IFES Ukraine Election Bulletin #76 (December 20, 2018 – January 16, 2019)
Central Election Commission Prepares for 2019 Presidential Election
On December 20, the Central Election Commission (CEC) by its Resolution 250 approved the calendar of electoral events for the presidential election scheduled for March 31, 2019. The CEC calendar sets the important electoral deadlines for stakeholders in the election.
The deadline for candidate registration is February 8; the district election commission (DEC) formation deadline is February 18; and establishing precinct election commissions (PEC) must be completed by March 12. According to Ukrainian law, presidential candidates can begin election campaigning on the day following their registration. The campaign officially concludes the day before Election Day.
International observers must apply for accreditation to the CEC no later than March 23. Ballot papers will be delivered to PECs on March 28 and 29. Final results of the election will be announced no later than 10 days after election day, or April 10. If none of the first-round candidates receive a majority of valid votes cast, the CEC will organize runoffs on April 21 between the two candidates with the most votes. The elected president will assume office within 30 days of the CEC’s announcement of final election results.
On December 20, the CEC approved a resolution that regulates the finances of the presidential candidates’ electoral campaigns. CEC Resolution 252 aligns its current presidential campaign regulations with the 2015 Political Finance Reform Law and adjusts the rules for private donations to candidates’ electoral funds. The resolution also clarifies that the CEC and the banking institutions in which candidates open electoral accounts will exercise oversight with the accounts, while the National Agency for Prevention of Corruption (NAPC) will now have a broader mandate to oversee presidential candidate funding.
The resolution authorizes the CEC and NAPC to establish a joint working group to analyze pre-election and post-election campaign finance reports and identify potential violations of campaign finance regulations. The joint working group could potentially facilitate more effective cooperation between the CEC and NAPC in regulating campaign finance; however, overall effectiveness of campaign finance will depend on the NAPC’s competence in supervising campaign funding with emphasis on both monetary and in-kind donations.
Impactful campaign finance regulation is key to the ability of law enforcement agencies and the courts to prosecute campaign finance violations. In the past, neither the NAPC, nor the police and courts have been effective in enforcing campaign finance law.
The CEC by its Resolution 251 requested opinions of the Donetsk and the Luhansk civil-military administrations on the possibility of administering the presidential election in all election districts created in the two oblasts. In the 2014 early presidential election, the CEC was not able to establish DECs in several election districts in the areas not controlled by the Ukrainian Government in Crimea and the Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts and voting did subsequently not take place in these areas.
While the Donetsk and Luhansk administrations are expected to identify the election precincts where election preparations can go forward, it is unclear what criteria they will use when making their assessment. Excessive discretion to local administrations could open the doors to politically motivated and unsubstantiated decisions which might restrict voters’ electoral rights. It is unclear from Resolution 251 whether the opinions by the civil-military administrations will be binding for the CEC and whether they can be challenged by electoral stakeholders. Ideally, the presidential election law should specify grounds and procedures for canceling elections in areas not controlled by the Government, or in places with high security risks. Such a provision will prevent undue restrictions on the rights of voters and candidates.
The election process began on December 31. On that day, the CEC approved procedures for election accreditation of media (Resolution 275). On January 3, the CEC by its Resolution 5 approved an UAH 2,354,880,000 (USD 83,52 millions) budget for the presidential election and campaign finance procedures through Resolution 3.
As of January 15, the CEC had accredited 26 civil society organizations (CSOs) to formally observe the presidential election. A full list of accredited CSOs will be published by February 23.
Early this month, the Foreign Affairs Minister Pavlo Klimkin sent an official letter to Ingibjörg Sólrún Gisladottir, Director of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), stating the Ministry “will not accept applications for accreditation as official observers from foreign states or international organizations from holders of Russian passports or other individuals seconded by the Russian side.” ODIHR has already extended invitations to all 57 OSCE participating States (except Ukraine) to second long-term observers to the Ukrainian election and issued a call for core team positions which is open to nationals from across the OSCE area, including Russian Federation.
To learn more about Ukraine’s presidential election system, please go to the following link.
CEC Closes Polling Stations in Russia
On December 31, the CEC closed polling stations in Ukraine’s diplomatic missions in Russia, including at its Embassy in Moscow and is five consulates in St. Petersburg, Nizhniy Novgorod, Yekaterinburg, Rostov-on-Don and Novosibirsk. In a major national election year, it will affect more than 50,000 Ukrainian voters currently registered in Russia.
The CEC based its decision on a request from the MFA and provisions of the election law. The Commission cited the ongoing conflict with Russia, the government’s inability to ensure the integrity of Ukrainian elections in Russia and the security of Ukrainian voters in Russia. The CEC decision (Resolution 274) will apply in any future Ukrainian national elections, including the parliamentary elections this October, unless reversed by the CEC based on a new MFA request.
Registered Ukrainian voters in Russia were reassigned to Ukrainian embassies in Georgia, Kazakhstan and Finland. Voters from Krasnodar, Volgograd and Chechnya will be entitled to vote at the embassy in Georgia; voters from Magadan, Irkutsk and Novosibirsk – at the embassy in Kazakhstan; and, voters from St. Petersburg can vote at the embassy in Finland.
Meanwhile, if Ukrainians living abroad return home to vote, they are required to file a written application to the MFA or the Voter Register Maintenance Body on where they intend to vote no later than five days prior to election day. The voter will be included on the voter list of the polling station of his or her choice.
Russia-based Ukrainian voters must register before March 26 to be added to the voter list and must repeat the application procedure if there is a presidential election runoff on April 21. No provision for postal or absentee voting exists. Election participation by Ukrainian residents and visitors to Russia has recently been low. In the presidential election in 2014 only 2.2 percent of the 51,485 eligible Ukrainian voters participated. In the parliamentary election later that year, turnout dropped to 1.5 percent. And, given travel costs and the cumbersome procedure for changing place of voting, it might be expected that turnout among voters residing in Russia will be even lower than in the 2014 elections.
There does not seem to be a political impact in the CEC and Foreign Ministry’s decision to close polling stations in Russia. In 2014, Ukrainian voters in Russia predominantly supported pro-European political parties and presidential candidates. Fifty-six percent voted for President Petro Poroshenko and, in the parliamentary elections, voters more frequently supported Samopomich, the Petro Poroshenko Bloc and People’s Front over pro-Russian political forces.
Local Elections in Amalgamated Communities on December 23
On December 23, 2018, elections of city, settlement and village councilors and mayors were administered in 77 amalgamated, or newly-formed, communities in 12 regions of Ukraine. Based on CEC estimates, these elections affected some 453,000 voters.
Instances of illegal election campaigning and candidates’ intimidation were reported by the Petro Poroshenko Bloc and Batkivshchyna, according to the Ukrajinska Pravda news agency.
The new CEC scheduled the December 23 and October 12 local elections as its first substantial act and this marks continuation of the government decentralization process in Ukraine. The CEC reversed a decision by the old CEC in August of last year that effectively blocked elections from taking place in the newly amalgamated communities.
Responding to introduction of martial law in 10 oblasts of Ukraine on November 26, the CEC at its November 29 and 30 sessions asked the territorial election commissions (TEC) in the 10 affected oblasts to hold off on preparations for the December 23 elections. In CEC Resolution 233, TECs were asked to consider the legal effects on elections from introduction of martial law which was introduced in response to Russia’s detention of Ukrainian naval ships and sailors on November 25 as they approached the Kerch Strait. Introduction of martial law led to cancellation of 61 elections in the 10 oblasts, including 45 first, seven supplementary (for expanded councils) and nine local by-elections. These election cancellations were implemented by Resolutions, 234 and 235. In a subsequent clarification to TECs in the 10 oblasts, the CEC on November 30 by Resolution 236, recommended termination of preparations for the December 23 elections.
If the postponed local elections in the 10 oblasts are administered without overlapping the presidential election the most likely dates would be late June or July of this year. CEC regulations call for first local elections to be scheduled for the last week of the month, except for December. If the elections are conducted this summer, the State Budget Law must be amended to provide affected amalgamated communities with budget resources to reflect their enlarged territory and population size.
According to the Civil Network OPORA, council, settlement and mayoral elections were postponed at the last minute in the Cherkaske amalgamated community in the Dnipro oblast, due to obstacles encountered by the TEC resulting in its inability to register election candidates, and to administer the elections.
Mobile Version of State Register of Voter’s Website Launched Concludes Cyber Hygiene Trainings for CEC
On January 10, the CEC reported the mobile version of the official State Register of Voters (SRV) website was launched. Voters can access this website to check the procedure for temporary change of voting venue without changing their voter address, adding data to the Register and personal information as it relates to elections.
The website also contains a full list of diplomatic institutions in foreign countries where a citizen can apply for inclusion into the Register and request a change of personal information; contact information of all SRV administration units; and, information about electoral districts, polling stations, amalgamated communities and statistical data in Ukraine.
CEC Presents the New Version of Its Official Website
On December 26, the CEC presented a draft of the Commission’s new website to representatives of international organizations, Ukrainian civil society organizations, information technology experts and the news media. The website’s new design facilitates access to information provided by the CEC to all citizens, including voters, civil society representatives, political party activists, candidates, election observers and journalists.
The new website is interactive, transparent, accessible and user-focused and contains open data and data security protection measures. While the website development is being finalized, the CEC will collect feedback and recommendations for possible improvements from civil society and information technology professionals. A final version of the website will be presented at the beginning of March.
Development of this website is part of IFES’ efforts to strengthen the CEC’s outreach capacity and is supported by the United States Agency for International Development and UK aid. This website will be an effective tool for increasing confidence in the CEC and increasing its public outreach capacities in advance of the presidential and parliamentary elections this year.
OPORA Publishes Interim Report on Early Campaigning by Potential Presidential Candidates in December
This past autumn, the Civil Network OPORA deployed its long-term observers to all regions of Ukraine to monitor early election campaigning in advance of the March 31 presidential election. On December 28, OPORA released a summary of findings from its monitoring.
- At least 20 potential presidential election candidates launched large scale campaigns, mobilizing party structures and deploying significant financial resources.
- Early campaigning in support of incumbent President Petro Poroshenko, former Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko and Oleh Lyashko is most intensive and includes political advertising and in-person retail campaigning.
- Outdoor advertisements were the most widespread form of early campaigning. Billboards for all 20 potential presidential candidates were detected in different regions throughout Ukraine, both in regional centers and smaller towns. Outdoor advertising for Poroshenko and Tymoshenko covered all regions.
- The volume of print political advertising in regional media has grown. Regular instances of so-called “black public relations” – campaigning to damage opponents’ reputations – in regional print media were detected.
- By the end of December, OPORA monitors detected 79 visits to the regions by potential presidential candidates. Poroshenko and Lyashko visited the highest number of oblasts and regions.
- Local government officials’ participation in potential candidates’ regional visits remains a problem, according to OPORA.
Incidents obstructing potential candidates’ political activities – namely, those of Anatolii Hrytsenko – were detected in the Odesa and Chernihiv regions.
Committee of Voters of Ukraine Reports Illegal Presidential Election Campaigning
On January 10, the Committee of Voters of Ukraine reported instances of illegal presidential election campaigning. CVU detected billboards with political advertising in favor of potential candidates Serhii Kaplin and Andrii Sadovyi and online advertising materials promoting another possible candidate, Valentyn Nalyvaichenko.
CVU noted that candidates placed political advertising months before the election, well before the formal campaign period. After official presidential candidate registration, all election campaign materials should be placed in accordance with Ukrainian electoral law and should include information about the printing house, material circulation and the responsible persons.
Vybory Vybory Project Publishes Article on Early Campaigning by Rada Election Candidates during Winter Holidays
On January 11, the Vybory Vybory project published an article, authored by Daryna Rohachuk, alleging that some Members of Parliament in majoritarian districts distributed gifts to children in schools and kindergartens, organized events and performances for children and distributed food to senior citizens as a form of pre-election campaigning during winter holidays. The author notes that while these activities are common, it is questionable whether such activity transforms into votes.
“Before the official parliamentary election campaign commences in Ukraine – and this will happen on July 29 – gifts to voters are not considered political campaigning,” the article reads.
“This means that future candidates will ‘sow’ the election districts for another half a year at least and will not be held accountable for this.”
The Vybory Vybory project is administered by Center UA and Ukrajinska Pravda.
IFES Organized Cyber Hygiene Awareness Training for SRV
In preparation for the March presidential and October Verkhovna Rada elections, IFES Ukraine has been working closely with the CEC to strengthen its cybersecurity efforts. Building on findings of the IFES Cybersecurity Assessment of the Electoral Process, conducted in the summer of 2018, IFES is developing the institutional capacity of the CEC to deal with cyber threats through targeted trainings, technical assistance and sharing best practices that address and correct potential vulnerabilities in the Ukrainian electoral system.
On January 10-11 and 15-16, IFES, in cooperation with the CEC and the joint IFES-CEC Training Center, organized another round of cyber hygiene awareness trainings for representatives of State Register of Voters’ (SRV) maintenance organizations in the regions and CSOs. This innovative program – the first of its kind to be offered by IFES in Ukraine and globally – was designed by IFES experts to promote safe and responsible cyber behavior and overall cybersecurity awareness.
IFES’ training was hosted by the Training Center and engaged participants on good practices in cyber hygiene, including how to prevent phishing, basic Internet security and fundamental cybersecurity principles. In advance of the presidential election, pieces of training will be offered to a wide range of electoral stakeholders, including civil society organizations, the SRV and district election commission staff.
IFES’ electoral cybersecurity training is supported by the United States Agency for International Development and UK aid.