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No widespread violations, but need for professionalization of election commissions

(November 20, 2020)




The OPORA civil network will conduct the observation of the runoff mayoral elections that will take place on 22 November, 2020, in Berdiansk, Zaporizhia Oblast; Dnipro; Drohobych, Lviv Oblast; Lviv; Mykolaiv; Nikopol, Dnipropetrovsk Oblast; Poltava; Rivne; Slovyansk, Donetsk Oblast; Uzhhorod; and Cherkasy. 

Between these eleven Ukrainian cities, four mayoral candidates represent the Za Maibutnie (For the Future) party organizations (i.e. in Berdiansk, Nikopol, Poltava, and Cherkasy), three represent the Opposition Platform – For Life (i.e. in Berdiansk, Mykolaiv, and Slovyansk), three represent the Servant of the People (i.e. in Nikopol, Poltava, and Uzhhorod), two represent the European Solidarity (i.e. in Rivne and Lviv), and another two represent the Proposition (i.e. in Dnipro and Mykolaiv). The party organizations that are represented by one runoff candidate each are Hromadska Syla (Power of the Community) in Dnipro, Rivne Razom (Rivne Together) in Rivne, Samopomich in Lviv, the Opposition Bloc in Slovyansk, and Holos (Voice) in Cherkasy. In Drohobych, both runoff mayoral candidates are self-nominees, whereas in Uzhhorod, one of the two candidates is a self-nominee. 

During the short election campaign, there were no large-scale violations of the election law. Only a few incidents allegedly involving vote buying were reported, which may be considered a positive feature of the runoff elections in the eleven Ukrainian cities. Some of the candidates have failed to properly separate campaigning from their official duties, which has led to violation of democratic standards of public administration during the election campaign. The incumbent candidates made fairly extensive efforts to capitalize on their official activities and programs to give them an electoral advantage but, as a rule, there were no direct violations of the existing law. Another notable negative trend was quite extensive, sometimes anonymous, campaigns of deliberate misinformation against the rivals. Of particular concern are one-off reports of smear campaigning focusing on discriminatory opinions, religious prejudices, and a negative attitude towards ethnic minorities. There were other isolated violations that do not reflect the overall process of the runoff mayoral election. Between the election day of 25 October and the publication of this report, election observers had filed eighteen reports of electoral violations with the National Police of Ukraine. The largest number of reports on violations during the local elections of 25 October, 2020, was submitted in Zaporizhia Oblast (six) and the city of Kyiv (five). Overall, during the entire local election campaign, observers filed 729 complaints with the law enforcement agencies. 

Despite the decrease in campaigning activity following the vote of 25 October, political advertising in social media remains one of the key means of communication between the candidates and voters. During the three weeks following the vote of 25 October, at least 8,764 advertising posts were made on Facebook costing a total of approx. US$ 227,000 (or just under UAH 6.4 million). 

Of all the runoff candidates, the top 3 Facebook political advertising spenders are Oleh Syniutka (Lviv, European Solidarity) at US$ 7,826, Viktor Shakyrzian (Rivne, Rivne Razom) at US$ 5,456, and Andriy Sadovy (Lviv, Samopomich) at US$ 3,058. The candidates who spent over US$ 2,000 are Pavlo Prydvorov (Slovyansk, Opposition Platform – For Life) at US$ 2,558, Bohdan Andriiv (Uzhhorod, self-nominee) at US$ 2,174, and Anatoliy Bondarenko (Cherkasy, Za Maibutnie) at US$ 2,128.

Of all the runoff candidates who paid for political advertising on Facebook, Viktor Schadei (Uzhhorod, Servant of the People) spent the least at US$ 1,631. Apart from the candidates, eight political parties spent a total of just under US$ 7,600, or over UAH 213 thousand, to support their candidates in the runoff election. The top spenders are the Holos party at US$ 4,542, European Solidarity at US$ 1,508, and the Opposition Platform – For Life in Mykolaiv Oblast at US$ 1,000. 

OPORA has made a separate calculation of how much third-party Facebook pages spent on overt and covert political advertising or negative campaigning. A total of 78 such pages spent almost US$ 34,700, or over UAH 976,000, on political advertising. The top spenders were Petro Poroshenko’s page at US$ 3,123, Uzh-city at US$ 2,471, and Dnepropetrovsk Online News at US$ 1,996. 

OPORA would like to alert law enforcement agencies and urge them to promptly investigate mass media and social media reports of vote buying schemes set up in Cherkasy, Dnipro, Slovyansk, and Uzhhorod. Following the investigation, this criminal activity must be stopped, or if the reports prove groundless, the public should be properly informed about that. 

OPORA reports no systemic factors that would adversely affect proper preparation and holding of the voting on November 22, 2020. However, staff rotations in territorial and precinct election commissions are significant, undermining the stability of their work. TECs and PECs established for the October 25 local election are responsible for preparation of the rerun mayoral election. The election commissions consist of representatives of the election participants who have already stopped their campaigns. Their low motivation to nominate their candidates for the election commissions, as well as the spread of COVID-19, have led to significant staff reshuffles in the precinct election commissions. In some cities and towns, party organizations waived their quotas in PECs and informed the TECs of the same. Replacements of TEC members and especially PEC members in the run-up to the repeat voting not only highlight the issues faced by the election administration system, but also reveal the secret funding of members of the respective commissions. Upon termination of the campaigns, the parties and candidates who do not participate in the rerun election shall terminate financial support of the election commission members nominated by them. Issues in the work of the election commissions prove the need for broad parliamentary and expert discussions of the reforms in Ukraine’s election administration system. Professionalization of the commission members, stronger financial incentives for them, and efforts to ensure the stability of territorial and precinct election commissions are some promising areas for such reforms.

Several election commission members contracted COVID-19 infection in various Ukrainian cities and towns, but this does not pose a threat to the validity of the commission meetings. In particular, when territorial election commissions are set up with the maximum possible members, this allows for a quorum at their meetings, even amid the spread of the disease. Observers report massive failures of TEC members to comply with the anti-pandemic and sanitary rules, a fact that may adversely affect their future work.

The TEC activities to arrange the repeat vote were generally in line with the law and saw no significant violations. However, observers report quite common procedural violations committed by election commission members. This showcases once again the problems with their professional training. Proper public access to the election commission decisions and financial reports of the election funds of party organizations and candidates, as well as efforts to increase the transparency of the election administration process remain important objectives for further improvement of the laws and practices.

OPORA observers report violations of deadlines by some TECs in terms of receipt of ballots from the printhouses, as well as problems with covering the ballot printing costs (Drohobych, Lviv Oblast). The inability of Mykolaiv City TEC to approve the decision on registration of OPORA’s official observers forced the civil network to take a legal action. This situation raises concerns.

In this report, OPORA also sums up the consolidated interim results of the 2020 local elections in terms of nominating entities. The issues some TECs had with the establishment of voting results and subsequent lawsuits delayed the transmission of data on the local election results. As of November 19, the information was not yet available on almost 4,000 elected officials (see Annex to the Report). Please note that the information will be updated upon transmission of all data from the territorial election commissions to the CEC.

According to OPORA’s estimates based on information available on the CEC’s website, the following parties won the biggest number of seats in the regional councils: the Servant of the People (17.6%), European Solidarity (14%), the Opposition Platform — For Life (12.1%), Batkivshchyna [Fatherland] (11.1%), and Za Maibutnie [For the Future] (10.6%). These political forces hold 65.4% of all seats in the regional councils.

In the raion councils, the Opposition Platform — For Life won the largest number of seats (16.7%), followed by the Servant of the People (16.5%), European Solidarity (13.2%), Batkivshchyna (9.5%), and Za Maibutnie (9.1%). These five parties account for 65% of the elected councilors.

In communities with 10,000+ voters (proportional representation system), the following parties won the biggest number of seats: the Servant of the People (15.4%), European Solidarity (12.8%), the Opposition Platform — For Life (12.4%), Batkivshchyna (10.3%), and Za Maibutnie (9.2%). In total, these five parties account for 60.1% of the elected councilors.

In communities with up to 10,000 voters (the single-seat election system), self-nominated leaders are in the lead (39.1%), followed by representatives of the Servant of the People (12.9%), Batkivshchyna (10.7%), Za Maibutnie (10%), and Nash Krai [Our Land] (2,664 or 4.8%). These political forces, in the same order, were the  leaders in terms of the number of nominated council candidates for the communities with up to 10,000 voters.

Among the elected city/town mayors and village heads, self-nominated candidates won the most seats (46.8%), followed by representatives of the Servant of the People (15.9%), Za Maibutnie (6.4%), Batkivshchyna (4.8%), and the Opposition Platform — For Life (3.7%).

OPORA has separately reviewed the results of the local elections in terms of gender representation in the local authorities. Among all of the elected officials (councilors and chairpersons), 64.1% are men, and 35.9% are women. At the same time, 55.5% of the candidates were men and 44.2%, women 

Preliminary data show that women make almost 28.2% of the elected representatives in the oblast councils; 33.7% in the rayon councils; 32.8% in the community-level councils with 10,000+ voters; and 41.6% in the communities with up to 10,000 voters. The percentage of women’s representation is the lowest (16.8%) among the elected city, town and village mayors; there were, however, significantly fewer women than men among the candidates for these positions. Among the political parties that received the largest number of seats across the nation, the highest percentage of women who have been elected appear on the party tickets of Our Land (40.3%) and Servant of the People (39.1%), and the lowest, on that of VO Svoboda party (26%).

Our organization has conducted a preliminary analysis of the effects that the proportional representation with open lists has had in the 2020 local elections. Amongst more than 21,000 candidates elected under the proportional electoral system (oblast, rayon and community councils with 10,000+ voters), the vast majority (59.9%) have won in the single multi-member constituencies (party tickets) and only 40.1%, in the territorial constituencies. Among all the elected representatives, 52.6% of the candidates have received the electoral quota percentage required for promotion (over 25%). Seven per cent of the nominees have received less than 5% of the electoral quota, and 40.4% of the nominees, a quota from 5% to 24.99%.

Concerning the practice of bringing administrative proceedings in election violation cases, 911 relevant rulings have appeared in the Unified State Court Register since the beginning of the election process. In 31% of the instances (290 cases), the case materials were sent back for revision because of improper documentation. In 460 cases (50% of all instances) the guilty parties were found. In other situations, the proceedings were closed on various grounds, for absence of the facts and relevant elements of administrative violations, or in view of the trifling nature of the violations. Most cases (475) were traditionally considered under Art. 212-13 of the Code of Administrative Offenses (production or distribution of printed campaign materials missing mandatory reference information), another 271 cases were heard under CoAO Art. 212-14 (violation of the procedure of placement of campaign materials), and 199 cases, under CoAO Art. 212-10 (violation of campaigning restrictions). OPORA notes that the absence of any proceedings under CoAO Article 212-16 (ordering or producing an excessive quantity of ballots) may indicate that the description of this offence should be revised, as many of OPORA’s observers document a large number of violations, e.g., mismatched constituency numbers, absence of certain candidates in the ballot papers, and violation of deadlines, but any administrative liability arises only when the ballots are printed in excess of a required quantity, which in itself may constitute a stage of the election documents falsification as a criminal offense.

There are several ongoing criminal proceedings launched for violation of’ citizens’ voting rights in the local elections. A good case in point is the verdict passed by Krasnopil District Court, Sumy Region, on November 9, 2020, finding a PEC member guilty under Art. 158-1, paragraph 3, of the Criminal Code of Ukraine, for receiving ballot papers by a person not authorized to do so and unlawfully casting the ballot into the ballot box. More specifically, an election commissioner had unlawfully received a ballot and voted in the elections of representatives to the Sumy Regional Council, Sumy District Council, elections of members of Myropil Village Council and Myropil Village Head, Sumy District of Sumy Region.


For the territorial and precinct election commissions-

Consistently ensure conditions supporting lawful activities of the official observers representing candidates, political party organizations, and civil society organizations.

Observe the anti-epidemic measures during their meetings and other forms of activity.

For the National Police of Ukraine

Promptly investigate reports on organized vote buying as published by the media, social networks, and election participants.

For the candidates, subjects of the election process-

Refrain from spreading knowingly any false information about the contenders.

Abandon covert campaigning in the media that is carried out thanks to the existent political ties between election participants and TV channel owners.

For national and local media-

Avoid violating, directly and indirectly, the Electoral Code provisions for unbiased and impartial coverage of the election process.

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