IFES Ukraine Election Bulletin #96 (October 19 – November 1, 2019)
On October 22, IFES Ukraine held its first meeting with the newly elected Chairman of the CEC Oleh Didenko, his two Deputy Chairs – Serhii Dubovyk and Vitalii Plukar – and the Secretary of the Commission, Olena Hataulina.
The Chairman emphasized his intention to uphold the principles of openness and transparency in the work of the CEC and closely engage with national stakeholders and international partners to improve the framework for elections in Ukraine. He expressed appreciation for the high level of support and cooperation with IFES.
IFES Ukraine Senior Country Director Peter Erben noted that through the years IFES has consistently and unwaveringly supported the CEC and sees no obstacles to this support in the future. He subsequently briefed about ongoing and planned IFES activities in Ukraine, including the plan for future technical assistance to the CEC. In particular, the CEC’s strategic plan, cybersecurity, modernization of the vote count and result reporting, strategic communications, and strengthening the work of the IFES-CEC Training Center were discussed.
On a separate note, Mr. Erben touched upon the forthcoming conference “Presidential and Parliamentary Elections 2019: Lessons Learned and Recommendations,” which IFES will organize in conjunction with the OSCE Project Coordinator in Ukraine and the Council of Europe Office in Ukraine on November 13-14, 2019. The CEC leadership supported his proposal to co-sponsor the conference.
The parties also discussed how to improve the legal framework for elections and referenda in Ukraine. The CEC informed that they have formulated input for the Draft Election Code, which is currently being discussed in the respective Committee of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine.
On October 25, an internet-resource called Focus published an extended interview with the Chairman of the CEC. In the interview, Mr. Didenko emphasized the need to increase public trust in the CEC as it is closely linked to how the public perceives elections and their elected representatives in Ukraine.
CEC Chairman Didenko commended the old CEC, of which he was a member, for achieving a significant increase in the level of trust in the institution. He cited several successful initiatives of the previous Commission, including its improved communication with media and civil society and its active action against so-called doppelganger candidates during the parliamentary elections.
Commenting on the possibility of nationwide local elections being scheduled ahead of time, Mr. Didenko excluded the possibility unless the Constitution had been amended. He noted, though, that early local elections were still a possibility in some communities, including large cities.
Didenko also stated that local elections in the temporarily occupied territories of Donbas are impossible until all the security conditions are in place, including Ukraine’s control over the state border with the Russian Federation. The CEC can only properly act when the security of the governmental institutions in these territories have been restored. Thus, the CEC Chairman does not think holding local elections simultaneously across Ukraine including non-government controlled areas of Donbas is possible at the moment.
Election Code update – CEC presents its vision for improving the draft Election Code. On October 28, the CEC Deputy Chairman Vitalij Plukar presented the CEC’s proposals for improving the election code at a meeting of the working group on election code set up by the Verkhovna Rada Committee for State Building, Local Self-Government and Regional and Urban Development. The CEC proposes a restructuring of the election code into streamline books for each electoral event to make it user friendly for the election management bodies and for the public. They suggested to take out provisions related to the internal organization and mandate of the CEC and the State Voter Register which in their opinion are better placed in the existing special laws governing these two institutions. They also pointed to the need to replace old terms and legal norms with those that are in the existing election legislation, to remove conflicting norms and streamline a uniform approach for all election events, and to simplify requirements to form and content of certain election documentation that are overly complex.
The CEC proposal also contains substantive suggestions including to revisit the organizational structure of the CEC and allow it to have regional representations. In every election district, a permanent CEC expert could serve as a professional member of the DEC with an advisory vote during elections and between elections engage in administrative and educations activities on behalf of the CEC at local level. The CEC also presents the idea that remuneration of election commissioners could be covered from the election funds of the parties and candidates that nominates them rather than from the state or local budgets.
In line with international observer recommendations, the CEC suggests consolidating election dispute resolution and letting the court system handle all election-related complaints and appeals and thus releasing election commissions at all levels from this task.
In terms of new voting technologies, the CEC asked for an amendment to its mandate that will enable the Commission to undertake studies and conduct experimental tests of innovative technology, including on a pilot basis. The CEC also supports earlier proposals to systematically modernize the legislation and improve the normative base for regulating social media and the campaign on the Internet during elections.
Regarding time-sensitive procurement of election material, work and services, the CEC suggests that the election administration be exempt from the public procurement procedures (Prozorro) but with the mandatory publication of all contracts in the electronic procurement system. The CEC also want reflected that it can receive international funding for technical assistance projects from foreign aid projects and donor programs.
The Rada working group was receptive of many of the proposals and will devote a later session to an in-depth discussion of the CEC suggestions.
The draft law on political finance is registered in the Rada. On October 29, Draft Law 2336, entitled “On amending certain legislative acts of Ukraine on the prevention and counteraction of political corruption” (hereinafter referred to as the Draft Law), was registered in the Verkhovna Rada by MPs from “Holos” and “Batkivshchyna” parliamentary factions. The draft law introduces changes to the current regulation of political finance, including rules on donations to political parties and party financial reporting.
The draft law will simplify the procedure for making donations to a political party by allowing the use of online banking for this purpose. It will also remove certain bans on making donations to parties, including by companies owned by the deputies of local councils and people with tax debt. It also suggests to ease the eligibility requirements for audit companies to administer external financial audit of parties and will allow parties that do not receive public funds to be exempt from external audit. In addition, the draft law introduces provisions for the electronic financial reporting of parties that should take effect once the NAPC develops and launches the electronic system.
Government appoints interim chair for NAPC; starts selection of its permanent chair. On October 16, 2019, President Zelenskyi signed Draft Law No 1029 “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),” previously adopted by the Rada. The document is aimed at renewing the agency’s leadership and strengthening its effectiveness, accountability and impartiality. The law also changes the NAPC’s management structure from collegial leadership to a single leader in charge of the institution.
Following this, on October 20, 2019, Cabinet of Ministers appointed Natalia Novak, former Ukrainian MP (UDAR party, then Bloc Petro Poroshenko) as an acting head of the Agency. She will be acting head of the agency until a new chair is selected.
The law introduces a new procedure for the selection and appointment of the NAPC Chairperson. The selection committee will have six members: three members will be appointed by the Cabinet of Ministers and three selected by the Cabinet based on proposals of international anticorruption organizations. On October 31, 2019, the Cabinet of Ministers appointed the selection committee. The three international members are Tilman Hoppe, Goran Clemencic and Michael Sears, and the three Ukrainians are Vitalii Shabunin, Kateryna Ryzhenko and Olha Kobylynska. The appointment of a new Chair must be completed within 45 days of the dismissal of the previous. All meetings of the committee are public and must be broadcast live.
Rada’s Committee considers draft laws on referenda. On October 30, 2019 Verkhovna Rada Committee for State Building, Local Self-Government and Regional and Urban Development considered two of the three new draft laws on referenda issues registered in the new convocation. The consideration of Draft Law No 1123 sponsored by the group of MPs from the “Opposition Platform – For Life” was postponed at their request.
The Committee considered Draft Law No 1221 “On local referendum,” sponsored by independent MP Dmytro Shpenov, and decided to return it to the author due to several problematic issues. The draft law included the possibility for local referenda, which could e.g. endanger decentralization reform. The Committee also considered Draft Law No 2182 sponsored by a group of MPs from “Batkivshchyna” and decided that it is, in principle, suited to pass to the plenary for a vote but will need significant additional work before the second reading, if adopted. Draft Law No 2182 establishes the possibility to adopt amendments to the Constitution and laws at a national referendum without involvement of the Rada. Such provisions contradict the Constitution and are against international standards and best practices for referenda.