The October 26, 2014 Ukrainian Parliamentary election was a step forward for country’s democracy and pro-European aspirations. Despite the Russia annexation of Crimea and occupation of parts of the Donbass, the snap-election was conducted in 198 of 225 parliamentary districts in the country and early results indicate that seven different political forces will have members in the new Parliament. According to the Central Election Commission (CEC) of Ukraine, voter turnout was 52.42% in the areas holding elections.
The pre-election campaign and voting day activities were largely without problems, and violations tended to be technical in nature rather than substantive. Voting in the Donbass was however was prevented in 15 districts due to occupation by Russian backed forces. Nonetheless, the courage of election commissioners, candidates and voters in the Donbass to hold the election despite the recent war and ongoing threats was noteworthy. There was improved security at the voting stations in Ukraine (compared to May 2014) for the 198 districts holding elections. The vote count is ongoing but initial indications are that the final tally will correspond to the voter’s will and published sociological data.
The Committee for Open Democracy fielded 100 accredited observers from twelve countries including United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Georgia, Greece, Iraq, and Moldova. The delegation is led by Mr. Andrius Kubulius, the two-time Prime Minister of Lithuania and leader of the Homeland Union/Christian Democrat faction in the Sejmas. In addition, there are five current and former Members of Parliament and two current and former members of the Central Election Commissions from Eastern European countries. The Committee for Open Democracy is one of the five largest observation missions for this election.
Observers deployed to and monitored key districts throughout the country including: district 26 in Dnipropetrovsk city, Donetsk districts 47 (Kramatorsk) and 48 (Slovyansk), district 79 in Zaporizhya, district 119 (Brody) in Lviv oblast, Odesa districts 135 (Odesa city) and 141 (Bilhorod-Dnistrovskiy), Kharkiv city districts 168 and 169, district 205 and 207 in Chernihiv and Kyiv city districts 223. The districts were selected based on historical voting patterns as well as because of reports of various problems during the pre-election campaign.
Of the more than 400 polling stations our observers visited in eight regions:
· 97% had no incidents of fear or violence,
· 99% were reported as intimidation free,
· 94% were reported as normal, calm and quiet
Of the problems that were observed at polling stations, they included:
· 6% had problems with voter lists
· 3% had carousels, multiple voting, or other fraud
· 20% had significantly high requests for the mobile ballot boxes. Typically this is less than 2% but due to the lower nationwide turnout, this number was higher than usual.
· 8% of election commissioners were uncooperative with international observers. This is less than 2012 and the 2013 By-Elections but still significant.
While the overall voting nationwide was generally without major problems, there were specific incidents in different regions. The following is a compilation of problems and observations by oblast and district.
Voting in Dnipropetrovsk was largely without problems and without any systematic manipulation. The voting commissions were well organized and helpful to observers.
Donetsk 47 & 48
As in the May 2014 Presidential Election, the Committee for Open Democracy deployed official observers to Donetsk – specifically to Kramatorsk and Slovyansk. Voting there took place normally and without major incidents despite recent public threats by Russian backed forces to re-occupy the cities. Our observers also visited polling stations for Donetsk district 45 (Kyiv rayon in Donetsk city) which were moved to a neighboring district in Konstantinivka. In District Election Commission in Kramatorsk, international observers were not allowed to inspect the votes as they were blocked by commissioners from getting within 5 meters of the vote count. This is a clear violation of the law by the commissioners as Ukrainian law gives international observers the right to observe from any location in the room.
The pre-election campaign had a number of cases of vote buying taking place. On Election Day, some polling stations were poorly organized and allowed individuals access to the site despite lacking proper accreditation. In one case, non commissioners completed protocols which is a violation of the law. In addition there were numerous changes in the poll station compositions which caused disorder both in the pre-election campaign and on Election Day.
Voting in Lviv was efficient and orderly. No problematic incidents were reported and witnessed that would affect the outcome of the election.
Odesa 135 & 141
The elections in Odesa are historically problematic but passed this time in a relatively calmer and more organized fashion. Problems with cloned candidates, technical candidates, vote buying and other peculiarities persist but this election marks a substantial improvement over the parliamentary elections in the oblast in 2012 and the most recent local elections.
Kkarkiv 168 & 169
Voting in Kharkiv was more efficient and orderly than the 2012 parliamentary election. A late ruling by the CEC to allow voting by displaced persons caused confusion in some polling stations though. In addition, in one polling station the chairwoman was intimidated by other commissioners to force her to sign an incorrect protocol.
The pre-election environment noted incidents of polling station stamps not being securely stored as polling sites. In addition, on Election Day, observers noted multiple incidents of unsealed ballot boxes and lax security. In one polling station, non-commissioners were signing protocols and the chairperson disappeared with the ballots and stamp. In general, many of the election commissioners were poorly trained and voting was not efficiently organized. There are currently a number of complaints that were filed by candidates in district 207 and the Committee for Open Democracy will continue to observe and monitor the process closely to ensure proper adherence to the law.
Kyiv voting noted a marked improvement from the December 2013 By-Elections in this district. Commissions were cooperative with international observers. However some individual commissioners received anonymous threats on Election Day.
Voting in Canada
COD fielded four international observers at the Ukrainian Embassy in Ottawa to monitor overseas voting. The voting process passed without major problems and the commissioners were accommodating to international observers.
Based on our observations and experience monitoring elections in Ukraine, we recommend the following to the CEC, Ukrainian Government, and Parliament:
· Ukraine clearly needs a new, robust and unified election code to end confusion and discrepancies between the current presidential, parliament and local election laws. This reform will serve to consolidate the work of the election commissions and improve the transparency of election machinery and bolster public confidence in election administration. It is strongly recommended that Ukraine seek assistance from the election administration experts in the international community and develop a model system for election administration that will insulate local election administration from outside disruptions.
· Repeat elections in the Donbass region should be scheduled as soon as it is safe to hold elections in the occupied territories. If the security is not an issue, they could be combined with the proposed March Local Elections as a cost saving measure.
· Clear procedures and laws need to be made for Ukraine’s 415,000 plus refugees and active military soldiers to vote. Parliament needs to pass an election law that empowers both displaced persons and those defending their country from aggressors. Vote counts by personal lists per the CEC decision on Election Day add confusion to the process.
· Tighten rules for making changes to the composition of election commissions. Excessive changes disrupt the activity of the commissions and make them less efficient. The abundance of technical parties exacerbates this problem. Thus, as Ukraine’s parliamentary election laws awards seats on commissions for each faction in parliament, a higher bar for representation on commissions needs to be created for other parties and the current lottery system abolished.
· Ukraine clearly needs an improved overseas voter mechanism – and enabling legislation – to empower the millions of Ukrainians living abroad to exercise their vote. In every election in Ukraine’s history, less than one percent of the votes are from Ukrainians abroad. With 515,315 persons currently registered as abroad and on the voter lists, this suggests that there are more than a million others who do not have the opportunity to vote. In one of the countries with one of the fastest declining populations as well as more this is an important issue that must be addressed to empower these voters.
· Use technology to accelerate the vote count. Vote counts by hand create opportunities for manipulation at worst and human error at best. Low cost scanners and/or voting machines can be used on a trial basis in future elections to eliminate such problems. In addition, the long vote counts fatigue commissioners and create possibilities of making mistakes.
The Committee for Open Democracy compliments the Central Election Commission of Ukraine for their outstanding organizational efforts as well as their success in overcoming hacker attacks on their website. The Ukrainian people, the election commissioners and candidates also deserve mention for their courageous work to conduct this election despite attempts at intimidation and threats.
Since its founding in 2010, COD has observed 13 elections in seven countries including Ukraine, Bulgaria, Albania, Montenegro, Moldova, Slovenia and the United Kingdom. The Committee for Open Democracy is a not for profit organization specializing in election observation. Established in 2010 by professionals in the election observation and broader democracy and governance field, the Committee seeks to improve the pre-electoral environment with concrete recommendations, prevent election fraud in the pre-election period and on Election Day as well as contribute to the overall electoral environment in developing democracies.
The Committee for Open Democracy is an objective, non-profit organization that monitors and observes elections internationally for adherence to democratic standards of fairness, reflecting the will of the voters. More information can be found at www.committeeforopendemocracy.org, or their Facebook page.