IFES Ukraine Election Bulletin #85 (May 11 – May 24, 2019)
President Zelenskyi Dissolves Verkhovna Rada and Calls Early Parliamentary Election for July 21. On May 21, President Volodymyr Zelenskyi by decree dissolved the Verkhovna Rada and called snap parliamentary elections on July 21. His decree 303/2019 was triggered by the alleged expiry of the one-month deadline for forming a new coalition in the parliament after termination of the previous. Some observers question the constitutionality of the president’s decree as the parliamentary coalition’s termination date remains unclear.
Formed in November 2014, the European Ukraine ruling coalition was dissolved by Speaker Andriy Parubiy on May 17 when the People’s Front announced that it had left the coalition. It is questionable whether both these announcements by the Speaker and the People’s Front comply with law because, under the Ukrainian Constitution, the grounds, timelines and procedures for termination of a parliamentary coalition should be specified in the Rada’s Rules of Procedure. However, in 2010, the Rada excluded all provisions governing establishment and termination of a coalition from its Rules of Procedure.
The Constitution gives the Rada 30 days to form a new coalition after the termination of the previous. If the Speaker and the People’s Front’s announcements complied with the legal framework, Parliament would have one month – that is until June 17 – to establish a new coalition. Before this date, according to the Constitution, the Rada cannot be resolved.
Most domestic political observers consider that the governing coalition ceased to even prior to these recent announcements. In their view, it happened when the political factions Batkivshchyna, Samopomich and Oleh Liashko’s Radical Party left the ruling coalition back in February 2016, so the grounds for dissolving the Rada have been in place for some time already.
On May 23, Members of Parliament from the People’s Front – the former governing coalition partner signed the complaint to the Constitutional Court to contest the presidential decree’s constitutionality. According to the former presidential candidate’s website there has already been an attempt to challenge the decree in the Supreme Court.
As previously noted by IFES, there are issues with both the legality and constitutionality of the presidential decree. Challenges can thus be made both to the Supreme Court and the Constitutional Court, but neither of the challenges will results in suspending the elections while the courts consider the cases. Such court challenges are usually time consuming with time frames for consideration up to half a year. Even if the Constitutional Court after the elections have been conducted rules that the dissolution of the Rada was unconstitutional, such decision will not have retroactive force. Thus, there is little prospect that those who challenge the presidential decree on legal or constitutional ground will achieve their objective – nullifying the decision to hold early parliamentary elections on July 21.
Failed Attempt to Change the Electoral System For Parliamentary Elections. President Zelenskyi gave the Rada a short window of opportunity to changes the electoral system to a full proportional representation system as a follow-up to the political agreement reached on May 21 with party faction leaders. However, at its session on Wednesday, the Rada did not vote for the proposed draft law 10319 submitted to the Rada earlier the same day. The draft law would install a fully proportional election system based on party lists of candidates in a nationwide constituency with a three percent threshold.
Only 92 Members of Parliament voted to consider the bill. One hundred and fifty votes are required to place a bill on the Rada’s agenda. MPs also failed to consider a draft law that would facilitate a speedier procurement process for the CEC. The window for any change of the electoral system is now definitively closed for the July 21 parliamentary elections. Many MPs are elected in single-member constituencies and do not support abolition of the majoritarian component of parliamentary elections. President Zelenskyi expressed disappointment with the Rada, stating that “old politicians have chosen the old system”.
During the Rada’s debate, several MPs took the floor to speak in favor of open party lists over closed lists. Introduction of open lists is a long-standing demand proposed during the Euromaidan Revolution of Dignity in 2014. They are viewed as a measure to curtail political corruption and the influence of oligarchs in the Rada. International organizations an domestic organizations such as Civic Network OPORA have criticized the majoritarian component of the parallel system because it fosters administrative resource abuse, vote-buying and general political corruption. The majoritarian system is also not conducive to enhancing women’s representation in the Rada. Women make up just 11.6 percent of the Rada’s current membership.
Presidential Decree Published. On May 23, President Zelenskyi’s decree dissolving the parliament and calling for early elections on July 21 was officially published. The attempt to abolish single-member-districts from the law and compete all 450 seats under a closed proportional representation system failed on 22 May, the when the Rada did not even vote on the proposed amendments to the law. The July 21 early elections will thus be conducted according the existing Parliamentary Election Law on the Election of Deputies to the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine adopted in 2011 under former President Viktor Yanukovych.
Rada candidates will compete for 225 seats on closed party lists with a five percent threshold for a political party to enter parliament and in the 199 single-member districts under the first-past-the-post election system with no runoff.
The publication of President Zelenksyi’s decree activated the election process, which commenced the following day on May 24. The Central Election Commission (CEC) has stated it is not in a position to comment on the constitutionality of the early elections because it’s right to seek clarifications from the Constitutional Court was revoked some years ago. The CEC has thus begun the preparations and on May 24 adopted the calendar plan for the July 21 early parliamentary elections. Key deadlines are approaching such as the one for political parties to nominate District Election Commissioners by May 28.
On May 24, speaking at a news conference devoted to the beginning of the election period, CEC Chair Tetyana Slipachuk reiterated that procurement issues remain an obstacle for the CEC to meet tight legal deadlines for early parliamentary elections. The CEC has previously urged the Rada to prioritize amending procurement rules for election purposes. The CEC also pointed to provisions of the 2011 parliamentary election law that are outdated, contradictory to other legal provisions, or leave parts of the electoral process insufficiently regulated. These are all issues that may jeopardize a timely and orderly election process. IFES is ready to offer its assistance to the CEC on the procurement issue.
Latest Opinion Polls. According to an opinion poll published by the Rating Sociological Group on May 22, 43.8 per cent of Ukrainians who intend to vote in the early parliamentary elections in July support the Servant of the People party – the party of newly-elected President Volodymyr Zelenskyi. Ten and a half percent of voters support the Opposition Platform For Life; 8.8 percent favor the Petro Poroshenko Bloc; 7.3 percent are for Batkivshchyna; and, 5.1 percent support the party Syla i Chest (Strength and Honor) party affiliated with former intelligence executive Ihor Smeshko. Just below the five percent threshold is singer Sviatoslav Vakarchuk’s party, Holos (The Voice), with 4.6 percent; Oleh Liashko’s Radical Party with 3.3 percent and the Opposition Bloc at 3.2 percent. All other parties rate less than three percent support.
The survey indicates a lead to the Servant of the People party in all regions. The Opposition Platform For Life and the Opposition Bloc are strong in the southeast. The remaining political parties that the survey gives a chance to win seats in the Rada are all positioned well in the central and western parts of the country. The survey was conducted from May 16-21 through face-to-face interviews with some 2,000 respondents aged 18 years or older. The margin of error does not exceed 2.2 percent.
Gender Equality, Social Inclusion and Intersectionality Training. On May 23, IFES and the National Assembly of Persons with Disabilities (NAPD) conducted training on gender equality, social inclusion and intersectionality in political and electoral processes. The event gathered representatives of the President’s Commissioner for the Rights of People with Disabilities, disabled persons organizations, women’s groups and other stakeholders to discuss gender equality, social inclusion and intersectionality in politics and elections, including gaps in the Ukrainian legal framework and reform advocacy.
BRIDGE Workshop on Political Finance. On May 21-23, IFES in cooperation with the CEC and the joint CEC-IFES Administrative Center for the Training of Election Process Participants – known as the CEC-IFES Training Center – conducted a workshop on political finance using the BRIDGE curriculum. Building Resources in Democracy Governance and Elections or BRIDGE is a customizable professional development program that focuses on the electoral process. The event gathered representatives of the CEC Secretariat, political parties, civil society organizations and academia involved in IFES’ Civic Education initiative. It focused on strengthening their understanding of political finance, including limits on donations and spending, reporting, effective sanctioning and international campaign finance standards and good practices. The event was facilitated by IFES trainers Alyona Sheshenya and Anastasiia Matviyenko; and, Serhii Serzhan, Senior Advisor to the Unit for Operational Support to CEC Members and to the CEC’s Deputy Chair.
Training of Trainers on Electoral Procedures in Advance of the Next Local Elections in Amalgamated Communities. As part of the decentralization process, the CEC scheduled local elections in 95 amalgamated communities on June 30, 2019. Sixty-five communities will hold first local elections and 30 communities – special by-elections. On May 20, IFES and the CEC-IFES Training Center, organized a training of trainers. Trainers will conduct cascade trainings for members of territorial election commissions (TECs) on May 27-31 and for members of precinct election commissions (PECs) on June 18-28 in all regions. The focus will be electoral procedures.
Through a question and answer session with CEC Secretariat representatives, trainers will be equipped with specialized knowledge on procurement rules and procedures and the TECs’ role in overseeing political parties’ and candidates’ finances during local elections. The training also includes a session, facilitated by a State Voter Registry representative, on the need for effective interaction between regional State Voter Register maintenance bodies, local state administrations and election management in securing effective election administration and electoral process integrity.
Cyber Hygiene Awareness Trainings for the Secretariats of the Verkhovna Rada and Ministry of Health and Civil Society. IFES and CEC-IFES Training Center continue to offer cyber hygiene awareness trainings for various stakeholders. The current trainings engaged participants on good cyber hygiene practices – including how to prevent phishing – internet security basics and cybersecurity principles. IFES conducted four trainings for the Verkhovna Rada Secretariat (May 14), the Ministry of Health Secretariat (May 16 and 17), and civil society organizations, including DPOs and those working on women’s rights and LGBTI issues (May 20). The training curriculum was updated by IFES and included advanced information on cyber hygiene and cybersecurity.