Ukraine

Competitive second round mayoral election in Kryvyi Rih

On 6 December 2020, the second round of mayoral election took place in Kryvyi Rih. Kostiantyn Pavlov (Opposition Platform - For Life) competed with Dmytro Shevchyk (Servant of the People). According to the 25 October vote results, these candidates took the second and third places, respectively, while the candidate with the largest number of votes, Yurii Vilkul (The Vilkul Bloc "Ukrainian Perspective"), refused to run further.

Civil Network OPORA  conducted long-term and short-term observation of the Kryvyi Rih mayoral election and assessed the quality of election administration and legitimacy of the vote. On the election day, we deployed 60 short-term observers from the organization to evaluate the work of PECs selected based on the representative sampling.

According to OPORA's data, the campaigning was quite competitive in the second round. Although the situation with COVID-19 had worsened, candidates continued to communicate with voters, using various forms of campaigning actively. Unfortunately, the wide-scale election campaigns of Kostiantyn Pavlov and Dmytro Shevchyk did not include direct debates between them on regional media. Thus, although voters had two political alternatives to choose from, they lacked information about candidates' programs and city development plans due to the absence of public dialog.

Like in other Ukrainian cities, candidates or groups of their supporters disseminated negative, provocative, or knowingly false information about competitors on the eve of the election day. The experience of 2020 local elections, including Kryvyi Rih, has demonstrated the importance of introducing additional legal mechanisms against disinformation and dissemination of false information during elections, as well as strengthening legislative and practical guarantees of objective and impartial media coverage. Cases of hidden political advertising in the media, and some of them being openly biased, contradicted the basic principles of a democratic election process. It is necessary to prevent such issues via legislation and regulations of the professional media community based on transparent and uniform standards. Social networks played a vital role in the mayoral election in Kryvyi Rih. However, officially available information about candidates' political advertising expenses on the internet does not fully reflect the real picture of campaign financing.

Although the election process was competitive, the second round of the mayoral election in Kryvyi Rih shows that the state and civil society must work further on the prevention of abuse of administrative resources.

Two candidates had direct or indirect access to administrative resources, contrary to good public administration standards during elections. The problem was more acute in the election campaign of candidate Kostiantyn Pavlov, who de facto campaigned while in office as city mayor adviser. The incumbent mayor Yurii Vilkul publicly supported Kostiantyn Pavlov, while the latter had focused the major public activities of the city council executive committee around himself. Candidate Kostiantyn Pavlov mixed his activities as the city mayor advisor and as a candidate, and the local self-government body changed its usual approach to public activities. As a result, Kryvyi Rih City Council has failed to follow democratic standards of public administration during elections. The candidate also promised to increase social assistance to disadvantaged citizen groups and initiated new infrastructure projects and budget programs.

Observers have also reported abuses of administrative resources in favor of candidate Dmytro Shevchyk. Such incidents were less systematic but involved central government officials and President Volodymyr Zelenskyi. For example, the Ukrainian President officially supported candidate Dmytro Shevchyk at an official meeting on city development, with officials of different levels attending. However, the Election Code prohibits campaigning at government events. Given Volodymyr Zelenskyi had publicly supported the candidate, his official appeal to voters in the city to participate in the vote was a purposeful mobilization of voters loyal to this candidate.

As a non-governmental organization, OPORA makes efforts to develop self-regulatory practices for state authorities and their officials to prevent the abuse of administrative resources during elections. It is impossible to prevent such violations only at the formal procedure level, although the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine should strengthen the relevant legislative mechanisms. However, we believe that state authorities at all levels should themselves start training their employees and officials on how to prevent politically motivated abuses and form internal standards for activities in an election process.

The course of Election Day demonstrated the ability of election administration bodies to ensure high-quality implementation of election procedures in difficult epidemic conditions and in a low interest of political parties participating in the first round of voting to organize the second round transparently and within their functions. However, the constant risk of destabilizing the work of election commissions, which remained relevant at each stage of the local election vote, indicates the need to review existing approaches to the staffing of election commissions, their funding, and the verification of professionalism of their members.

Given the recurrent and typical procedural violations of the law on election day, particularly the disclosure of ballot secrecy by demonstrating or photographing the ballot, as well as non-compliance with the procedure for issuing ballots, lawmakers, expert society, and law enforcement agencies should develop efficient algorithms against possible abuses and focus on real examples of prosecution for similar offenses.

OPORA considers it necessary to draw the attention of all political parties and candidates in local elections in Ukraine to the barbaric practice of manipulating public opinion by publishing exit polls conducted by unknown companies and without informing about the methodology. Unfortunately, political actors often use questionable exit poll results to discredit voting results and create voter distrust. Public persons and celebrities, including journalists, sometimes do promote this technology by illegally posting poll results before the vote ends. We believe that politicians and civil society leaders should be interested in developing reliable and reputable tools to study citizen electoral moods and motivation.

Typical violations on the election day

 To assess the implementation of each electoral procedure and compliance with the law by each participant in the election process on the election day, OPORA's observers monitored key procedures in morning meetings, the opening of precincts, the voting process, vote tabulation, and transportation of precinct documents to territorial election commissions.

OPORA has deployed observers to 60 polling stations in Kryvyi Rih, located evenly throughout the community. Before the observation, OPORA held 2 rounds of training and special Election Day simulations, involving possible situations and incidents. The observers were deployed based on random stratified sampling. The margin of error for different questions in this report ranged from 6.28% to 10%. OPORA's statistically-based observation is an independent activity, realized exclusively by OPORA, aimed to provide Independent information on the course of the election and detect typical violations during the vote and counting.

In general, election administration bodies have adequately organized the voting process. They have managed to balance the maximum opportunities to exercise citizen voting rights and anti-epidemic measures. However, observers have noticed several problems in the provision of polling stations, the inaccessibility of polling stations for voters with disabilities.

According to the observation summary for the election day, OPORA's observers state that 81.48% of polling stations were free from any violations that could cause the distortion of election outcomes or serve as a basis for invalidating the vote at such PECs. At the same time, isolated procedural violations occurred at 16.67% of PECs. The quantity and types of these violations are usual for these local elections, which started on 25 October.

Disclosure of the secret vote was the most frequent violation in the second round of the mayoral election in Kryvyi Rih. Thus, voters often filled in ballots outside of a voting booth or demonstrated their marked ballots. Observers detected such incidents at 9.09% of PECs. However, they were mostly spontaneous, not systemic or planned, and stopped as soon as election commission members or observers responded.  Such episodes require detailed analysis and identification of the reasons for the recurrence of such actions to create conditions to minimize illegal practices, especially in situations caused, for example, by the lack of proper lighting in voting booths. To compare, on 25 October, observers noticed incidents related to the demonstration of marked ballots at 7.52% of PECs in the country.

Another frequent problem that OPORA's observers faced on the election day was a violation of the procedure for issuing ballots to voters by members of election commissions. Observers detected such abuses at 7.27% of polling stations. As we can see, both commission members and voters continue interpreting formal law requirements arbitrarily. If such actions are of a planned nature, they may negatively impact election results and indicate attempts of forgery. Therefore, there is a need for systematic awareness-raising and other activities aimed to prevent such abuses in advance.

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