Preparing for Ukraine’s Historic Parliamentary Poll
On October 26, Ukrainians went to the polls in early parliamentary elections; their second nationwide vote following the flight of former President Viktor Yanukovych in February 2014. Of the 450 seats in the legislature, one half were contested through a party list system based on the share of the vote received, and the other half through majoritarian districts. Elections did not take place in districts in Crimea and the easternmost part of the country that is currently controlled by separatist forces. As a result, 27 seats in the new Parliament will remain vacant until a time when elections can be held or the electoral system changes.
Overall, 51.7 percent of eligible voters took part on Election Day. By November 10, the Central Election Commission (CEC) established election results for the party lists and in all but two single mandate districts. Results for these two districts will be announced at the end of November following recounts. The election results suggest that the Petro Poroshenko Bloc will have the largest faction in the parliament with 132 seats, People’s Front will receive 83, followed by Samopomich with 33, Opposition Bloc with 29, Oleh Liashko’s Radical Party with 22, and Batkivshchyna with 19.
Both domestic and international observers deemed these elections to be largely successful. Nevertheless, it was no easy feat to organize and administer the vote in the short timeframe for early elections mandated by the election law. Following the dissolution of Parliament at the end of August, the CEC had less than two months to prepare under the backdrop of the armed conflict taking place in the east.
With assistance from the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES), the CEC immediately planned, organized and carried out an ambitious training program for election commissioners throughout the country, including the east. Together with the CEC, IFES recruited and trained 144 additional election and training experts from all regions of the country to form the core of the training effort – one that would reach some half a million election commissioners.
At the end of September, these 144 individuals traveled to Kyiv for an intensive five-day training led by IFES and the CEC Training Unit – the first of four levels of cascade training. During the month of October, these individuals worked in pairs to train the country’s nearly 3,000 district level officials. Working alongside these district officials, IFES and the CEC then commenced trainings for representatives of the more than 33,000 polling station commissions.
Organizing and training officials to carry out elections is a challenging task. Even more challenging for the CEC and IFES were elections taking place in or near areas of conflict in the eastern regions of Donetsk and Lugansk. In some areas, fear, intimidation and continued deadly fighting made it nearly impossible for some District Election Commissions to start their work on time, or organize trainings on their own. In many of these cases, IFES training staff had to reach out directly to commissioners in order to ensure they were prepared for Election Day. When trainings could take place, such individuals traveled an additional two to three hours, through armed checkpoints, or around separatist-held territory, in order to reach the training venue. In communities such as Volnovakha and Dzerzhinsk, trainings took place just a few kilometers from ongoing skirmishes between Ukrainian forces and separatists.
In the year following the start of the Euromaidan protests, Ukraine has seen tremendous change and promise of reform. In this short window of time, the country has elected a new President and a new Parliament, all the while seeing the annexation of Crimea, and uprisings in Donetsk and Luhansk. This has complicated the social and political situation in the country at large. However, thanks to the tireless work of countless Ukrainian election professionals under dire conditions, many citizens have had the opportunity to have their voices heard at the ballot box.