Elections in Ukraine: IFES President and CEO Diary

Publication Date: 
21 May 2014

News Type:

As Ukraine prepares for early presidential elections on May 25, IFES President and CEO Bill Sweeney traveled to the country. Through this feature, he shares his experiences leading up to the historic and pivotal poll.

May 28, 2014

Time for Reform

Ukraine is at a crossroads right now. The citizens voted for “change” and elected Petro Poroshenko, a leader without a strong party identification, despite having served in multiple governments. They demanded an end to “corruption” and elected a “good” oligarch who should not have nor want to use public office for further personal enrichment. He now sits on top of a political culture that evolved into a tradition of self-enrichment at the public’s expense. Aside from the very immediate security and economic challenges confronting Ukraine, fundamentally redirecting the political leadership toward public service and away from a system designed to encourage petty larceny and grand theft of public resources must be a top priority.

The appointment of a new Central Election Commission (CEC) could be a positive step in the reform process. The terms of twelve current commissioners expire June 1. While all the observation reports credited the CEC with managing perhaps the best and cleanest election in Ukrainian history, it is time to refresh the CEC.

An increase in the number of women on the CEC would be an encouraging, initial symbol of change. There are currently five women on a commission of fifteen members. The majority of the Ukrainian electorate are women. Tana de Zulueta, the head of mission for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights observation delegation, noted that 71% of the Precinct Election Commission poll workers were women.

Whether the President appoints commissioners who have qualifications other than serving as representatives of their political party faction will be another important indicator. In Georgia, the new chairwoman of the CEC has a civil society history and her predecessor had a business background.

Third, the new commissioners should have some capability to transform the CEC as it becomes more responsible for complex administrative and regulatory challenges of inevitable campaign finance reforms demanded by the Ukrainian voters and donors such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. Incumbent officeholders in every country have resisted fundamental changes to the system that elected them to office. If candidates and parties have to publicly disclose campaign receipts and expenditures, then systems for disclosure, audit and enforcement should be put in place by the CEC.

To build confidence and trust, the next CEC must be prepared to communicate and share information with the Ukrainian people, media, civil society and the political opposition. The current CEC does not have a Facebook presence and did not utilize Twitter or other social media tools to collect real time information on Election Day. Transparency is a hard task for government officials, particularly during times of extreme political stress such as elections. But, that’s the part of job.

Finally, every observation report highlighted access issues for persons with disabilities and elderly voters. There should be a champion for their cause on the CEC. World Health Organization statistics report that as societies become older and medical technology and diet improve, one out of seven will eventually qualify as persons with disabilities in some way. Ukraine has an aging population. The time is now.

Ukraine’s political system could decide to delay the effort to construct a professional CEC. There’s always excuses – a constitutional reform commission, new elections, budgetary constraints, political difficulties.

The patience of the Ukrainian electorate with business as usual will be an important issue moving forward.

Campaign finance reform will be also be in the spotlight. Disclosures of receipts and expenditures were a principle accepted by the five leading presidential candidates in this campaign. All made some voluntary disclosures. A law with a regulatory mandate translates into uniform formats for disclosure on government forms for candidates and political parties according to a regular filing schedule. There have to be consultations to develop the regulations. Furthermore, there has to be training by the regulators for the political campaigns. Political finance information must be accessible to citizens and the media. There should be penalties for failing to disclose completely. The regulatory agency will then need investigatory and audit powers to enforce the mandates.

In the United States in the 1970s, each step in the disclosure process took time. Paper disclosure forms would be filed, but neither budget nor staff resources were provided to the regulatory agency to even open the disclosure statements, much less organize the materials to facilitate public access. The NGO Citizens Research Foundation eventually shamed Congress into action.

In Ukraine in 2014, all stakeholders will expect immediate access to campaign finance information on the internet. For the CEC to make access possible, there has to be a major enhancement of the IT capacity and staff, which leads to the budget debates within the country.

Every country is debating budget priorities. What’s the return to Ukraine in these difficult economic times on investment in addressing the major challenges confronting the political system? Is a more professional CEC with additional budget and staff part of the solution for Ukraine? These questions go beyond the issue of the new commissioners. Is Ukraine willing to put public funds to address systemic failures of the past generation? The last year strongly suggests “the time is now.”

May 27, 2014

IFES’ Continuing Contribution to Ukraine

After thanking each colleague on the IFES Ukraine team, I left for the final set of meetings.

USAID and IFES have been partners in this election. With so many conversations, mutual explorations on issues of concern, and a resolve to serve the Ukrainian election, this session was among the most constructive meetings regarding the future that I have attended in my tenure. There’s a mutual commitment to maintain the trust of the Central Election Commission (CEC) in IFES’ capability to deliver services of value. We had a constructive dialogue about the need for information. It’s clear that USAID and IFES will be working together on the political reform agenda and the next set of elections in Ukraine.

The Canadians had the final reception for their observers. We learned that the IFES training video on the election process was downloaded onto all the tablets of the Canadian observers so they could watch the video en route to their observer assignments, yet another unanticipated use of the video. The Canadians reported that their observers believed the video was more useful than printed materials. They justified our product review in thirty seconds. Canada remains committed to political reform engagement in Ukraine and considers IFES a partner.

Key Questions Moving Forward

On Tuesday morning, the IFES team sat together and debriefed each other on our Election Day experiences. While we were are all proud of the visible impact of the training programs and assorted materials, the focus of the meeting centered on improvement and innovation. After an animated hour of personal stories about the day, we decided that IFES had built some tangible products, which needed review without the pressure of an imminent election. We discussed the focus groups comprised of District Election Commission and Precinct Election Commission (PEC) members to determine the efficacy of the training sessions. Our network of 85 trainers, who according to all reports had a great impact, should be interviewed to secure their impressions of the entire process from training through Election Day. Eighteen people in that network worked in Donest and Luhansk and we decided to reach out to them for additional information about training and voting under extreme conditions.

IFES produced a variety of print and video training materials. The print materials ranged from an eight page pamphlet to a 200 page booklet. There were also posters and charts. Some of this material was reprinted by political parties for their training programs. The training video was viewed by multiple audiences. The team decided that a product review was an essential part of our data collection post-election. What was useful? What wasn’t? If Ukraine decides to have parliamentary elections this fall and IFES is requested to prepare another set of training materials, what has proved most effective?

These are interesting discussions. Is a flash drive with the training video and all the legal materials contained in the 200 page book a better return on investment than a printed book and a CD? What is the value of on-line training in a country where internet access and computer ownership should not be assumed? Did the posters fulfill their purpose (I thought they were complicated, but PECs used them as an invaluable guide to counting)? This type of product review is uncommon in democracy and governance work, but is commonplace for consumer products.

We also talked about the discipline of “lessons learned.” Should we conduct the review with the current Central Election Commission (CEC), even though many are finishing their terms? Should we wait for the appointment and organization of the next CEC? What would be most effective in setting the agenda for the debates ahead? This internal debate isn’t over but the conclusion was clear: IFES is in a leadership role in the political reform process in Ukraine and should not let that opportunity disappear.

Observer Delegations Highlight IFES’ Work

Monday afternoon saw a flurry of press releases from observer delegations,’ detailing their early reports on the election, followed by press conferences. Every pertinent organization (the Canadian Election Observation Mission [CANEOM]; the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe [OSCE], OSCE Parliamentarians and OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights [ODIHR]; the European Parliament; NATO’s Parliamentary Assembly; the Council of Europe; the European Network of Election Observers; the International Republican Institute [IRI]; and the National Democratic Institute [NDI]) proffered a report, a press statement and a panel presentation to the media followed by questions.

These organization’s reports are the result of analysis of the evaluations submitted by each observer. All of these organizations have developed a protocol over the past twenty years to incorporate international standards, best practices and lessons learned regarding what observers need to review at every polling station. While, most organizations still use paper forms, the Carter Center has started to use tablet technology and IFES is now experimenting with tablets. Just organizing all the data for a final report will require another 30 to 45 days, but the demand for something immediate is obvious. To collate and synthesize the impressions from all the data available will be another major undertaking. There’s also some coordination among the organizations to compare notes and themes. Since IFES technically is not an observer organization but an implementer of programs with the election management bodies, IFES did not issue a press statement, but I was involved in some of the message coordination with other organizations. IFES’ best practices mandate that we will conduct a review and share lessons learned with the election management body to improve the process going forward.

Headlines from observer delegations’ press releases provided a concise description of what transpired on Election Day. “Despite violence and threats in east, Ukraine election characterized by high turnout and resolve to guarantee fundamental freedoms, international observers say,” read ODIHR’s headline. Similarly, IRI’s headline said, “Ukrainian Turnout in High Numbers to Elect President, Stand for National Unity in face of aggression.” In short, the election was professionally administered, with high turnout and a decisive vote, but was also mired by the tragic denial of the right to vote for citizens of Donetsk and Luhansk, not to mention Crimea.

For professionals in the election business, these reports are the equivalent of the results of a full physical by your doctor; in other words, they provide plenty of information to analyze. Recommendations from these reports can shape reforms to legislation and programming alike. I try to review them for hints about the effectiveness of IFES’ role in each election and to get a sense of a direction for the future, as there is potential for improvement.

In past Ukrainian elections, the Central Election Commission (CEC), District Election Commission (DEC) and Precinct Elections Commission (PEC) officials were occasionally party activists rather than neutral administrators of the election process. The observers’ reports justifiably and critically highlighted such inappropriate behaviors as serious deficiencies in the public administration of elections. This time it was different. A statement from NDI, for example, concluded, “The CEC as well as most district and precinct commissions performed professionally and, in some cases, with notable courage.” IRI’s above-mentioned release followed the same vein, noting, “IRI observers also reported that the election was well-administered and polling officials should be commended for the role they played in the process. Officials were knowledgeable and approached their job seriously, working long hours, without breaks to ensure the election was free, fair and democratic.” Since IFES had a mandate to organize the training and materials for this election, these reports were an acknowledgement of the success of our work. Speaking to that point, CANEOM’s preliminary report said it had “observed improvements in the provision of training to DEC members through the CEC in partnership with legal experts and civil society organizations,” with details regarding IFES’ training program discussed in the corresponding endnote. Spencer Oliver, the Secretary General of OSCE Parliamentarians, was blunt on Election night: IFES’ impact was everywhere.

Access for persons with disabilities is a priority for IFES. It was simply great to see each group – even some that have never highlighted the issue – offer serious comments about access for persons with disabilities and the elderly in Ukraine. Families and societies often leave such people in the shadows. IFES’ efforts to enable people with disabilities to participate in national life by voting was certainly strengthened by the experience of these observers.

For IFES Chief of Party (CoP) in Ukraine David Ennis, Deputy CoP Gavin Weise and me, it was a long afternoon, as everything had been said, but not everyone had a chance to say chime in. We sat through every conference and every speaker. Like Woody Allen says, “Half of the life is showing up.”

Pre-election Violence Disrupts Training

IFES utilized professional trainers to conduct a pre-election “Training on Trainer” program for USAID. IFES’ network of 85 professionals remained in constant communication with the IFES team in Kiev as well as DEC and PEC leaders following the training. For IFES, this network became a regular source of information on the efficacy of recruitment and the distribution of election materials in the pre-election period. Indeed, our professionals were consulted by DEC and PEC officials concerning procedural questions and issues on Election Day.

We had 18 members of this IFES training network in communication with DEC and PEC leaders in Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts. Through a questionnaire, they are now sharing with us their stories about the days leading up to May 25 and the events on Election Day.

The threats emanating from separatists struck a personal cord with DEC and PEC officials. In election district 44 in Donetsk, pre-election trainings were cancelled because the DEC chair was kidnapped. Trainings scheduled in public buildings in district 51, 52 and 53 were cancelled after the buildings were seized by separatists. DEC officials were forced to change training sites to other secret locations with smaller groups of people and reported that people were working “underground” to prepare for the election. In district 50 (Krasnoarmeyski), training was ended abruptly by armed men.

May 26, 2014

Post-Election Day Meetings

Monday morning and the election results appear uniformly positive. High turnout. Decisive statement by the voters. Victory for Petro Poroshenko and withdrawals/concessions without too much acrimony. CEC website is providing current results. IFES team is tired but seems pleased that the IFES training, materials, program and relationships made a difference in this election.

There is a list of press conferences for observation missions this afternoon. A constant theme is the quality of the election administration. We will see if the leadership of the international observation missions witnessed the same performance.

Press reports all focus either on vote results or the violence in two oblasts on the Russian border. I am delighted there is no criticism of the CEC or the election administration. Election management bodies usually receive media coverage when they taint the process by either incompetence or political malpractice outside their responsibility.

 

 

Chesno.org   

IFES Chief of Party in Ukraine David Ennis scheduled the first meeting to focus on the future. Svitlana Zalishchuk, Executive Director, and Inna Borzylo, Public Relations Manager, of a reform advocacy organization called Chesno visit the IFES office to discuss the reform agenda of the civil society organizations and their plans for the next stage. Exceptionally impressive accomplishments during the campaign period on the question of transparency of campaign finances are only the start of a larger reform agenda.

In Ukrainian, the word “chesno” translates into “garlic” but the word also means “freshness” and “openness.” Garlic protects from vampires and Chesno literally aims to protect Ukraine from the “vampires in politics who are drinking our blood” (national resources and the budget) through illegal practices.   

There is a large complicated seven-part agenda for change. Zalishchuk calls it the “reanimation” campaign – literally raising from the dead the proposals which have been defeated, diluted or ignored by the past generation of Ukrainian politicians. This “revival package” or “platform of reforms” are all ambitious reform proposals in any country because they address fundamental questions of how/who finances politics.

One major topic of discussion is the enthusiasm for political change and how it can be enacted by the “Rada” or Parliament. Time is always the issue. Since there is no second round, the Rada will convene in June and the session will end approximately July 31 before the August break. Will there be fall elections for a new Parliament? Will the Rada pass the legislative agenda of the new President? There are always questions about the next set of elections.

May 25, 2014, Election Day

CEC Election Night

A responsibility of an election commission is to report results to the public and media on Election Day.

IFES has been a constant advocate that election management bodies have to incorporate communications as core to the fulfillment of their mission. The logistics for a media center are often as critical as the message itself. If an election management body can’t make the setting work for the media, then that operational failing becomes the stage for the coverage of election missteps and failures.

The Ukraine Central Election Commission (CEC) was reluctant but finally scheduled a series of press conferences over the course of Election Day. The last one was scheduled for 10:00 p.m. and didn’t start until 11:20 p.m. The CEC graphics were first rate and displayed on big screens. Media interest was clear – there were more than twenty fixed television camera positions.

It was a difficult position for the CEC Vice Chairman. People were still voting (polls had closed at 8:00 p.m. but people waiting in line at that time had the right to vote) and results were changing with each verified report from a District Election Commission (DEC). He had to stay within the law and couldn’t speculate on “results” from media exit polls and other unofficial information. Candidates were accepting defeat and one was declaring victory but commenting on those news developments was “political” and well beyond the authority of the CEC. Reporters had questions about the absence of results from Lugansk and the low turnout in Donetsk.

Elections are a celebration of democracy. Ukrainians voted. The election process seemed to be working and had facilitated the voices of the people. That was the message. However, we only received “official” information about votes cast verified by their CEC procedures. A 61.5 percent voter turnout was announced at 11:15 p.m. The news conference ended close to midnight.

The CEC does not have either a Facebook or a Twitter presence. They made the conscious decision not to have a social media presence. In 2014, following the Maidan revolution in this country, the decision not to utilize social media was probably the strongest indicator of the cultural/communications canyon between the CEC and the voters during this election.

Children

I have never read in any election observation report about the presence of children. When parents bring their children to “help” them vote – usually by placing the ballot in the box, it is a critical message both about Election Day and hope for democracy in the future. When you don’t see children, it is often because there are rumors and fears of potential electoral violence. No parent puts their children in danger. There were plenty of nervous poll workers. There were a few reports of harassment of poll workers, including blast SMS messages, but I noted the presence of children everywhere. As all parents know, children want to “help” and putting the paper in the ballot box is hopefully the start of a tradition called “democracy” and “voting,” with a trusted election process where voices are counted and heard by government going forward.

Good Coffee

On Election Day, some people wore Ukrainian embroidered shirts to vote. It was a proud, nationalistic statement. In one polling center, all the poll workers – men and women – wore such shirts.
 

I have seen similar expressions of national pride in other elections around the world.

 

One coffee shop had printed flyers. Loosely translated, the flyer said “wear a native shirt, vote, free cup of coffee.” After a pleasant conversation, the owner extended his offer to international observers. Good coffee.

One of the offerings with the free coffee was a cupcake decorated with blue and yellow icing, colors of the Ukrainian flag. A culinary statement.

Visit to Polling Stations on Election Day

6:30 a.m. – Early breakfast as the hotel restaurant opened its doors. We had to be at the polling station by 7:15 a.m. or else the Precinct Election Commission (PEC) would not allow us in to watch final preparations before the polls officially opened at 8:00 a.m. U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and U.S. Congressman Michael Burgess (R-TX) were there as part of the Helsinki Commission team. Out of the door to arrive on time.

7:10 a.m. The Chairwoman of this polling station was stressed. She had a major job underway: opening the station properly. She had international observers, including U.S. Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), International Republican Institute (IRI) Mark Green, the IRI team, the IFES team, and three TV cameras, watching her as poll workers put seals on the ballot boxes, took the ballots out of the safe, got into position and made sure everyone signed all the forms to be posted on the wall. She was also concerned that she had so many election workers doing this job for the first time.

One of the corrupting influences in Ukrainian politics is that everyone working at a polling station on Election Day was nominated by their political party. More important, they were all paid by their political party to watch out for their party’s best interests during the conduct of the election. This meant the process of the election was often subordinated by the political interests. Voters would be challenged; the day could become longer; and the counting was always suspicious. In this election, the parties didn’t have the money or the time to recruit and pay election workers. Many people with experience decided not to work if there was no money. New people were recruited and trained but today is their first election. Good news: the workers were there for the right reason. Bad news: it was their first time and they needed the Chairwoman to put them into position and tell them what to do.

The IFES team had prepared a video to train poll workers. Every PEC Officer I encountered over the course of the rest of the day told me about watching the “movie” on a computer with a group of poll workers. They would watch the “movie” and then talk about their experiences. It turned out to be a fantastic teaching device and much more useful than the assorted manuals developed by IFES in partnership with the Central Election Commission (CEC). Print really is dying.

7:59 a.m. Everything stops and members of the PEC sing the national anthem.

8:04 a.m. The first voter places his ballot in the box. To his surprise, he is immediately interviewed by the three TV journalists in the room.

IRI and IFES observers watch the process get started and then depart for assorted routes.

Kiev voters had four different ballots for four elections. The ballots were different colors but not different enough to help with the counting tonight. Director of Electoral Programs at the National Democratic Institute (NDI) Pat Merloe clocked the voting process and reported it took seven minutes in the morning to cast a ballot with no time lost waiting in line. By the afternoon, Kiev voters were reported to be waiting two hours in line. It will be a long night in Kiev for poll workers. They will have to separate the ballots into four stacks before they start to count.

I assured the Chairwoman that everything was working well and she was doing a great job. She knew how long day she had ahead of her. It was only 8:30 a.m. and it was clear that turnout was going to be quite high in this precinct.

The IFES team (comprised of colleagues Renata Lapti and Irina Reformator) travelling with me proceeded to suburban and rural election districts southeast of Kiev. We visited 11 different polling places over the next few hours. I had to be back in Kiev for a 3:00 p.m. meeting. I am still collecting and digesting perspectives but here are a few at 6:15 p.m. on Election Day:

  • The overwhelming majority of PEC Officers were women. It was the seventh precinct before we met a Chairman of a precinct. There were male poll workers, but the majority of the process was being led by women.
  • IFES materials (posters, manuals of different sizes and formats) were in sight at every precinct but the real impact project was the “movie.”
  • More than half of the Precinct Officers participated in one of the IFES trainings. Occasionally we would hear a problem being solved by reading from an IFES manual. IFES’ Lapti had the pleasure of hearing her words being read as the “source” of the answer to an issue in front of her!
  • The obstacles to participation for persons with disabilities were immense. Most buildings with voting stations had no ramps or the ramps were in a ridiculous angle. Many stations were at the end of a long corridor. The interior style of construction favors half steps and levels which makes access even more difficult. The voting booths usually included a desk and chair or a student desk, which meant there was no room for a wheelchair-user. The booths were also constructed either by a metal frame or wood. The booths were fine for guaranteeing the privacy of the voter, but it also meant there was a lip, which someone needed to be pushed over and then pulled out of the booth. I saw many elderly who walked with canes to vote, but I didn’t see any wheelchair-users. There was no evidence of tactile ballot guides.
  • Ukraine’s answer is a system of home voting. People can sign up and request for an Election Day worker to come to their home with a ballot box. The sick, persons with disabilities, and others can then vote from home. PEC Chairs showed us their list of people who had signed up and said they planned to dispatch Election Day workers after 2:00 p.m. This system has also been abused in past elections but it remains a mechanism to enfranchise people.
  • Electricity is wonderful for voting. When it becomes dark, it is hard to vote and harder to count. IFES Program Manager Julia Hedlund found 20,000 lanterns to allow counting to proceed in Nigeria’s last presidential election. A few polling stations included desk lamps in the voting booths. Most polling places had plenty of light from electric lights rather than the sun. Before my IFES time, I never really thought about the importance of electricity and light for voting and counting.
  • I didn’t witness any military vehicles or military personnel deployed at polling stations. Mark Green of IRI reported their teams had seen military vehicles at ten of the 90 stations visited by 3:00 p.m. I am sure there will be other reports.
  • The role of the police was not clear. Under the rules, police were not supposed to be in the polling station where voting was underway unless specifically requested by the PEC Chair. This rule was ignored in the majority of stations. While I didn’t see anyone interfering, there were always one or two policemen in uniform, and occasionally armed, present.
  • More disturbing were two police practices observed in about half the polling stations visited. First, there was clearly an order/request from the Ministry of Interior (MoI) that local police were to report the presence of international observers. One precinct Chairwoman called the police in our presence. Sometimes the police asked the precinct Chair to make a copy – usually another handwritten document – of our identification information and sometime they just “borrowed” the precinct log to make a call. Either way, the election rules state the police should have no access to our personal information as observers. The second police practice was to request turnout information on an hourly basis and call it in to the MoI. Usually in Ukraine, turnout statistics are released every few hours to the public by the CEC. Why the MoI was collecting this information on an hourly basis is a puzzle right now. Again, no evidence of police interference in any polling station visited, but the rules were not being completely followed.
  • IFES is experimenting with tablet technology to collect metrics in real time from the election observation process. Usually observers fill out paper forms and then collate the information in the hours following the election. It is probably more efficient, but some of the impressions and anecdotes don’t get included in the tablet collection.  

May 23, 2014

Darth Vader for Mayor

It is Friday night at a street café, where I am joined by colleagues from the IFES Ukraine team, when the familiar theme from Star Wars fills the air. A motorcade with flashing blue lights goes by as people on the sidewalk cheer and clap. The first vehicle carries the sound and lights. The second vehicle is a motorcycle with a side car. The third vehicle is an open car.

Darth Vader is waving to all of us from the side car of the motorcycle! Stormtroopers in their white helmets and costumes are driving all three vehicles. About a dozen other stormtroopers wave as people clap and cheer.

The Ukrainian Internet Party (UIP) filed papers for Darth Vader to run for President but his candidacy was rejected. The UIP then tried to register Darth Vader as a candidate for Mayor of Kiev. His candidacy was dismissed again. So, Darth Vader is now running as an independent. There are a few billboards around town. I think he has a stronger media presence on YouTube than in Ukrainian television. You can meet Ukraine’s Darth Vader here and here.

I don’t know the platform or anything else about this campaign, except someone is spending time and money to have fun.

The Central Election Commission’s Successes amid Insecurity

The terms for fifteen of the seventeen members of the Central Election Commission (CEC) of Ukraine were scheduled to end June 1, 2014. Prior to February, there were no elections scheduled for this year and no budget.

On the eve of the national presidential election, the enormous efforts of the CEC in this period of intense political insecurity should be recognized and lauded. All the vital materials for the election – ballots, seals, voters’ lists – have been procured and distributed to the district and precinct election commissions. Approximately 600,000 people have been trained as poll workers. In the midst of internal strife, the CEC has communications networks in place to provide accurate information regarding the capabilities of polling stations to open and citizens to vote on Sunday. Their final “process” tests – counting, vote transmission, collecting ballots, certifying results – will be next weeks’ hurdles, but they are prepared to fulfill their responsibilities.

On Sunday and Monday, their challenge will be to communicate the results and maintain the trust of the Ukrainian electorate while in the spotlight of the international media and thousands of international and domestic observer delegations.

When elections are administered well and procedures are not the focus of complaints, no one remembers the level of effort or quality of work put in for the process to succeed. Representatives of the three leading candidates noted today they didn’t expect the administration of the election to be a problem this time. Such professionalism hasn’t always been evident in Ukraine.

After this election, one of the opportunities for the next President of Ukraine will be to consult with the Parliament to appoint a new CEC. The current Commission is poised to set a very high bar of performance as a new standard for their successors, a step that can only help advance democracy in Ukraine.

Canada’s Contribution

The IFES team met with Canadian Ambassador to Ukraine Troy Lulashnyk and embassy staff to compare notes on the election campaign. Canada is making a major commitment to Ukraine’s future. Indeed, there are 366 Canadian observers in the country for this election. What is more, Canada has supported IFES’ work with the CEC, which includes training and materials for the polls as well as a briefing document for international election observers. Ambassador Lulashnyk explained how Canada and Ukraine have an historical friendship, as Ukrainian settlers helped build modern Canada and 1.6 million Canadians are of Ukrainian descent. Canada and IFES plan to partner together for a long time to come in Ukraine.

Security Remains a Concern

David Ennis, IFES Chief of Party for Ukraine, and I joined the National Democratic Institute (NDI)/International Republican (IRI) observer delegations briefings. The sessions provided a perspective on the election from civil society organizations, the U.S. Embassy and spokespeople for the three leading presidential candidates. IRI President Mark Green was generous in his recognition of IFES and our strategic work underway with the CEC.

I haven’t been in one of these joint delegation briefings for observers in a long time. After a week of meetings and work on the process of the election, it is different to plunge into the politics and the events surrounding the election.

There is a major focus on the prospects for voting in Luhansk and Donetsk, the oblasts adjacent to the Russian border where much of the violence has occurred. While delivery of the voting materials is underway, many of the voting stations are located in public buildings now occupied by separatists opposed to any future with Ukraine. The threat of physical violence to the poll workers and the voters is real. There are varying estimates about how many stations will open on Election Day and how long they will stay open without violence. Estimates vary from fifty percent to one-third to even no votes cast at all from these oblasts. Violent confrontations resulting in multiple casualties have occurred in the last forty-eight hours in these areas.

Listening to the intelligence, media and security briefings, it is important to remember how precious the right to vote without fear really is. There are some very brave people trying to vote, people who may literally risk everything in the next few days to vote.

An Evolving Election Law

Every country’s election law is shaped by its national experiences. There are “free, fair, transparent and credible” elections and then there are occasions where electoral malpractice, fraud, political manipulation, vote buying and other events take place. The resulting election code written as part of the country’s political process often becomes a combination of encouraging best practices, while hopefully deterring bad behaviors.

Ukraine has an exceptionally detailed, prescriptive election law, at least on some issues. Unfortunately, a history of unsuccessful elections has shaped the evolution of this code. One objective seems to be avoidance of past wrongs by implementing narrow definitions and strict procedures, which do not permit much flexibility to election administrators.

The legislative ability to and enthusiasm for changing the law to respond to immediate political conditions and challenges has been a noteworthy development in this election period. Since February 28, 2014, the Parliament has changed the election law five times. The most recent changes became effective this week. There’s speculation that more legislative change is possible, particularly if there’s a second round in June.

No one would argue that this election is routine. There have been extraordinary events and there remains an internal and external security threat. However, there needs to be some stability in the election process in order to conduct voter education programs and build confidence with election administrators, political parties, candidates, civil society, media and voters that there is a process with some integrity in place.

Ukraine has a strong civil society movement. There’s exceptional engagement on a spectrum of issues from campaign finance to constitutional reforms. Following this election, there should be a review of the recent changes in the law and its impact, as well as the unintended consequences. All those energies will probably result in a new law, which hopefully will last longer than the next election.

 

May 22, 2014

In many countries, elections are the responsibility of the entire public sector, not just the election authorities. An absence of trust in public servants and employees due to failures to perform and actually serve the people and country puts any election at risk. Citizens decide not to vote because their voices may not be heard and government services do not change or improve.

Ukraine faces many challenges right now. While the Central Election Commission has the authority to address some of these issues, other challenges are the result of decades of public administration malpractice committed by a generation of political leaders.

Domestic security is usually provided by police forces. There are reportedly 330,000 police officers in Ukraine serving under a variety of departments and divisions with the Ministry of Interior. They are responsible for local security of polling stations as well as security for ballots transported to and from polling stations. These functions should engage the time of a majority of the police during the election process.

Problem: There is a considerable doubt that the police, or the “Militsia” as they are referred to here, can fulfill this assignment given the added risks stemming from the continuing insurgency crisis in parts of the country. Plainly stated, there is a “security vacuum.”

I’ve been in more than one country at election time. There are regularly questions and controversies about the capability of the entire government to fulfill its responsibilities. Sometimes, the military is a concern. Customs officials have been difficult about releasing ballots, voting machines and broadcasting equipment on occasion. Immigration officials sometimes challenge the visas of international election observers. Other public sector professionals, from judges to teachers, are challenged during elections. Usually, these system failures are isolated and resolved in time.

Ukraine has some unique issues. Some police have defected – either actively or tacitly, under considerable threat and pressure – to support the “separatists.” However, the legacy of neglect and the absence of modernization, standards, accountability and training – all the elements critical to any profession, particularly law enforcement – remain an equal concern. Low pay and low standards regrettably mean a police uniform is often viewed more as a license to extort than a symbol of public safety.

The security situation in Ukraine is unique, which means the demands on the police to provide public safety at the polling stations and guarantee the security of ballots in transport to and from the precinct stations are intense. The local police are not trained or equipped to deal with an armed insurgency. Appreciating the gravity of the problem, Parliament adopted an unprecedented change in the election law, allowing the security service or SBU (Ukraine’s successor to the KGB) to provide security in the transportation of materials, and requiring added police protection of election offices. Six months ago, such a decision would have been heavily criticized by domestic and international observers alike. But, the new provisions have been widely greeted as positive changes, which demonstrates just how abnormal of a situation Ukraine finds itself in on the eve of these elections.

The SBU, and perhaps even military units (due to ongoing anti-terrorist operations in the East), can be deployed in accordance with national law in certain circumstances. However, their restrictive mandates and, in the case of the SBU, their limited numbers, means they are unlikely to be able to provide a complete answer to the security situation in the East and South of the country.

IFES has been able to build a practice and expertise around electoral security issues. Police involvement is always one fundamental element in resolving such issues. Aside from teachers, no other public service has the reach into every community in a country like the police. Technical assistance programs and projects, ranging from training to better communications command-control systems, with a focus on the Election Day demands can be helpful, but only if there is a modicum of public trust.

Preparing for Sunday, a major question in this election is the ability and means available to the police to do their job. This issue is more pronounced in Ukraine than in any other pre-election period in my experience.

May 21, 2014

I have been in Kiev about 36 hours. Meetings, briefings and sleep are the order of the day.

Following a press conference with Cifra Group, a civil society organization that researches election related topics for IFES, I walked through part of the area now known globally as Maidan. This is the central historic square where the protests started, which then grew into a tent city and eventually developed barricades of tires and cobblestones due to confrontations with the Ukrainian police. It is where the Ukrainian police/armed forces fired into the crowd, which resulted in the collapse of Yanukovych’s government. That is an oversimplification of five – seven months of intense conflict, which is why Ukraine is conducting a presidential election on May 25.

Most of us only know the scene from television, yet the protest locale was actually well beyond the square and overtook many streets – including the main street to the Parliament -- with tents and barricades. The encampment now is smaller but still significant and spreads onto a number of side streets. Traffic, for example, is still not allowed, meaning the rest of the city is frequently stuck in traffic jams.

I first visited this area in 1979, and again in 2010. Both prior visits were similar to visiting the area of statues and national monuments in the center of any national capital; everything was clean and orderly. There were people on their way to work in the assorted shops and government office buildings. There were tourists taking pictures. Like most cities, there was plenty of traffic.

Maidan is now a collection of remnants of a protest still underway. There are walls of used tires everywhere. There are tents – some still occupied with cooking facilities for a very nasty-looking soup. The cobblestones have been removed from many streets and stacked into barricades. There are hundreds of broken stones, which were thrown at police during the confrontations. Burnt car skeletons remain rusting. The Trade Union building is a burnt out shell.

Maidan is also a memorial. Pictures of and memorials to the fallen are ubiquitous, with some organized onto scrolls and banners that resemble photos from the DMV; plenty of framed family pictures; candles in colored glass jars; old and new bouquets of flowers; and finally, religious symbols like crosses with names on banners. A portion of the memorials were professionally prepared, but the overwhelming majority are expressions of individual grief and loss. Collectively, it is simply overwhelming.

Recently, there have been occasions of a protest becoming a movement or a cause, which then resulted in some confrontation with authority. Sometimes the tents got folded up and the protests withered away like in the United States. Other times, the protests occurred and changes were rather fast like in Tunisia and Egypt. Ukraine was and remains clearly different. There seems to be a commitment to remain in place in Maidan until the elections are over and a new government delivers whatever may be defined as “change.”

Over the next few days, the vendors selling hats, t-shirts and buttons around the site will do great business. Every election observer and journalist will buy something. Some of the tents, including one that is an Orthodox church in a tent, will probably accept donations (as opposed to charging admission) for the privilege of looking inside and taking pictures or selfies. There are two guys in costume – a panda and a zebra (I don’t know the significance of either) – posing for pictures.

Maidan should not now be a tourist destination. It is a place where hundreds of people were killed or injured in protest. This anger is still alive and a force in Ukraine. I strongly doubt if the election alone can address, much less resolve, the visible scars in this country.

One remarkable feature: very little glass on the street. Most protest sites lead to broken windows of nearby stores and offices. Sometimes it’s the police and sometimes it’s the protesters destroying “capitalist” shops, like in the Seattle WTO demonstrations, but, there’s always broken glass that never gets cleaned up. The glass just splinters. But, there is no broken glass here. People explained it wasn’t that “type” of protest. There was “order” in Kiev.

I probably won’t get another hour to simply wander and reflect. I’m now off to the next meeting on electoral security.