IFES Ukraine Election Bulletin #105 (March 7 – 20, 2020)
Parliamentary By-election in Election District 179. On March 15, a parliamentary by-election was conducted in single-mandate District Number 179 in Kharkiv Oblast. It was scheduled because former Member of Parliament Oleksii Kucher of the Servant of the People political party resigned the seat after being appointed by President Zelenskyy as the new Head of the Kharkiv Oblast State Administration, or Governor.
Almost 147,000 voters were registered to vote in 189 polling stations – 186 regular and three special stations, in hospital wards. Voters chose among 37 candidates. The Central Election Commission (CEC) initially registered 40 candidates for participation in the election. Three withdrew their candidacies.
The Kharkiv by-election was conducted under the 2011 Parliamentary Election Law. The new election code – passed by the Verkhovna Rada and signed by the President late last year – applies to the next regularly scheduled Verkhovna Rada elections in October 2023.
According to the CEC, preliminary turnout recorded at polling station closure at 20:00 on March 15 was 27.47 percent. This is significantly lower than July 21, 2019, snap parliamentary elections in District Number 179 when turnout reached 51.01 percent. Nationwide voter turnout in the 2019 Rada elections was 49.2 percent.
Former Kharkiv governor, Yuliia Svitlychna, was one of the prominent candidates in the by-election. She self-nominated and ran as an independent candidate. Former Member of Parliament, Viktoriia Ptashnyk of the European Solidarity political party, was also a candidate.
By March 17, the district election commission (DEC) in District Number 179 had processed all results protocols from precinct election commissions (PECs) and Svitlychna leads with 77.54 percent of the valid votes cast. The same day, the CEC received the sealed DEC protocol with the election results. The DEC and CEC will conclude vote tabulation in the coming days and address and adjudicate any complaints. If Svitlychna is elected, the number of women in the Rada would by 88 – 20.75 percent of the total number of MPs.
On March 16, Civil Network OPORA shared a report on its observation of election day procedures in the district. According to OPORA, voting and vote counting proceeded in line with international standards for democratic elections and Ukrainian national legislation. The preliminary report noted several irregularities; but, were not cited as systemic.
OPORA representatives noted that some PECs did not record all data from their preparatory meeting on Election Day before the polling station opened. When observers brought this to their attention, the mistake was corrected by the PEC members. OPORA reported six cases of one PEC member issuing ballots to voters when the law requires two commission members to administer the procedure. OPORA also recorded attempts by PEC members completing or signing vote count protocols in advance of the final tally, which is a serious legal violation and criminal offense.
Election commissioners issuing ballots to voters without asking them to present proper identification – noted in previous Ukrainian elections and a criminal offense – was cited in the by-election by OPORA in several district precincts. In isolated cases, citizens violated vote secrecy by casting their ballot outside the ballot box. Incidents of voting without proper identification and open voting reinforce the need to strengthen public awareness of proper voting procedures.
Verkhovna Rada Committee Leads Local Election Law Reform Roundtable. On March 10, the Verkhovna Rada Committee on Organization of State Power, Local Self-Government, Regional Development and Urban Planning; IFES; the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe; the Council of Europe; Civil Network OPORA; the Association of Ukrainian Cities; and, the Association of Amalgamated Territorial Communities organized a roundtable dedicated to local election law reform.
The roundtable assembled CEC members, Members of Parliament, political party activists and national and international nongovernmental organizations. Participants discussed gaps in Ukrainian electoral legislation and solutions to correcting them. Among the issues discussed were methods to ensure representation of communities on local councils, election financial deposits, nomination procedures for candidate registration and ensuring participation of self-nominated – or independent – candidates in proportional election systems.
Speaking on behalf of the Rada Committee, MP Oleksandr Korniienko of the Servant of the People political party said the Committee’s intent is revising the local election legal framework – the fourth book of the election code – by the middle of next month, six months before scheduled local elections on October 25. This timeline is consistent with consensus reached with Rada party factions. Korniienko does not envisage MPs delaying the legislative reform process by filing hundreds of amendments. He said priority should be given to make the legal framework practical and emphasized his support of a package of technical amendments submitted by the CEC earlier this week.
Other legal corrections proposed during the roundtable included lowering election deposits for candidacies to city mayor and oblast and city councils in larger cities and adjusting downward the numbers of members of certain councils.
There seems to be a willingness to lower the vote threshold from five percent for party lists’ participation in seat allocation under the proportional electoral system for council membership and to lower the vote threshold for candidates to move up the party list if they earn sufficient vote support. These two initiatives will ensure that voters’ choices will have a bigger weight in determining which parties and candidates are elected in local elections.
Commenting on the electoral deposit, some participants called for a return of the financial deposit to election winners and political parties and candidates that secure a certain number of votes; for example, two percent of the vote when parties are running in proportional elections.
This initiative, recommended by the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission, could be incentive for election participation for new and emerging political parties currently not represented in the Rada or the local council.
Roundtable experts forecast potential voter confusion with conducting initial elections in amalgamated – or newly-consolidated – communities concurrently with regular local elections. They called on the government to have a clear plan for communities that have not decided on amalgamation and communicate this to citizens well in advance of the initial amalgamation elections. A representative of the Ministry for Regional Development stated the Ministry is 98 percent prepared with a plan for merging the remaining communities.
Several participants emphasized the CEC must be allowed sufficient preparation time to, among other activities, adjust its legal procedures and define constituencies. The Servant of the People party voiced plans to establish a working group to address specific challenges of ensuring a safe environment and planning elections in areas near the contact line in Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts.
Korniienko confirmed Servant of the People has been exploring the possibility of amending the Constitution in August and September with a new territorial administrative structure. He said it was unlikely to be implemented in this year’s local elections because the election process commences on July 27, 90 days prior to election day. Participants received his comments as a commitment from the Servant of the People that local elections will be administered on October 25 of this year.
Asked about the future of rayon councils – which under the planned structural reform would cease to exist –Kornienko said there is a possibility to minimize the number of elected councils in October.
Civil Network OPORA pointed to the complexity of various ballots due to different electoral systems in place at different levels which could create voter confusion. According to OPORA, Ukraine has an international obligation to ensure participation of self-nominated – or independent – candidates regardless of the electoral system chosen. Praising gender quotas, OPORA noted the election code does not list a political party’s failure to comply with the quota requirement as among the reasons for the local election commission to reject a party list.
OPORA believes this gender requirement should be spelled out in the electoral code. The gender quota for local elections for councils in cities with fewer than 90.000 voters is 30 percent and does not include the “zipper provision” which requires political parties to alternate between male and female candidates on their electoral lists. Therefore, a party is not required to field female candidates in all constituencies and it may, as has been the case in the past, place women in unwinnable constituencies.
The roundtable was supported by the United States Agency for International Development, UK aid and Global Affairs Canada.
CEC Focusing on Gender Equality. On March 11, the Central Election Commission organized a meeting between Commissioner Victoria Hlushchenko and representatives of women NGOs. The meeting assembled representatives of IFES, members of the CEC Secretariat and representatives of the CEC Training Center. The meeting, organized as an interactive workshop, is an element of cooperation between the CEC and IFES in joint administration of the technical assistance project titled, “Ensuring Effective Citizen Participation in the Implementation of Gender Equality Reforms”.
Participants outlined issues that most concern the women’s rights community as these issues became even more urgent after the new electoral code went into effect on January 1. The new code introduces gender quotas for political parties in all elections.
Meeting participants developed concrete proposals on cooperating with the CEC and civil society in election gender equality. The discussion progressed in three directions: Working with political parties, education and information. Participants outlined appropriate measures and the role of the Commission, women’s organizations and movements in administering them.
Civil Network OPORA, Civil Holding “Group of Influence”, ZMINA Human Rights Center with IFES support provide input to new CEC procedure for electoral address change. On March 12, the Central Election Commission (CEC,) responding to a request by civil society organizations, posted a draft regulation for change of electoral address on its website and invited stakeholders to provide feedback and suggestions by March 20. The procedure for permanent change of electoral address was introduced with the recent adoption of the Election Code and will, among others, enable persons in internal displacement the right to register and vote at their actual place of residence within Ukraine in the local elections expected in October 2020.
In joint effort supported by IFES Ukraine, Civil Network OPORA, Civil Holding “Group of Influence”, ZMINA Human Rights Center discussed and consolidated their input to the new procedure for electoral address change. The aim of the proposed amendments, presented to the CEC consolidated in the form of a comparative table, is to make the procedure clear to understand, more inclusive for voters with disabilities and eligible citizens without a properly registered place of resident.
In a press statement, IFES and its partner organizations also called upon the Ukrainian authorities to find solutions for the growing number of voters who have dropped out of the state voter register and for those young citizens in displacement who have difficulties in registering any place of residence and hence remain disenfranchised.