Supporting democratic progress in Ukraine.

IFES Ukraine

The International Foundation for Electoral Systems

IFES Ukraine Election Bulletin #89 (July 6 – July 26, 2019)

Preliminary Verkhovna Rada Election Results. On July 21, Ukrainians went to the polls to cast their ballots in early Verkhovna Rada elections. The Central Election Commission (CEC) reported voter turnout of 49.84 percent after polls closed, based on preliminary reports received shortly after 8:00 p.m. from all 199 District Election Commissions and from most of the 102 polling stations abroad. Turnout figures are lower than the 2014 early parliamentary elections, when the CEC reported voter turnout of 52.42 percent, and significantly lower than the recent presidential election: 62.88 percent in the March 31 first round and 61.42 percent turnout in the April 21 second round. The lower voter turnout figure on Sunday could be attributed to mid-summer timing. Many Ukrainians are on vacation in July.

By 11:00 a.m. on July 26, the CEC announced it had received preliminary results from all polling stations across the country, with five political parties clearing the five percent threshold necessary to attain seats in the parliamentary component of the Rada, made up of 225 seats. According to the preliminary results, President Zelenskyi’s party, Servant of the People, received 43.16 percent of the vote, Opposition Platform for Life received 13.05 percent, ex-prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko’s Batkivshchyna Party received 8.18 percent, former President Petro Poroshenko’s European Solidarity Party received 8.10 percent and, finally, the new Holos party, led by entertainer and former MP Svyatoslav Vakarchuk, with 5.82 percent.

For more information on possible dates for establishment and promulgation of the final election results, please see IFES Ukraine’s comment.

The preliminary results give Servant of the People a comfortable majority in the Rada with 254 members of parliament (MPs), of which 124 were elected on party lists and 150 in the 199 single-member constituencies (SMCs). This majority means that they have sufficient votes to pass laws on their own (226 MP votes) but are 46 votes short of a constitutional majority (300 MP votes). The Opposition Platform for Life won 43 MPs, Batkivshchyna 26, European Solidarity 25 and Holos 20. Ten MPs, elected in SMCs, were nominated by the Opposition Bloc, Samopomich, Svoboda, Yedynyi Center and Bila Tserkva – Together. Forty-six of the candidates running in SMCs as self-nominated candidates made it to parliament and may continue as independent MPs or join a faction in the new parliament.

According to the preliminary results, 11 parties received more than two percent of votes in the nationwide constituency, sufficient to qualify for public funding from the state budget of Ukraine for the statutory activities of political parties. In addition to the five abovementioned parties that cleared the five percent threshold, the qualifying parties are: Oleh Lyashko’s Radical Party (4.01 percent); the Syla i Chest (Strength and Honor) Party, affiliated with former intelligence operative Ihor Smeshko (3.82 percent); the Opposition Bloc (3.03 percent); the Ukrainian Strategy Party, led by Prime Minister Volodymyr Hroysman (2.41 percent); Sharii’s Party (2.23 percent); and Svoboda (2.15 percent). The list of qualified parties will be published once the CEC has announced the final results.

For more information on public funding after 2019 early parliamentary elections please look at IFES Ukraine comment.

Overview of Election Observation Mission Statements for the July 21 Early Parliamentary Elections. Three international organizations sent election observation missions (EOMs) to the July 21 Rada elections and deployed long-term and short-term observers throughout Ukraine. Another five international observer delegations deployed for election day observation. International observation missions presented five statements of preliminary findings.

The English and Ukrainian language (if available) versions of the statements can be accessed here.

The international observation environment was hampered by the Parliament’s late withdrawal of the invitation to Council of Europe observers and the continued legal ban on observers who are citizens of the Russian Federation, even if they are part of multilateral observation efforts of international organizations.

All international election observation missions (EOMs) and delegations found that the July 21 early parliamentary elections were generally held in line with international standards for democratic elections and in respect of fundamental freedoms. They commended the CEC for well-administered elections despite time constraints.

Election day was assessed as overwhelmingly positive by all international EOMs. The ODIHR EOM and its parliamentary partners assessed voting as good or very good in 99 percent of the 2,634 polling stations observed during voting, indicating that procedures were followed overall. Irregularities included failure to fold the ballot paper and inconsistent checking of IDs during voting, with some voters being allowed to vote without presenting proper ID. Counting was assessed in positive terms in 242 of the 273 polling stations observed by ODIHR and its parliamentary partners during the vote count. Some PECs did not announce all figures as they were established during the vote count or did not follow the sequence of steps envisaged for the completion of the results protocol.

The campaign was assessed less positively and EOMs noted that some contestants resorted to vote-buying, misuses of incumbent positions and exploited legislative loopholes in the legal framework to their advantage. Media and campaign finance oversight were ineffective, allowing for the misuse of political and campaign finance. Media coverage was dictated by business and political interests.

In some places, the tabulation of results protocol data at the DEC was not well organized or marred by tension. At times, international observers assessed the premises as not adequate and lessening the transparency of the DEC processes. All EOMs and several observer delegations noted that a significant number of polling premises were not accessible for voters with disabilities. Nearly 700,000 voters could vote at their place of stay. They raised as a concern that persons with disabilities are often automatically put on the permanent register for homebound voting, which is not in line with Ukraine’s international obligations in this field: it does not respect such individuals’ right to take part in elections in polling stations on equal terms with other citizens if they should so wish.

The two main domestic observer groups – OPORA and CVU – reported isolated cases of irregularities throughout election day, but both concluded that they were not systematic and did not appear to have an impact on the outcome of the vote. Pre-signed but otherwise empty vote-counting protocols were spotted in a few instances. Notably, photo-taking of marked ballot papers was recorded in significantly fewer instances than during the presidential election. The scale of detected violations, according to OPORA, was low and the same or lower than what was reported in the 2014 early parliamentary elections. OPORA’s parallel vote tabulation of the party-list election component confirmed the official preliminary results.

National Observers Report Relative Success of “Doppelganger” Tactics in SMCs. Following the announcement of preliminary results, both primary domestic observer groups – OPORA and the Committee of Voters of Ukraine (CVU) – reported that so-called “doppelganger” candidates played a significant role in the outcome of races in numerous SMC constituencies. According to OPORA’s research, the Servant of the People Party lost six SMC elections due to unaffiliated candidates stating in their biographies that they represent either charity organizations or NGOs with names similar to the Servant of the People political party.

For example, in SMC Number 37 in the Dnipro region, Servant of the People representative Igor Fartushny trailed the winner, self-nominated candidate Dmytro Shpenov, by 1,208 votes. Five other self-nominated candidates in their official biographies indicated their membership in organizations containing the words “servant of the people” in the title, receiving a total of 11,365 votes. In the same SMC, another Igor Fartushny, not affiliated with Servant of the People, received 1,112 votes.

Overall, CVU concluded that over 90,000 voters supported a candidate with the same surnames or the same patronymic names and surnames as another candidate in the SMC. On average, the “doppelganger candidates” received up to five percent support of votes in some districts. In SMC Number 78 in the Zaporizhzhya region, for example, there were two “doppelgangers” attracting significant support. In this district, Oleksandr Serhiiovych Ponomariov, running as a member of Opposition Platform For Life, won with 36.84 percent of the vote. His “doppelganger candidate” Oleksandr Ivanovych Ponomariov (different patronymic name) received 4.79 percent of the vote. The runner-up in this district was a candidate from Servant of the People, Vitaliy Viktorovych Bogovin, with 32.43 percent support. His “doppelganger candidate,” Vasyl Ivanovych Bogovin (a self-nominated candidate), received 5.17 percent of the vote cast.

The recurrent phenomenon of namesake candidates in Ukrainian elections demonstrates the need for legislative measures to curb these tactics that intentionally deceive voters and may skew election results. Observer organizations call on law enforcement agencies to continue the investigation into these cases and determine in whose interests these “doppelganger candidates” ran.

Women Representation in New Rada. One of the headline outcomes of the 2019 early Verkhovna Rada elections is the significant increase in the number of women MPs elected to new Rada. In the 2014 early parliamentary elections, the number of women MPs elected was 53 women or 12.6 percent. By June 2019, this number had dropped to 49 or 11.6 percent of the Rada’s 424 member-body. Ukraine is currently ranked 155th among 193 countries in terms of women representation in parliament – the lowest in Europe.

The early parliamentary elections will increase the representation of women in the Rada to 20.28 percent. The preliminary election results indicate that 86 women have been elected, 59 on party lists (26.22 percent) and 27 in SMCs (13.56 percent). This would bring Ukraine’s ranking from the 155th to the 102nd position on the IPU global ranking, surpassing European countries such as Greece, Georgia, and Hungary in terms of women representation in the national legislature.

The high number of SMC-elected women this time is a positive step forward. In 2014, only two MPs elected out of SMCs were women. The 2019 early parliamentary elections are also the first in Ukraine’s post-soviet history when the leading parties put women in prominent positions on their party lists, even though the legal framework does not provide for an effective gender quota or have sanctions for failure to comply. However, women’s success in SMCs in these elections should not be overstated. Most won their seats because they were aligned with the Servant of the People in SMCs (they constitute 21 out of 27 women elected in SMCs), as the electorate supporting that party generally decided to vote for the party with both their ballots.

The preliminary election results suggest that two of the five parties that passed the five percent electoral threshold, the “European Solidarity” party and “Holos,” are eligible for 10 percent of the total amount of annual funding of political parties due to the fact that they ensured no less than 30 percent women’s representation among their elected MPs: the percentage of women MPs elected from Holos could be as large as 45 percent, and 36 percent from European Solidarity. The total annual amount of public funding for all eligible political parties (parties that received no less than two percent of the votes in the nationwide election constituency) is UAH 565 million or USD 22 million. Ten percent of this will be equally divided between Holos and European Solidarity: each of these two will receive UAH 28.25 million or USD 1.1 million annually. Additional funding for compliance with the “gender” requirement foreseen in 2015 Political Finance Reform Law could strengthen the sustainability of the level of women elected from these parties and would likely encourage other parties to nominate more women in 2023 parliamentary elections.

A higher level of women representation in the Rada, while still lower than many European states and below the international standard of 30 percent and the European target of 40 percent, should be welcomed and celebrated. It is also right to be hopeful that this momentum will lead to an even larger number of women in the Rada elected in 2023. However, the recent success in terms of better women’s representation should not overshadow the urgent need for effective legal and practical steps aimed to ensure a higher level of women’s representation in political life.

For more information on women representation in the new Rada, please see IFES Ukraine’s comment.

One Percent of Ukrainian IDP Population Participated in Rada Elections. According to an analysis of official data from the State Voter Register undertaken by IFES’ partner Group of Influence, only 47,016 citizens whose voting address is in the temporarily occupied territories of Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts and Crimea and Sevastopol changed their place of voting in order to participate in the 2019 Verkhovna Rada elections. This number largely corresponds to the number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) who registered to participate in the elections.

Overall, some 280,922 voters temporarily changed their place of voting. Some 24 percent of these changed their address within the SMC and were thus entitled to receive both parliamentary ballots. The remaining 76 percent who temporarily changed their voting place – including IDPs – were only entitled to receive the proportional ballot.

In percentage terms, the most active were IDPs residing in the Lviv, Ivano Frankivsk, Transcarpathia, Cherkasy and Kyiv Oblasts. In general, IDPs’ electoral activity decreased in comparison with the presidential elections in March and April.

According to the Ministry of Social Policy, as of April 1, 2019, 1,177,469 IDPs over 18 years old were registered to vote in Ukraine. Almost 99 percent of IDPs and residents of occupied territories did not apply for a temporary change of place of voting without changing their electoral address and were not included on voter lists at polling stations. Including the timing of the election in the summer, the other potential reason for low registration is the fact that the procedure is temporary and has to be repeated for each electoral event. Many IDPs had already registered to vote in the presidential elections early this year – some even twice – and the prospect of again having to use time and resources to face long queues may have discouraged some IDPs from undergoing the procedure again. Besides, a lack of information about the procedure may have played a role, as indicated in some observer mission statements, as well as restrictions on where an application can be filed.

IDPs and residents of occupied territories who opted to undergo the procedure for changing the place of voting could only file an application with the State Register of Voters at their location on election day. For example, if an IDP living in Kyiv planned to vote on July 21 in Odesa, then that voter would have had until July 15 to travel to Odesa to apply. Filing an online registration application statement, which human rights activists have advocated for in their appeals to the CEC, was also a possibility.

Early Local Elections? On the eve of the early parliamentary elections, the President and leading members of the Servant of the People party made statements to the press about intentions to call elections for local self-government bodies ahead of time. Early local elections can only be achieved through amendments to existing legal and constitutional provisions.

Under the Ukrainian Constitution, the next local elections are due in October 2020. The Law on Local Self-Governance does not give discretion to the Rada or the President to terminate local council and mayoral powers simultaneously or to call early local elections. The constitutional requirement to conduct local elections in October of 2020 can only be lifted through a constitutional amendment.

On July 22, however, the Servant of the People party leader Razumkov reaffirmed that nationwide elections of local councils and mayors will be conducted in 2020. On that occasion, Razumkov also reiterated the ruling party’s commitment to continue the ongoing decentralization process and complete the necessary legislative and administrative steps to clarify the relationship between local self-government bodies and the executive at the local level before holding the next local elections in 2020.

Decentralization reform envisages amalgamation of villages and settlement. There are still some 6,700 such local units that await amalgamation throughout Ukraine. The next round of first elections in newly amalgamated communities is expected in November 2019. It is still unclear if the ruling party’s road map for decentralization will entail constitutional reform and thereby pave the way for a possible new date for holding local elections countrywide in 2020. The legal framework for local elections will also need to be amended to reflect the new local governance structure and introduce provisions for elections to the new bodies that it creates.

In the opinion of IFES, the so-called “St. Petersburg” electoral system for local elections in the existing local election law procedure renders highly unpredictable results and should be replaced. There is also a need for improving the existing legal procedures governing campaign finance, election campaigning, vote counting and vote tabulation for local elections. Such amendments need to be introduced well in advance of the 2020 local elections following an open and inclusive drafting process involving all key electoral stakeholders. This implies that the incoming government should finalize decentralization reform well in advance of the 2020 local elections.

Finally, local election law reform should also entail other reforms that are currently pending in the Rada, such as effective sanctions for election-related violations, IDP and economic migrant enfranchisement in all elections, and better election access for voters with disabilities.

For more information on potential early local elections, please see IFES Ukraine’s comment.

Draft Election Code Adopted on Second Reading. On July 11, in the late stages of the parliamentary election campaign, the Verkhovna Rada approved the draft election code that originally passed in its first reading in November 2017. However, there were significant flaws in the process of its adoption.

Speaker Andriy Parubiy allowed amendments to be voted on 17 times and in 16 instances they failed to receive the necessary 226 votes. On the 17th attempt, 230 MPs supported the proposed new code with all of its proposed amendments. Under the Rada’s own Rules of Procedure, once a draft law has been put to vote and fails to gain the support of 226 MPs, it cannot be considered in the framework of the same Rada session.

The code envisages the introduction of an open-list proportional election system and allocation of seats to election districts based on voter turnout rather than on the number of registered voters. This is controversial and may not be in line with the principle of the equality of the vote. Electoral systems usually use population data or the number of registered voters in the constituency to ensure that the allocation of representatives to a constituency is in line with the equality of the vote.

Furthermore, amendments introduced before the 17th vote in the Rada mean that the first ten seats on a party list that pass the threshold for seat distribution in the Rada will not be influenced by voter choice but will be decided in advance by the party. This introduces a significant closed party list element into the open list system and basically results in a parallel open and closed party-list system. This seems to run contrary to the commitment made by politicians in the outgoing Rada following the 2014 Revolution of Dignity to support a fully open party-list system to combat political corruption and curb the influence of big money on Ukrainian parliamentary politics.

To be enacted into law, the code must be signed and promulgated by the President. Based on recent statements by leading members of the new ruling party, it appears now unlikely that the President will do so. On July 22, Dmytro Razumkov, leader of the Servant of the People political party, restated party support for an open-list proportional election system despite the success the Servant of the People party enjoyed in the recent parliamentary elections in SMCs. Razumkov also criticized the process of adoption of the draft election code and called the 17 rounds of voting on the amendments a major procedural violation.

Even if the President does sign the election code and it is promulgated, it will only come into legal force on December 1, 2023. This means that it would not apply to the 2020 local elections nor to any early parliamentary elections should the new Rada be dissolved ahead of the term; it would also not apply to the next round of parliamentary elections in October 2023. The existing 2011 parliamentary election law will also apply to any by-elections should any Rada seats become vacant.

MPs of the outgoing parliament have repeatedly failed to make progress in amending and approving the code since it passed in the first reading in November 2017. The adoption of the election code into law at the advanced stage of the recent parliamentary campaign was likely driven by incumbent MPs’ attempts to score political points. It is questionable for an outgoing parliament that will be replaced in September to rush through significant changes in the electoral legal framework less than 10 days before parliamentary election day. The consideration on July 11 did not appear to be a serious attempt at comprehensive and long-awaited election law reform. It lacked transparency and inclusiveness and the procedural violations could serve as grounds for deeming the code unconstitutional if the case was brought before the Constitutional Court.

While certain provisions of the draft election code are positive, it still suffers from serious flaws. The next Rada should – transparently and inclusively – review the adopted text and consider comprehensive amendments to the code to ensure that it is fully in line with international standards and best practices for democratic elections and properly address a number of key prior observer recommendations. One of the first acts of the new Rada could be a request for a joint opinion on the draft election code from the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights.

For more information on consideration and adoption of the draft election code, please see IFES Ukraine’s comment.