Kharkiv region by-elections: OPORA records some violations but generally campaign meets basic democratic standards
A positive factor is the lack of confirmed facts of voter bribery or other forms of material incentives for citizens. However, these interim elections have illustrated yet another time the need to enhance the mechanisms of transparency and accountability of electoral finance. In fact, only 26 out of 40 registered candidates opened the accounts of election funds. It is a key message delivered by representatives of the Civil Network OPORA, Olha Aivazovska and Oleksandr Kliuzhev, during the press conference in Kyiv on March, 5.
"In the context of general political trends and reorganization of authorities, the issue of electing an individual deputy in a specific election constituency may not be relevant enough for the society. Nevertheless, I am convinced that the process is unique and interesting to view, considering the fact that Ukraine has had a new effective Electoral Code since January, 1, 2020. These elections may possibly be the last to be held under the Code before the parliamentary campaign that is going to be either regular or special. In general, OPORA runs a long-term observation there. On election day, our colleagues will additionally engage to work at the polling stations but we are not going to run the parallel vote tabulation, or announce the turnout results. Nonetheless, the campaign is interesting in terms of applying the electoral system used therein,” – says Olha Aivazovska, Chair of the Board at Civil Network OPORA.
Despite the big number of registered candidates, the actual pre-election activity was observed only with some of them. Some most active campaigns to be quoted are those by Viktoria Alekseychuk (“Servant of the People”), Yuliya Svitlychna (self-nominated), Viktoria Ptashnyk (“European Solidarity”), Tetiana Yehorova-Lutsenko (self-nominated), Kyrylo Oksen (self-nominated), Ihor Shvayka (AU“Svoboda”), Oleksandr Didenko (self-nominated), Tetiana Lazurenko (self-nominated). The candidates exercised the campaign in various forms, and held meetings with voters. Therefore, 8 out of 40 registered candidates unfolded the full-scale election campaigns in the constituency.
Another crucial circumstance is the impact the online and social media promotion had on the course of election campaign. According to OPORA observers, the highest amounts were spent for support of Yuliya Svitlychna (appr. 3,700 $ on Facebook). Viktoria Ptashnyk, Viktoria Alekseychuk, and Ihor Shvayka also use the paid ads, though less actively.
The interim elections indicated yet another time to the need to enhance the mechanisms of transparency and accountability of election finance. According to OPORA’s current information, 26 candidates opened accounts of election funds. At the same time, no costs are allowed to run the election campaign outside the election funds.
According to Oleksandr Kliuzhev, OPORA analyst, throughout the election process, OPORA observers have recorded a series of cases with signs of breaching the law or standards of democratic elections. They include cases of breaking the procedures for posting advertising materials and their dissemination without the source data indicated; sharing the counter-campaigning or falsified information against candidates; damaging advertising carriers with the candidates ads on. In the constituency, a common issue arose for the insufficiently clear distinction between the pre-election campaigning and the office-related activities of certain candidates for people’s deputies of Ukraine. Thus, before Viktoria Alekseychuk, a candidate from the “Servant of the People” party, withdrew from the race, observers have revealed certain facts that might testify to engagement of Oleksiy Kucher, the head of Kharkiv regional state administration, into the election campaign. However, after she refused from the candidacy, the risks lost their relevance.
"OPORA testifies to the legitimate and conflict-free nature of Central Election Commission registration of candidates for people’s deputies of Ukraine. Currently, we only know of one court appeal against the Commissions’ decision on the registration of a candidate, which eventually failed to cancel the registration. The CEC registered 40 candidates, of which 28 persons were nominated by political parties. It was only 2 parliamentary parties (“Servant of the People” and the “European Solidarity”) that officially nominated their candidates for the interim elections," - says Oleksandr Kliuzhev.
Men outnumber women among the candidates (23 persons are male, 17 are female). Average age of candidates is 42. 23 out of 40 candidates are members of political parties, while 28 candidates were nominated by parties. 16 candidates are residents of Kharkiv region (2 persons live directly within the territory covered by the constituency), 24 persons live in other regions of Ukraine. 14 out of 40 candidates were engaged in entrepreneurial activities at the moment of registration, 9 persons were temporarily unemployed, 5 persons were engaged with the sphere of education and science, 3 – legal services, 2 – retired persons, 1 – media, 5 – other activities.
The decision of the “Servant of the People” party to discontinue the race for the mandate was highly resonant. It was the de facto withdrawal from their public support to the candidate Yuliya Svitlychna, who used to hold a position of the head of Kharkiv regional state administration. In the same light, it is worth mentioning no nominated candidate from another high-ranking party – the “Oppositional Platform – For Life”. A member of the political force Oleksandr Didenko was self-nominating, but later withdrew from his candidacy. As of the day of publishing the report, leading political parties of Ukraine, such as the “Servant of the People,” “Oppositional Platform – For Life”, AU “Batkivshchyna” and “Holos” are not competing against each other for the deputy mandate in the constituency. Therefore, the ballot paper will include 37 candidates.
In the interim elections, there are two candidates with the identical last names. Yuliya Svitlychna is an ex-head of the Kharkiv regional state administration, whereas Yana Svitlychna is a natural person, an individual entrepreneur. Upon the official registration of the two candidates, certain politicians and NGOs claimed it was the case of using the “clone” technology, and accused the CEC of the insufficient response to the registration of candidates with the same names.
"OPORA states that the CEC had no legal grounds not to register the two candidates with identical last names. In addition to a legal aspect of the matter in question, we shall take into account that there is no data confirming that certain candidates changed their personal data shortly before the launch of election process. The problem with “technical candidates” and the “clone” technology may be addressed by introducing a criminal liability for bribing a candidate by other political or electoral actors. This kind of liability shall become effective in case of proving the fact of receiving an offer or offering illegitimate benefits for any actions related to the exercise of passive suffrage. Other mechanisms to counteract the “technical” candidates and the “clones” may lead to the anti-constitutional restrain of citizen voting rights", - states Oleksandr Kliuzhev.
As to the formation of lower level commissions, since the political parties failed to exercise their right to nominate their candidates for DEC membership, the CEC had to complete its composition upon submission of the CEC head, to the minimum required number. 4 out of 12 DEC members have been nominated by the CEC head in order to meet the legal requirements for the commission’s quantitative composition. Passive attitude of parties to the formation of DEC adds more burden to the CEC to find members for lower level commissions. Besides, it generates risks for politically biased accusations for the higher EAB.
Low interest of parliamentary and other high-ranking parties for the interim elections affected the PSCs formation, too. The right to submit candidates to these commissions was only used by such parliamentary parties as the “Servant of the People,” the “Oppositional Platform – For Life,” and the “European Solidarity” that have factions in the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine. Additionally, 5 out of 40 candidates took part in the process of PSC formation (Viktoria Alekseychuk, Tetiana Yehorova-Lutsenko, Viktoria Ptashnyk, Yuliya Svitlychna, Ihor Shvayka). All the above-mentioned parties and candidates submitted their nominations to each PSC (189 persons from each electoral subject). Inactivity of parties and candidates made the DEC establish all PSCs in the constituency with the minimum membership. Moreover, even in this context, the commission had to engage citizens on its own.
Please, be informed, the interim elections of the people’s deputy of Ukraine in a one-mandate constituency No 179 in Kharkiv oblast will take place on March, 15, 2020, due to resignation from the deputy mandate of Oleksiy Kucher, a current head of Kharkiv state regional administration. The electoral process officially started on January, 16, while its results shall be established within 15 days after election day. According to “Final and Transitional Provisions” of the Electoral Code, the interim elections in constituency 179 shall run under the 2012 Law of Ukraine “On Election of People’s Deputies of Ukraine”.