NDI and IFES Election Mission Recommends Measures to Increase Voter Confidence in Ukraine

Points to Polarization and Concerns about Abuse of Authority

KYIV – Noting a high level of political polarization and cynicism in Ukraine’s electoral environment, in a joint statement, the National Democratic Institute (NDI) and International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) the pre-election observation missions said actions are urgently needed to increase transparency and build voter confidence before Oct. 31 local elections.

In the statement issued here today, the delegations said the last several elections in Ukraine, including the presidential election earlier this year, were widely considered to meet international standards for democratic elections. “The Oct. 31 local elections represent an important opportunity to build on and consolidate that accomplishment,” the statement said.

The Oct. 3-7 assessment missions included experienced political and civic leaders and electoral experts from Canada, Georgia and the United States. They assessed electoral preparations and the pre-election environment, including campaign activities, the electoral legal framework, legal mechanisms for addressing electoral complaints, the role of domestic nonpartisan observers, and the accuracy of media reports and their influence on public opinion. Members met with party leaders, senior government officials, election authorities, nongovernmental organizations and representatives of the media.

The statement welcomed the pledge by President Victor Yanykovych to ensure that the elections, the first since he took office, are democratic, noting that the legal framework for local elections contains improvements over previous laws. “However,” the statement said, “additional measures are urgently needed in the implementation of the laws to increase transparency and build voter confidence in this election.”

NDI said it had continuing concerns regarding both the legal framework for the elections and the conduct of the campaign. It cited such specific problem areas as:

• A pattern of harassment of candidates and civic activists by government officials

• The composition of Territorial Election Commissions (TECs), which opposition groups have denounced as unfair;

• Pressures on media;

• Issues with Local party branch representation.

• Impediments to observation by domestic election monitoring groups;

• A shortened timeframe for the campaign period;

In the statement NDI also put forward a number of recommendations for the Oct. 31 polls, as well as for the longer term. For the short term, they included:

• Investigation of allegations of misconduct by public officials surrounding the elections, including any form of harassment or interference with candidates or observers;

• Ensuring a level playing field and an enabling environment for free elections;

• Barring the use of administrative resources to benefit the campaign of any candidate or party; and

• Expeditious consideration of requests from domestic monitoring organizations.

For the longer term, the recommendations included:

• Full investigation of complaints of government pressure on the business interests of media owners;

• Strengthening the independence of the judiciary to advance the rule of law and create greater public confidence in the court system;

• Exploration by the parliament of options for setting up nonpartisan, independent electoral commissions based on a consensus of the major parties;

• Accompanying further revisions to the election law by an open and transparent process of consultation, aiming at the broadest possible consensus; and

• Simplified procedures for accreditation of domestic observers and lengthening of timelines for accreditation.

The NDI delegation was co-led by David Collenette, a member of the Canadian House of Commons for more than 20 years, and Katie Fox of the United States, NDI’s deputy director for Eurasia programs. Other members were Jennifer Collins-Foley (U.S.), executive director of the Center for National Policy, and Eka Siradze-Delaunay (Georgia), executive director of the Society for Fair Elections and Democracy, representing the European Network of Election Monitoring Organizations (ENEMO).

The IFES delegation was headed by Gavin Weise, IFES deputy regional director for Europe and Asia, and Ben Goldsmith, IFES chief of party in Pakistan. IFES is the world´s premiere election-assistance NGO. In line with its core competence on election administration, IFES has focused its efforts in this assessment on issues related to election administration, including the legal framework for elections, election administration bodies, voter registration, the conduct of election operations, including voting and counting, and the adjudication of election disputes.

The new version of the election law (the Law on Elections of the Deputies of Verkhona Rada of Autonomous Republic of Crimea, Local Councils and Village, Town and City Mayors) was only passed at the end of July and contained many significant changes to the electoral legal framework. While there were some positive developments in this new law, there were also many aspects of the new law which seem to entail a deterioration in the legal framework for the conduct of elections.

In some cases changes to the law have weakened the legal framework and its compliance with international electoral standards, in other cases the law has been left vague or devoid of guidance. Where the law lacks clarity, this lack of clarity can be used to manipulate the electoral process and this is a serious cause for concern.

In this regard, IFES recommends the Government of Ukraine and the Central Election Commission ensure that certain areas be addressed in order to support the conduct of legitimate local elections on 31 October and in the future. These include (but are not limited to):

Legal Framework

• The Government of Ukraine should commit to complying with the Venice Commission Code of Good Practice in Electoral Matters and not pass important pieces of electoral legislation less than 1 year before the conduct of elections under that legislation.

• In line with established political practice in Ukraine, political blocs should be allowed to stand for election in local government elections.

• The right of candidates to seek election on an independent basis, absent of political affiliation, should be restored for Mayoral candidates at all levels and established for candidates in majoritarian elections to local councils using a mixed electoral system.

Formation of Lower Level Election Commissions

• Legal provisions concerning the submission by political blocs of nominees for Territorial Election Commissions need to be re-examined to ensure a fairer distribution of members between bloc members.

• Individual lotteries for each Territorial Election Commission should be held to select the non-parliamentary party representatives on these Commissions in future.

• The executive positions on Election Commissions should be allocated in a fairer manner, such that political parties and blocs receive a roughly proportional allocation of these positions on Territorial Election Commissions and lower level commissions.

• The process to be followed by Territorial Election Commissions in selecting Precinct Election Commission members and executive positions be clarified by the Central Election Commission in order to ensure fairness and proportionality in these selection processes.

Conduct of Elections

• The Central Election Commission should develop a Code of Conduct for Electoral Officials which clearly outlines the duties and responsibilities of electoral officials to implement elections according to the law and regulations, and in an independent and neutral manner.

• Remove the possibility for recall of political party representatives on Election Commissions from the law, or properly regulate this power to ensure that such recall is not used to influence the work of a member of an Election Commission.

• The law should require that Election Commissions issue public notification of all meetings at least 24 hours in advance of the meeting.

• The process of delimitation of single member constituencies should be more clearly defined and open in the future, with the possibility of challenge by electoral stakeholders.

• The Local Election Law should be amended to require that a public lottery take place to determine the order of candidates and parties on all ballots used for local government elections

• Tabulated results showing the protocols submitted by each Precinct Election Commission should be made publicly available as soon as the overall result is published.

• The quorum requirement for decisions by the Precinct Election Commissions on election day should be re-instated.

Voter Registration

• The Central Election Commission should inform voters that previous amendments to voting addresses submitted through the ‘temporary change of address’ process will not remain in effect for the local government elections. Voter should also be encouraged to check their voting details to ensure that they are able to vote on election day.

• The Local Election Law should restrict such home voting to that which is absolutely necessary, and require appropriate supporting documentation from voters applying to vote at home.

• Given historical issues related to same day registration in Ukraine, it may be wise to eliminate this practice from elections in Ukraine.

• Article 156 of the Criminal Code should be changed to make it clear that it is an offence to vote multiple times, whether in the same precinct or not.

Training

• Precinct Election Commissions should be established sooner in the electoral timetable in order to allow the possibility of receiving training.

• The Central Election Commission should establish a training unit tasked with developing training materials and training plans to ensure that all electoral officials receive appropriate training before the conduct of any electoral events.

Voter Education

• It is recommended that the Central Election Commission take the lead on developing voter education materials for the local government election, although the time available to do so is very short now.

• Consideration should be given to reestablishing the requirement for candidates and parties to submit electoral programs as part of their nomination papers in future local elections.

Election Dispute Resolution

• The procedures for submission of complaints to the Election Commissions under the Local Election Law should be simplified so that they do not unduly restrict the opportunities of complainants to seek effective redress for electoral complaints.

• The timeframes for the adjudication of disputes should be reconsidered and amended if required to ensure that due legal process can be applied in the resolution of these disputes.

• Revisions to the Code of Administrative Adjudication of Ukraine should be considered to ensure that where appropriate the court has the authority to order a decision that will be immediately executed, if necessary to protect the electoral rights of a citizen.

The NDI and IFES missions were funded through a grant from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

The National Democratic Institute is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization working to support and strengthen democratic institutions worldwide through citizen participation, openness and accountability in government. More information is available at www.ndi.org.

IFES promotes democratic stability by providing technical assistance and applying field-based research to the electoral cycle worldwide to enhance citizen participation and strengthen civil societies, governance and transparency. More information is available at www.ifes.org