What about Presidential Electoral Law Reform?

Publication Date: 
24 May 2009

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Introduction

The approaching Presidential elections in Ukraine have inspired politicians from across the spectrum to propose a range of electoral reforms.  New constitutions have been proposed, alternative parliamentary systems have been suggested, a variety of geographical constituencies have been advocated for, and different voting mechanisms are but some of the proposals currently under debate.  What remains curiously absent from the discussion is talk about Presidential election law reform.  Curious because it is the Presidential election that is rapidly approaching and consequently the law that demands the most immediate attention.

As we all remember the previous 2004 Presidential elections in Ukraine were undermined by widespread electoral fraud.  The democratic environment was not respected as the government intimidated the opposition, abused state administrative resources, and encouraged highly biased media coverage.  There were also specific technical problems that facilitated fraud including:  

  • the composition of election commissions, which were easily manipulated
  • the conduct of mobile voting teams, which was clandestine and produced questionable returns
  • the wide abuse of absentee ballots (often by busloads of voters) 


Observation organizations including the OSCE confirmed that the first two rounds of elections did not meet democratic standards.  The Ukrainian public agreed and took to the street to protest the dubious results.

Only in the third round of elections, after election law reforms were put into place, did the Presidential elections deliver an acceptable result.  These legal reforms improved the transparency of election commissions, the appeals process, the creation of the voters lists, and the transfer of results.  The legal amendments also increased observer possibilities and moved to prevent multiple voter registration.  It was only through these electoral law reforms that the public gained enough confidence in the process to accept its legitimacy and accept their new President.

It is vital to note that these legal reforms were temporary and are no longer in effect.  As Ukraine approaches its next Presidential election the current law is identical to the one used in the first two rounds of Presidential elections in 2004.  While there has been substantial attention given to electoral law reform in Ukraine since 2004, no progress has been made regarding Presidential elections.  Lawmakers must improve the Presidential election law to provide the election process the transparency and legitimacy necessary for the public to accept its results.  Amendments that should be made to the Presidential Election Law include:

  • Domestic organizations must be eligible to observe elections
  • The new State Registry of Voters should be the official basis for the voter list
  • The appointment and functioning of election commissions must be fair and transparent
  • Mobile voting, absentee voting, and out of district voting must be more transparent and more impervious to manipulation
  • Media regulations must be in place and enforced to punish unfair practices

 

Guidelines suggest that election laws should not be changed less than one year prior to the election date.  Consequently now is already beyond the prime time for lawmakers to amend the Presidential election law and adopt reforms that could prevent a scenario similar to 2004.  However these amendments are necessary and should not be delayed. Lawmakers should be encouraged to devote their attention to the immediate task at hand and can return their attention to constitutional reform, alternative parliamentary systems, or a unified electoral code after the Presidential election law has been addressed.