IFES Ukraine Election Bulletin #92 (August 26 – September 6, 2019)
The Verkhovna Rada Begins Work. On August 29, the Ninth Convocation of the Verkhovna Rada conducted its inaugural session. Following July’s elections, 422 lawmakers were sworn in.
Newly-elected Member of Parliament Serhii Rudyk – not formally affiliated with a political party – did not take an oath. The Supreme Court ordered the Central Election Commission (CEC) to cancel its decision registering Rudyk as an MP and conduct a vote recount. In addition to the recount, the court will consider all election appeals and then make a final electoral decision. Thus, the Parliament currently is one MP short of the 424 elected on July 21.
On the eve of the Rada’s inauguration, parliamentary committees and their chairs were appointed. The number of Rada committees has been reduced to 23 from 27 in the previous convocation. Servant of the People party members chair 19 committees. Women MPs chair four committees.
Electoral issues will be addressed by the Committee on Organization of State Power, Local Self-Government, Regional and Urban Development. The Committee is chaired by Andrii Klochko of the Servant of the People. His Deputy Chair is Roman Lozynskyi of Holos.
The New Government. At its first meeting, the Verkhovna Rada approved the new government led by Prime Minister Oleksii Honcharuk. Multiple ministries were merged. The new Cabinet includes 17 ministries, down from 25 ministries under former Prime Minister Volodymyr Hroysman. Six ministers are women as female representation in the Rada increased significantly from July’s elections.
While unveiling the new Government’s plans, Honcharuk said it is too late to announce early local elections. Early elections will complicate Ukraine’s unfinished decentralization reform as some villages and towns have formed into amalgamated communities; but, others have not. According to the Constitution of Ukraine, local elections are due on October 25, 2020. A new round of first and supplementary elections in newly amalgamated territorial communities (ACT) are expected in December 2020 but have not yet been called by the CEC.
The Cabinet includes five newly-elected MPs – all of them elected off the Servant of the People national political party list. After they were appointed, the newly-appointed ministers were replaced by candidates further down the party list. Thus, the formation of government did not trigger by-elections in any single-mandate constituency.
Amendments to the Constitution Introduced. On September 3, the Rada voted in favor of amending the Constitution to lift lawmakers’ immunity from prosecution, a step initiated by President Zelenskyy to end political corruption. In a profound legislative statement, 373 MPs voted for the bill, three abstained and 28 were absent.
The Rada also considered seven other constitutional amendments on first reading and referred them to the Constitutional Court for review.
One of the proposed constitutional amendments, Bill no. 1017, reduces the Rada’s membership from 450 to 300 and designates a proportional electoral system in future parliamentary elections by amending Articles 76 and 77. On September 3, 254 MPs supported the bill. The draft legislation is now being reviewed by the Constitutional Court and if the Court deems the bill’s constitutional, the Rada will vote on it for a second time. Then, a constitutional majority of 300 MPs is necessary for approval.
On September 5, Rada Speaker Dmytro Razumkov stated that the constitutional amendments have been sent to the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission for review of their compliance with international standards and good practice. There are no specific international guidelines for the number of MPs in a parliamentary body although a general rule is the number of MPs should correspond to the workload.
Writing a proportional electoral system into the Constitution is unprecedented in Ukraine and the enabling legislative process would move forward effectively only with demonstrated public support. Introducing an electoral system into a constitution varies from country to country, according to research from Civil Network OPORA.
The constitutional amendment proposed by Bill no. 1017 leaves room for interpretation to the type of proportional electoral system. A particular system is not specified. This ambiguity is not a good sign as, under the guise of a proportional electoral system, there is the possibility of introducing an unconventional system such as the so-called St. Petersburg system currently utilized in some local election events in Ukraine.
The amendment also fails to either lift or lower the five-year residence requirement for parliamentary elections which contradicts international standards and was recently criticized by international election observer missions during the July parliamentary elections.
IFES and OPORA’s Joint Position Paper on Electoral Legal Reform. The 2019 presidential and parliamentary elections represent important milestones for consolidating democracy in Ukraine. Election observers and stakeholders noted improvements, including better preparedness to combat cyberattacks on election infrastructure, a competitive campaign environment respecting fundamental freedoms and fewer instances of voter fraud. Election day was assessed positively in both elections and there were no systematic violations.
However, significant flaws in the electoral framework remain that could potentially hinder the country’s democratic progress. To address these problems, IFES and Civil Network OPORA prepared an analytical paper titled “Legal Reform Priorities for Elections, Referendums and Political Finance” highlighting and summarizing recommendations for improving Ukraine’s elections. The primary audience for this paper is newly-elected lawmakers. It may also be of interest for all national and international electoral stakeholders.
The paper acknowledges the Election Code adopted on July 11 that awaits the President’s signature as a step forward; but notes there is still room for improvement. Among other recommendations, IFES and Civil Network OPORA called for improving the legal framework for the anticipated October 2020 local elections to bring it in line with international standards and best practices.
IFES Comments on Draft Law on Rebooting the NAPC. On August 29, President Zelenskyy submitted Draft Law Number 1029 to the Verkhovna Rada. The bill is titled “On amending certain legislative acts of Ukraine to guarantee effectiveness of the institutional mechanism aimed at rebooting the National Agency for Prevention of Corruption (NAPC)”.
The Draft Law would renew NAPC leadership and strengthen the agency’s effectiveness, accountability and impartiality. IFES welcomes efforts to make the NAPC more efficient as well as international participation in selecting NAPC leadership. However, IFES cautions the envisaged NAPC reboot may be too brief. More time may be needed to identify international experts for membership on the leadership selection committee.
The legislation also proposes significant changes to public funding of political parties. Providing no rationale for these amendments, the changes recommend reducing funding to parties by 50 percent and raising the threshold for political party eligibility for state financial support from two percent of the most recent parliamentary vote to five percent. IFES believes this legislation could weaken the overall competitiveness of Ukraine’s political party system and skew the playing field in favor of established and wealthier parties.
On Friday September 6, the parliamentary anti-corruption committee approved the draft law for adoption in the first and the final reading. Prior to that, they agreed to postpone the date for entering into force the provision that limits public funding only to the parliamentary parties until after the next parliamentary elections. That means that the 11 parties that won two percent of the votes in the July 21 elections will continue to receive public funding until the next parliamentary elections expected in 2023.
Simultaneously, the parliamentary committee recommended to make some amendments to the law on the NAPC reboot. Importantly, once the current NAPC members have been dismissed, the Cabinet of Minister will appoint an interim Chairperson to head the institution until the selection of a new Chairperson is completed. The selection process should not last more than 60 days, according to the latest committee recommendations.
Ukraine’s CEC Launches New Website. On September 3, the CEC launched its new website. The link is https://www.cvk.gov.ua/.
The new site was developed to ensure more effective communication with the CEC’s primary audiences: Citizens, political parties, candidates, election observers and the media. The site will become a primary information resource for CEC activities, Ukrainian elections and electoral legislation.
The new mobile-friendly resource will help to establish two-way communication with the CEC, allowing users to submit applications and complaints. Unlike the previous version of the website, developed in 2004, the new online resource will be available in the English language and in formats for persons with visual disabilities.
During the next month, the site will function in a test mode and users are encouraged to give feedback and suggestions to improve the further development of the site at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The site was developed with IFES support and is a part of a broader assistance program to the CEC funded by the United States Agency for International Development, UK aid, and Global Affairs Canada.
Learn more about the site from the CEC’s official message here.
ENEMO IEOM Presents Final Reports on Presidential and Parliamentary Elections. On September 5, the European Network of Election Monitoring Organizations (ENEMO) election observation mission presented their final reports on Ukraine’s 2019 presidential and parliamentary elections at a Kyiv roundtable. Over the course of the two elections, ENEMO observers conducted more than 4,000 meetings with various interlocutors, attended 400 District Election Commission sessions in all 198 election districts across Ukraine, attended and reported on more than 200 campaign events and observed 144 training sessions for election commission members. Both reports contain recommendations for Ukrainian stakeholders to improve the legal and administrative framework for future elections.
Both reports can be found following this link.