ENEMO assesses local elections in Ukraine as free, competitive, although with number of comments – preliminary report
The European Network of Election Monitoring Organizations (ENEMO) preliminarily assesses that the 2020 local elections in Ukraine generally free and competitive, well administered, although the process was affected by challenges related to coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the complexity of the new electoral system, biased media coverage, allegations of vote buying and abuse of administrative resources, Head of the ENEMO Mission to Ukraine Zlatko Vujovic said.
At a press conference in Kyiv, he said that the local elections were held under the new Election Code, including substantial changes to the electoral system. "The legal framework generally provides grounds for the conduct of elections in line with international standards. Recent reforms have, overall, strengthened the framework, although not all observer recommendations were addressed," Vujovic said.
ENEMO deems that the combined use of proportional and majoritarian systems for the election of local officials is reasonable in the context, but does create a level of complexity for electoral officials and voters alike.
"As such, even more emphasis should have been placed on training and voter education for election officials and voters respectively. The inclusion of open party lists for the election of local deputies in areas with more than 10,000 voters was welcomed, as it enhances transparency and accountability. The adoption of a mandatory gender quota for party lists was a positive step towards higher levels of representation for women in political life, although ENEMO notes that it is not reinforced with an obligation to replace a leaving councilor with a candidate of the same gender," Vujovic said.
ENEMO notes that the Central Election Commission (CEC) demonstrated its professionalism and operated in a mostly transparent manner, working diligently to meet all deadlines in the election calendar, despite not providing an online register of complaints at the election administration level therefore limiting the transparency of the complaints adjudication process.
Vujovic said: "The work of the CEC was burdened by the need to adopt COVID-19 prevention measures for Election Day due to failure of the Verkhovna Rada to pass these measures ahead of the elections. Additional challenges were caused by uncertainties related to financing of these measures and late decisions of the Cabinet of Ministers."
In addition to uncertainties in the process pertaining to measures to limit COVID-19 infections at polling stations, the work of the CEC was further challenged by frequent requests for replacement of territorial election commission members. However, the work and professionalism of territorial election commissions can be positively assessed overall, in particular given the above mentioned challenges, although levels of preparedness of members seemed to vary due to frequent replacements and insufficient training.
Deputy Head of Mission Pierre Peytier said: "Universal suffrage and the right to vote are generally provided for in Ukraine. However, nearly 500,000 Ukrainian voters were disenfranchised in these elections, due to the decision of the Verkhovna Rada not to conduct elections in 18 communities in Donetsk and Luhansk regions, on account of security concerns caused by the ongoing conflict in eastern Ukrainian territories and the Autonomous Republic of Crimea."
He also said: "The new simplified measures for voter registration were welcomed, in principle facilitating the participation of IDPs, economic migrants and voters without registration. However, few requests were filed and few voters took advantage of this possibility to register in the election, while some cases of abuse of this procedure were noted."
The process of candidate registration was overall inclusive, despite some cases of candidates and political parties not being given the opportunity to correct mistakes in the registration process, resulting in appeals to the courts. Several of these cases included non-compliance with the new gender quota in party lists and other technical issues. The mission observed inconsistencies in the application of the gender requirement by territorial election commissions in charge of registering the candidate lists and by courts. "Candidates and parties were generally able to campaign freely, despite considerable limitations on public gatherings due to COVID-19. As a consequence, electoral contestants put emphasis on campaigning through digital means including social media, messaging applications, and online platforms. Isolated cases of violence and widespread 'black PR' towards candidates were reported by ENEMO observers during the campaign," Peytier said.
A vast majority of ENEMO interlocutors raised concerns regarding misuse of administrative resources and abusing incumbency.
"Despite reinforced sanctions against direct and indirect vote-buying in the Election Code, multiple cases of vote buying schemes were also reported to the mission. Additionally, the lack of an upper limit for candidates’ spending on electoral campaigns, political parties and candidates not complying with the financial reporting requirements, and the limited oversight capacities of the territorial election commissions, creates an unlevel playing field and limits campaign finance transparency," Peytier said.
Press Officer Maja Milikic said: "This statement is preliminary in nature, pending final count and tabulation of results, and is based on ENEMO’s findings throughout the regions of Ukraine observed from September 15 to October 26. Following this preliminary statement of findings and conclusions, the mission will continue following potential complaints and appeals after Election Day. A final report including potential recommendations will be issued within sixty days from the certification of results."
ENEMO's International Election Observation Mission to Ukraine 2020 for Local Elections is financially supported by USAID through the National Democratic Institute (NDI).