IFES Ukraine Election Bulletin #98 (November 18 – December 1, 2019)
Verkhovna Rada Committee Revises Election Code. On November 27, the Verkhovna Rada Committee on State Building, Local Self-Governance, Regional and Urban Development posted a new version of the draft election code on the Rada’s website following recent consultations including with the CEC and civil society. The revised election code addresses most concerns expressed by civil society and other stakeholders since the adoption of the draft election code on July 11. It is expected that the draft code in its current form will be submitted to the Rada for final consideration and approval this week, and that the code will be signed by the President shortly after.
The revised code has a number of positive developments in comparison with the draft code adopted on July 11. It will fully enfranchise internally displaced persons and economic migrants in all elections. The CEC will be entitled to establish regional and sub-regional branches to ensure election expertise in lower level electoral commissions and the existing IFES-CEC Training Center will be institutionalized as an institution under the CEC – both important steps toward professionalizing election management in Ukraine.
The new draft code provides for extensive use of information technology in elections – both in voter registration and in the registration of candidates and observers – and enhances transparency of the work of the election administration. Media, including online media, is now better regulated that in the version of the code vetoed by President Zelenskyi. Thus, the draft code addresses several key issues noted by reports of international observers.
Problems noted in the 2019 election cycle are also addressed. The draft code clarifies how the residence requirements for presidential and parliamentary candidacy registration should be calculated thereby reducing risk of arbitrary decisions. It taks measure to make it more difficult for “clone” candidates to run in elections: if a candidate changes her or his name in the year leading up to elections, this must be mentioned in the registration documents and on information posters.
While there are significant improvements compared to the original draft, the revised text of the code raises some concerns. For example, training of election commissioners is not mandatory, earlier provisions to ensure more accessible elections for voters with disabilities are now out and provisions governing campaign finance fail to ensure the desired level of transparency. Also the right of domestic observers to field observers from the beginning of the electoral process is not provided.
A troubling new addition is a provision stating that if the State Security Service alleges that a candidate is involved in separatist activity threating national security this may lead to his or her de-registration as candidate. As the rejection of candidature will be based on suspicion and not a conviction, this appears at odds with a presumption of innocence enshrined in the Constitution.
The new code will if adopted already become effective from January of 2020, with transitional provisions regulating which parts of the existing election legislation will be abrogated and when. It means that the code may apply to the 2020 local elections, but only when the decentralization reform have been finalized, the structure of local governance is known and the much criticized 2015 Local Election Law has been repealed. It is expected that certain self-governance bodies will cease to exist, for instance at rayon level. The amalgamation of communities will also require a new electoral system for electing councilors at this level.
Thus, it is already the calculation that the new code will need to be amended once the new structure of local self-government and state administrations are in legally in place. These amendments should be introduced well in advance of the next elections to which the code would apply.
The Rada should proceed with the implementation of decentralization reform without hesitation and take all necessary measures to ensure the 2020 local elections will be conducted under the new election code rather than under the flawed 2015 Local Election Law and the unpredictable St. Petersburg system.
On December 2, OPORA issued their opinion on the latest draft of the election code, see the link. OPORA raises concern regarding several problematic draft provisions and calls for reconvening the Verkhovna Rada working group for a final round of consultations with all stakeholders including civil society on these provisions before adopting the draft code into law.
Civil Society Supports New Referendum Law. On November 29, civil society representatives – including IFES, the Center for Political and Legal Reforms and the Institute for Direct Democracy –held a news conference advocating for adoption of a new referendum law in Ukraine. All participants are members of the For Fair Referendum coalition. The members of the coalition called for a new national referendum law that are in line with international standards, best practices and the Constitution of Ukraine. “Referenda should not be used as a tool replacing the legislative process and circumvent parliament in Ukraine”, the participants noted.
IFES recalls that on April 26, 2018, the Constitutional Court ruled the 2012 National Referendum Law unconstitutional. Decisive for the ruling was that the law was adopted in violation of constitutional procedures and without involvement of civil society or election experts. International organizations including the Venice Commission and national civil society and election experts had condemned the 2012 National Referendum Law for not being consistent with international standards and best practice and warned that the flawed law if applied could have posed a serious threat to democracy.
The repeal of the 2012 law resulted in a legal vacuum in terms of regulating referenda in Ukraine. A national referendum is required for changing provisions of the Constitution or adopting fundamental foreign policy decisions such as joining the North Atlantic Treaty Organization or European Union.
Members of the coalition last year prepared a new draft National Referendum Law known as Draft Law 2145a. It was introduced in the Rada in June 2015, but similar to the fate of other election law reform initiatives, it was never considered by the previous Rada. The For Fair Referendum coalition called for parliamentarians to re-introduce a new draft national referendum law based on this comprehensive draft with some technical amendments already prepared by the coalition. The draft is prepared in line with the Constitution, international standards and good practices and harmonizes provisions for commission operations, campaigning, media coverage, voting and tabulation for referendum with those contained in the current draft election code.
Latest Opinion Polls Show a Drop in President Zelenskyi’s Support. According to a Kyiv International Institute of Sociology’s (KIIS) poll, President Zelenskyi’s approval rate is at 52 percent now, a drop of over 20 points from September when 73 percent of Ukrainians approved of his performance in office. The drop in approval corresponds with the Rada adopting on first reading a controversial draft law which would lift the moratorium on the sale of agricultural land.
Simultaneously, the level of approval of Prime Minister Oleksiy Honcharuk has dropped from 17 percent in September to 11 percent by the end of November.
The survey was conducted by KIIS from November 22 to 25, via a computer-assisted telephone interview method based on a random sampling of mobile telephone numbers. The sample is representative of the adult population, 18 years and older, in Ukraine (excluding the temporarily occupied territories). One thousand five hundred interviews were conducted during the survey with a sampling error of 0.95 that does not exceed three percent.
At about the same time, the Rating Sociological Group conducted research showing that if Verkhovna Rada elections were held in the near future, almost 45 percent of Ukrainians who have decided and intend to take part in the elections would vote for the Servant of the People party; 12.7 percent would support the Opposition Platform – For Life party; 9.6 percent would vote for European Solidarity; 8.5 percent for Batkivschyna; and, 4.4 percent for Holos. According to the poll results, 60 percent of respondents said they would definitely participate if parliamentary elections were held in the near future, 16 percent said they would most likely participate, five percent said they would most likely not participate and 16 percent said they would definitely not participate. Three percent are undecided. Results of the poll indicate that four political parties would overcome the five percent threshold to enter the Rada if parliamentary elections were administered in the near future.
The Rating Sociological Group polled 2,500 adults from November 20 to 24 via face-to-face interviews. The statistical margin of sampling error does not exceed two percent.
Academic Conference – “The Role of Money in Ukrainian Politics and Elections”. On November 25 and 26, IFES, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s (OSCE) Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) and the V.N. Karazin Kharkiv National University, organized an academic conference titled “The Role of Money in Ukrainian Politics and Elections”.
The event provided a platform for Ukrainian and international academics to engage in discussion about key issues related to political and campaign finance in Ukraine with particular consideration of the recent 2019 Presidential and Parliamentary elections. The conference brought together academics, international political finance experts, OSCE/ODIHR election monitors, civil society representatives and students.
“The event provided an excellent opportunity to analyze different key roles that money had in the recent Ukrainian elections,” said IFES Senior Political Finance Advisor Magnus Ohman. “Academic reviews ranged from the prevalence of media advertising to misuse of administrative resources and the size of different candidate’s election funds.”
During the conference, selected authors presented papers and received constructive feedback from international political finance experts. Based on the submitted papers, the conference focused on the following elements of political finance reform in Ukraine:
- Campaign finance in national elections;
- Ukrainian political finance in a comparative context;
- Media and political finance;
- Political finance and local politics;
- Gender analysis of Ukrainian political finance; and,
- Lessons learned from the 2019 Presidential and early Verkhovna Rada elections and recommendations for the 2020 local elections.
The conference also featured a public discussion titled “Lessons Learned from the 2019 Elections: Assessing the Role of Money in Ukrainian Politics” which fostered constructive dialogue among a broader audience.
“During the two days, I realized the real complexity of the very important issue for Ukraine – campaign finance,” said Lyudmila Yuzva. “The participation of foreign guests allowed me to experience the academic level of the event as they aptly illustrated the similarities of (the) political finance context in Ukraine and worldwide.”
Drawing on lessons learned from the conference, IFES and OSCE/ODIHR will contribute to developing joint recommendations for legal, procedural and behavioral reform that will be incorporated into a follow-up report.
“The Role of Money in Ukrainian Politics and Elections” is a part of IFES’ efforts to support Ukrainian academics in researching political finance issues and lays the foundation for future similar events following next year’s local elections.
CEC Host Discussions on Legislative Initiative to Grant IDPs Local Community Member Status and Changing Their Voting Place. On November 25, the Central Election Commission hosted a discussion on a draft law proposing to grant internally displaced persons (IDPs) “territorial community member” status which would enable them to vote in all elections in Ukraine and participate in their local democracies on the same level with other members of their communities.
The Ministry of Temporary Occupied Territories and IDPs initiated this legislation. The discussion brought together representatives of the Ministries of Justice, Social Policy, Internal Affairs, Digital Transformation and Regional Development. Civil society also participated, including IFES, OPORA, the Group of Influence and ZMINA Human Rights.
Participants discussed expanding draft law provisions to cover mobile groups of citizens as well as practical aspects of implementing this legislative initiative should it be adopted into law. Participants agreed to provide recommendations to the draft law and to conduct the next discussion in mid-December.
On November 27, the CEC organized and hosted a meeting to discuss draft procedures for temporarily changing a voting place without changing voter address. Representatives of IFES, OPORA, the Group of Influence, the Center for Democracy and Rule of Law, and other civic activists participated in the discussions and provided input and recommendations. The voter residence procedure, if adopted, would simplify the application process for changing the voting place for all Ukrainian citizens, including people without registration, people with disabilities and Ukrainians who live or travel abroad on election day and would provide the opportunity to submit voter registration applications electronically.
National Conference on Electoral Process Accessibility. On November 28-29, IFES partner and subgrantee, the National Assembly of People with Disabilities (NAPD), organized a national conference on electoral accessibility. NAPD also continues its ongoing advocacy to improve accessibility of voting premises in select regions of Ukraine. During this reporting period, the NAPD participated in meetings of accessibility committees from regional state administrations in Lviv and Bakhmut in the Donetsk region to emphasize the need to adapt infrastructure and buildings hosting polling stations for people with disabilities and other groups of citizens with limited mobility.