranking regions of Ukraine during the electoral process where observers of the Civil Network OPORA drew up most of reports to the National Police of Ukraine are Kharkiv oblast (82 reports), Dnipropetrovsk oblast (81 reports), and Zhytomyr oblast (63 reports). Representatives of the National Police have already filed 204 administrative offence reports on the basis of requests from representatives of the Civil Network OPORA. Upon the results of considering the materials, courts have brought to responsibility 24 persons. In addition, observers of the Civil Network OPORA submitted 13 reports on committing crimes.

Source: Civil Network OPORA