Kyiv, Ukraine: The vote counting process and certification process for the October 26, 2014 Ukrainian Parliamentary Election has been completed as required by Ukrainian law. Now that the process has been completed, it’s time for the newly elected Parliament of Ukraine to overcome all the pressing problems facing the country including the need to implement electoral reforms. With the lessons from this election fresh on the minds of the public, it is important that Parliament not wait until the next election year to tackle this important issue. “Ukraine has a rare window of opportunity to make necessary electoral reforms which will put in place a stable election system for the future” said Committee for Open Democracy Executive Director, Brian Mefford. “We have seven recommendations that will improve elections in Ukraine to bring the system in line with Western best practices”.
The Committee for Open Democracy was one of the five largest international observation missions for the October 26 Parliamentary Election with 100 accredited observers. The observers focused on 12 competitive and problematic single mandate districts in eight oblasts including Kyiv, Chernihiv, Donetsk, Dnipropetrovsk, Kharkiv, Lviv, Odesa, and Zaporizhya. The specifically targeted districts included Kyiv City #223, Chernihiv #205 and #207, Donetsk #47 and #48, Dnipropetrovsk #26, Kharkiv #168 and #169, Lviv #119, Odesa #135 and #141 and Zaporizhya #79.
Mefford said, “the new pro-Western majority in the Ukrainian Parliament should seize the opportunity to pass election reform legislation. With national local elections less than a year away, the time is short and Ukraine must move quickly while there is strong public support for change”. Based on our observations and experience monitoring elections in Ukraine, the Committee for Open Democracy recommends the following to the Central Election Commission, Ukrainian Government, and new Parliament:
• Ukraine clearly needs a new, clear 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.
• Ukraine needs an automatic recount provision in the electoral code for single mandate elections. Out of 198 single mandate districts, 23 contests were decided by less than 2% difference between the top two vote getters (and 16 races were decided by less than 1%). In a country with a history of election fraud, the only way the voters, commissioners, observers, media and candidates can be confident in the outcome of elections is to have secondary confirmation of the initial results. By having an automatic recount provision in the law for any race in which the winner is decided by less than 2%, the process would be more transparent and fair for all parties involved. Unfortunately very few races had recounts although Zaporizhya district #79 where our observers were present, was one of the races that did include a recount due to court order. Elections in democracies can be very close. For the voters to have confidence in elections it is important to get the result right even if extra resources and time must be expended.
• Parliamentary elections in 15 single mandate districts in the Donbass region should be scheduled as soon as it is safe to hold elections in the occupied territories. Due to the ongoing Russian occupation of parts of the Donbass, these districts were unable to hold elections and the voters in those areas were denied their democratic rights. If the security is not an issue, these parliamentary elections could be combined with next year’s National Local Elections as a cost saving measure.
• Clear procedures and laws need to be made for Ukraine’s more than 460,000 displaced persons and active military soldiers to exercise their right to vote. Parliament needs to pass an election law that empowers both displaced persons and those defending their country. Including such provisions in a permanent election law would eliminate the need for last minute sessions of Parliament like the one that was attempted days before the election to fix this loophole. This was clearly a factor in voter turnout decreasing to 52% nationwide –the lowest in Ukraine’s history.
• Tighten rules for making changes to the composition of election commissions. Excessive changes disrupt the activity of the commissions and make them less efficient. This was an issue in numerous election commissions throughout the country and particularly in Chernihiv where many new commissioners were unaware of their responsibilities and duties. In addition, 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 to be represented and the current lottery system should be 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 and this year was no different with just 41,000 Ukrainians abroad voting. 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. Given the large number of close contests in single mandate districts, independent verification of the results is even more important and needed.
The Committee for Open Democracy compliments the Central Election Commission of Ukraine for their management of the election administration process. The Ukrainian people, the election commissioners and candidates also deserve mention for their courageous work to conduct this election despite intimidation, threats, and foreign occupation of Ukrainian territory. With the election results now officially decided, all parties, candidates and voters must accept the will of the voters and move forward to build a strong and stable Ukraine.
Since its founding in 2010, COD has observed 14 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.