Supporting democratic progress in Ukraine.

IFES Ukraine

The International Foundation for Electoral Systems

IFES Ukraine Election Bulletin #100 (December 16, 2019 – January 12, 2020)

New Election Code Signed by President Zelenskyy. On December 28, 2019, President Zelenskyy signed the new election code after it was approved by 330 Members of Parliament in the Verkhovna Rada on December 19.

The President stated “the adoption of this code will ensure … fully unified legislation for the preparation and conduct of elections in Ukraine that will facilitate the full realization of electoral rights of citizens of Ukraine, the stability of electoral legislation and adherence to the fundamental principles of democratic elections and further consolidate democracy in Ukraine”.

The election code went into effect on January 1 and governs future national elections, including local elections expected in October. The link to IFES’ preliminary assessment of the election code is here.

IFES Ukraine welcomes the promulgation of the election code as an important landmark in consolidating electoral and democratic reform in Ukraine. IFES supports the Rada refining and amending the new election code in time before the next elections in line with recommendations discussed and preliminarily agreed to by the Rada election code working group following consultations with electoral stakeholders and experts held in September and October 2019.

Election Code Enfranchises IDPs and Labor Migrants in Elections. On December 23, 2019, the Civil Holding Group of Influence nongovernmental organization, Civil Network OPORA and IFES Ukraine conducted a news conference on how internally displaced persons (IDPs), labor migrants and other internally mobile citizens will vote under the new electoral code approved by the Rada and signed by the President late last year.

The election code amends the Law On the State Register of Voters that alters the definition of the term “electoral address”. It is now possible for a voter, on a permanent basis, to register an “electoral address” that differs from his or her registered place of residence (‘propiska’). A new section has been introduced to Article 8 of the law which authorizes the State Register of Voters, on a voter’s request, to register his or her electoral address permanently based on his or her factual residence address.

To change the electoral address, a voter must provide one of the following documents proving his or her place of residence: An IDP certificate; a rental agreement; certificates confirming business activities or home ownership; and, documents certifying the voter’s state of matrimony, family relations or care of a person whose place of residence is registered at that location in accordance with the Law On Freedom of Movement and Free Choice of Residence.

“These progressive changes will allow voters who reside in places other than their place of residence registration to fully exercise their voting rights in all types of elections, both nationwide and local,” said Tetyana Durnyeva, Executive Director of the Civil Holding Group of Influence.

According to the Ministry of Social Policy, 1.4 million IDPs are officially registered in Ukraine. It is estimated that another 3.3 million citizens aged 18 or above reside in places other than their place of registration, according to a recent survey published by the ZMINA Human Rights Center. The election code amendment will benefit millions of Ukrainians who previously could not vote in local elections at their place of factual residence.

“IFES Ukraine congratulates all Ukrainians on this important event for the democratic progress of the country,” said IFES Ukraine Head of Programs Roman Lyubchenko. “It is now very important to focus on implementing the code and clarifying key provisions to the voters, especially internally displaced persons and other internally mobile citizens across the country so that they can exercise their voting rights in the communities where they live, pay their taxes and build their future. IFES Ukraine stands ready to support the efforts of the Central Election Commission and civil society organizations in this.”

OPORA Issues Statement on Adoption of the Election Code. Following adoption of the new election code by the Verkhovna Rada on December 19, 2019, Civil Network OPORA published a Statement analyzing key provisions of the code after its second and final review.

The statement noted that Civil Network OPORA welcomes the Verkhovna Rada building a dialogue internally with electoral stakeholders and reaching a compromise on the new electoral code. The law’s political legitimacy is an important element of building public trust for election institutions.

The second and final review of the election code formally completes the long-term effort to improve and codify electoral legislation in Ukraine. The process was controversial and arduous, according to Civil Network OPORA, but Ukrainian MPs fulfilled their policy obligations to adopt a new election code.

The new election code includes both advanced and flawed provisions, according to Civil Network OPORA. An earlier veto of election reform legislation by President Zelenskyy allowed the Rada to address significant procedural challenges in Ukraine’s election process. Eliminating barriers to electoral participation by internally mobile citizens was a big breakthrough.

Civil Network OPORA said a major concern is the Rada’s decision to curtail the open list electoral systems used in parliamentary and local elections. The decision to introduce closed list elements contradicts the President’s veto in which he openly opposed allocating mandates to the top ten candidates according to a political party list without voters’ influencing the parties’ candidate ranking. OPORA notes the Rada also failed regulate the role of social media and the Internet in the electoral process. These elements in the new code remain outdated, according to the NGO.

Another objection, according to OPORA, is the new version of the code excludes provisions governing the Central Election Commission (CEC) and State Register of Voters (SVR) and maintain these as separate laws. Some electoral experts believe this decision is an attempt to avoid a comprehensive legal reform of the CEC.

OPORA believes an important achievement of the new code is enfranchisement of IDPs, labor migrants and other internally mobile citizens. Such voters can apply to the SVR to change their electoral address that will allow them to vote in all elections. Although Ukraine made some progress to enfranchise IDPs, the CEC must adopt quality regulations and inform citizens of the new procedures through a comprehensive voter education and awareness campaign, says OPORA.

Improved accessibility to elections for voters with disabilities is also a feature of the code, according to OPORA. The Cabinet of Ministers is obliged to ensure that accessibility of polling stations for persons with disabilities are regularly monitored according to a set of specific criteria. Local government authorities must ensure full compliance with accessibility standards at all polling stations by the year 2025, according to the new code. And, OPORA commends the mechanisms ensuring a balanced representation of both genders on regional political party lists ensuring that at least 40 percent women are nominated within each group of five candidates on the list (‘zipper list gender quota’).

OPORA supports the election code allowing civil society to register observers for the first time through the CEC to ensure a comprehensive observation of Commission activities.

OPORA recommends the CEC and the Ministry of Justice, in cooperation with the news media and civil society, develop a voter awareness plan about the new code. Public information campaigns should focus on the unique elements of the new election code, including citizens’ requests to change their voting address.

Read the full text of Civil Network OPORA’s statement here.

Elections in Newly-Amalgamated Communities on December 22 and 29. As part of governance decentralization in Ukraine, two rounds of local elections in newly-amalgamated territorial communities (ATCs) were administered on December 22 and 29, 2019. According to the Central Election Commission, 435,100 registered voters in 24 oblasts across Ukraine were eligible to participate in elections of councilors and mayors to these newly-formed local government bodies. Almost 1,000 communities in Ukraine – 988 – have voluntarily amalgamated and conducted their first elections of local officials over the past four years-plus. The first elections in these newly-consolidated communities were administered on October 25, 2015.

On the last two Sundays of 2019, elections were conducted in 92 ATCs – 86 in 21 oblasts on December 22 and six in three oblasts on December 29. Concurrently, supplementary elections in three ATCs were held in one oblast. The CEC announced preliminary voter turnout of between 30 and 70 percent. The CEC used the opportunity to test new web resources for electronic transfer of preliminary election results from territorial election commissions. Runoffs from those December elections are scheduled for 18 ATCs in 11 oblasts on January 12 and 19.

Local government decentralization is expected to be completed in 2020.

Verkhovna Rada Approves Amendments to Political Finance Regulation. On December 19, the Verkhovna Rada adopted the law On Amending Certain Laws of Ukraine Regarding the Prevention and Counteraction of Corruption on second reading. This legislation is viewed as bringing positive change to political finance regulation in Ukraine.

The law will simplify the procedure for making donations and introduce provisions necessary for establishing an electronic financial reporting system. Beginning in 2021, the law will more than double public funding for political parties, reversing previous Rada legislation which cut public funding for parties in half.

Although the approval of this law is positive, there are numerous issues that need to be addressed to facilitate full implementation of political finance reform in Ukraine. A comprehensive law on political finance should be developed through a consultative and transparent process involving all electoral stakeholders.

Read IFES’ analysis of the amendments to the political finance law here.

IFES-CEC Training Center Exchanges Experience with Colleagues from Moldova. On December 16-17, the Moldovan Central Election Commission’s Center for Continuous Electoral Training, headed by Chair Pavel Cabacenco, paid a two-day study visit to Ukraine to exchange experience about implementation of voter education and awareness campaigns.

According to the Ukrainian Central Election Commission’s Deputy Chair Serhii Dubovyk, Ukraine borrowed experiences from its Moldovan colleagues to establish the IFES-CEC Administrative Center for Training of Election Process Participants, or the Training Center, in Ukraine. “It is their ideas that laid the foundation for the fully-fledged operation of our Training Center established jointly with IFES Ukraine”, said Deputy Chair Dubovyk.

In his presentation, Chairman Cabacenco stated the Moldovan Training Center is tasked to administer trainings, civic education activities, research and analysis to foster professional election administration and increase citizen participation in elections. A discussion on design of training methodology, programs and maintenance of project documentation followed the presentation.

The Moldovan guests also met other CEC members, the CEC Secretariat and representatives of the State Register of Voters to discuss electronic document flow and cooperation between election commissions and civil society.

CEC Upgrades its Website for Visually-Impaired People. At its first meeting, the Central Election Commission working group on electoral rights of persons with disabilities elaborated recommendations on how to improve the CEC and State Register of Voters websites to ensure unhindered access for persons with visual and intellectual disabilities. The CEC Information Department carefully examined the recommendations and adjusted the design of both websites. CEC website users can now take advantage of the upgraded version for visually impaired people. According to unofficial data, the number of visually impaired people in Ukraine varies from 100,000 to 300,000.

According to CEC member Serhii Postivyi, these are the first results achieved by the working group and demonstrate positive cooperation between the Commission and civil society.

“These are just the first steps,” Commissioner Postivyi said. “We plan to continuously improve our web resources and implement further recommendations to improve the CEC and SRV websites. However, more time is needed to deal with more complex technical issues.”

OPORA Delivers First Training for Law Enforcement. From December 10-14, Civil Network OPORA launched the first election school for law enforcement which drew participants from 12 oblasts. The training took place at the Lviv State University of Internal Affairs.

According to Project Coordinator Andrii Tokarskyi, the election school is a pilot project launched by OPORA to increase knowledge and understanding of the new election law among law enforcement officers. “They will be able to use acquired knowledge personally, but also to train and advise their colleagues at the regional level”, he said.

During the five-day training, law enforcement officers learned about key elements of the election process, the role of police in elections, documenting administrative and criminal offenses and the duties of election commissioners and observers. Participants also engaged in an election day simulation, including the voting process and vote counting.

On December 9, the CEC held the first meeting of its working group on the electoral rights of persons with disabilities. The working group consists of 12 national and regional civil society organizations and a representative of the President’s Ombudsman for the rights of persons with disabilities.

CEC Chair Didenko in Interview with LB.UA. On January 3, the LB.UA online news outlet published a lengthy interview with Central Election Commission Chair Oleh Didenko. He commented on his reappointment following the President’s dismissal of the former CEC; his ties with Presidential Chief of Staff Andrii Bohdan, whom he represented as a proxy in the 2007 and 2012 Verkhovna Rada elections; and, shared his views about the new election code, the next nationwide local elections expected on October 25, 2020; and, prospects for introducing Internet-voting in Ukraine.

On electoral reform, Didenko confirmed the CEC presented its comments on the new election code and several other laws to the Rada. Among concrete propositions sent to Parliament on October 22, 2019 was an amendment to the Law on the State Register of Voters that will allow the CEC to use personal data in the SRV register to conduct crosschecks against data on persons listed in other national identification resources and further improve the state voter register’s accuracy.

The CEC presented its proposed amendments to the election code to the Rada in October. According to Didenko, priority issues were preserving the laws governing the CEC and the State Register of Voters as separate laws as the CEC mandate applies to both elections and referenda. The CEC also proposed a fundamental reorganization of the code to make it more user-friendly includes merging provisions that had been split between the general sections and the election-specific sections of the code.

High on the CEC’s wish list is permanent representation of the Commission at the local level – both to mitigate negative effects of frequent and last-minute replacements of election commissioners and in assisting introducing new voting technologies. Funding of such representation could be rationalized if it is formed on the basis of existing voter register management. Some synergy could be found, reducing overall costs of introducing CEC representation at the local level on a permanent basis.

Because of the timing of the interview – before adoption of the new election code and before publication of the draft amendments to the Constitution regarding reconfigured territorial administration – Didenko could only provide preliminary answers to questions about the date of the next local elections and if the CEC would have enough time to prepare for them. Regarding local elections in Donbas, he listed a number of obstacles to holding such elections anytime soon – the absence of updated voter information and Ukrainian government bodies to administer polling stations as well as no court system, banks and a free, professional news media.

According to Didenko, Internet-voting for Ukraine is premature – society is not sufficiently prepared for it; nor is the technological base. He suggested focusing on introducing more online services in elections such as ballot scanners or machines for electronic voter identification. This limited technology could minimize the time needed for establishing election results, reduce the potential for tampering with the results, make the entire process less dependent on the human factor and ensure elections are in line with international standards.

Asked to comment on the President’s motivated initiative to dismiss the former CEC, Mr Didenko responded that under Ms Slipachuk the CEC had taken a more proactive approach than any previous Commission attempting to solve certain problematic issues and worked hard on enhancing its communication with civil society and media and that this had generated public trust in the Commission. But, unfortunately, a majority in the new ruling party and parliament did not share this trust. According to Mr Didenko, most of the disagreements between the former CEC and the courts stemmed from flaws in the legal framework.

Chairman Didenko reminded readers that once members of the CEC are appointed members do not represent partisan interests but have to act in a collegial manner and can be dismissed if they fail to do so. He confirmed that he is in touch with Mr. Andriy Bohdan but only infrequently and mainly to discuss aspects of electoral reform and the draft election code. After being appointed to the CEC he acted as liaison to the Servant of the People party within the CEC – both during the presidential and parliamentary elections – and developed ties to some of the party’s future MPs who later supported his reappointment as commissioner.