Central Election Commission Adopts a Number of Important Decisions Related to Forthcoming 2019 Presidential Election
On December 20, 2018, the Central Election Commission (CEC) held the meeting and adopted a number of important decisions related to the preparations for the forthcoming 2019 presidential election. These decisions include:
- the Calendar Plan of measures to ensure preparations to and holding of the presidential election (CEC Resolution No 250);
- the Procedures for control of receipt, accounting and use of campaign funds by the presidential candidates (CEC Resolution No 252); and
- the Request to the Donetsk and Luhansk military-civil state administrations for their opinion on the possibility of holding the presidential election in certain parts of the election districts formed in the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts (CEC Resolution No 251).
The Calendar Plan establishes the deadlines for key election procedures. The deadline for prospective presidential candidates to submit their nomination documents for registration is February 3, 2019. The CEC has 5 days following the submission of the registration documents to adopt the decision to register the nominated candidate or reject his/her registration. Candidates can start election campaigning on the day after their registration. Campaign ends one day preceding the election day. Thus, candidate registration will be finalized by February 8. The District Election Commissions (DECs) shall be established no later than February 18 based on proposals of the presidential candidates, while the Precinct Election Commissions (PECs) will be established by the DECs no later than March 12. International observers must be registered by the CEC no later than March 25. The ballot papers will be delivered to the PECs by March 29. If none of the candidates receives a majority of valid votes cast, the CEC will organize run-offs between the two highest scoring first round candidates on April 21. The elected president would assume office within 30 days following the announcement of the election results.
The adoption of the Calendar Plan is an important step to ensure effective implementation of the election procedures laid down in the 1999 Presidential Election Law. The law has been criticized by both the international observers and Ukrainian experts for a number of shortcomings (in particular, for high electoral deposit, failure to establish limitations on number of DEC members etc.). A number of the joint recommendations by the OSCE/ODIHR and Venice Commission have not been addressed and remain relevant. It is unclear whether Verkhovna Rada, the Parliament of Ukraine, will address any of the recommendations before the official start of the election process on December 31, 2018.
The Procedure for control of receipt, accounting and use of campaign funds by the presidential candidates aims to bring the current campaign finance regulations in the presidential election in line with the 2015 Political Finance Reform Law. In particular, the Procedure aligns the sources and the value of private donations to the electoral funds of the presidential candidates with those provided for political parties. The Procedure also clarifies that the CEC and the banks in which the election fund accounts are opened will exercise oversight of the receipt and use of the electoral funds, while the National Agency for Prevention of Corruption (NAPC) will have a broader mandate to oversee the funding of the election campaigns of the presidential candidates. The CEC and NAPC, according to the Procedure, will establish a joint working group to analyze interim and final campaign finance reports and identify potential violations of the campaign finance requirements. Establishment of the joint working group will facilitate more effective cooperation between the CEC and NAPC when exercising campaign finance oversight. However, the overall effectiveness of campaign finance oversight will also depend on the efficiency of the NAPC in supervising campaign finance, in particular, through revealing monetary and in-kind donations, and ability of law enforcement agencies and courts to effectively prosecute campaign finance violations.
On December 20, the CEC also requested the opinions of the Donetsk and the Luhansk civil-military administrations as to whether it is possible to hold the presidential election in all parts of the election districts created in the two oblasts. In the 2014 early presidential election, the CEC was not able to establish DECs in a number of election districts created in the non-government controlled areas of Crimea and Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts (see, for instance, the CEC Resolution No 265 of April 13, 2014). No voting took place in the affected areas. By its December 20, 2018, Resolution, the CEC decided to request the opinion of the civil-military administrations regarding the possibility of holding the election in specific districts of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts. The administrations are supposed to determine the election precincts in the respective districts where the elections, in their opinion, could and could not take place. It is unclear based on which criteria and/or documents the respective administrations will make the assessment. Large margin of discretion in this regard may open the doors to politically motivated and unsubstantiated decision which may unduly restrict voters’ electoral rights. It is also unclear from the CEC Resolution whether the opinions by the civil-military administrations will be binding for the CEC and whether they can be challenged by stakeholders. It would be advisable that the Presidential Election Law should specify the grounds and procedure for cancellation of elections in the non-government controlled areas or in areas with high security risks to prevent unreasonable restrictions of the constitutional rights to vote and be elected.