Ukraine

Decision to not hold local elections in certain constituencies of GCA Donetsk and Luhansk is a disenfranchisement of voters

On August, 08, 2020, on the grounds of conclusions from Donetsk and Luhansk oblast civil-military administrations, the CEC thereby established the impossibility to conduct the first local elections in 10 territorial hromadas (constituencies) in Donetsk Oblast, and in 8 hromadas in Luhansk Oblast. Notably, the local elections will not be organized in the de-facto oblast capital of Luhansk region, the Severodonetsk city, and in other, rather big hromadas of the two regions (Lysychansk, Volnovakha, Avdiyivka, Vuhledar, Toretsk, Stanytsia-Luhanska, Popasna, Shchastya, etc.).

Taking into account the fact that the right of citizens for local self-government is guaranteed by the Constitution of Ukraine, the CEC decision caused a big response among voters in Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts and the country’s political parties. The decision had the highest impact for voters in hromadas that used to be covered by elections in all national and local elections during 2014-2019. 

Ukraine’s acting law empowers civil-military administrations with the authority to provide conclusions to the CEC on the possibility to organize,  prepare, and hold elections in certain territories. The CEC relied on the conclusions to make the decision on the impossibility to hold local elections in 18 hromadas in Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts, with no powers or practical possibility to verify the validity of confirming documents from the civil-military administrations (CMA). The decision on non-conduct of local elections shall be approved on the grounds of the information from the CMAs, who shall be de facto responsible therefor, officially and publicly.

In their letter to the CEC, the Donetsk Oblast CMA stated that the “social, political and security situation in certain areas of the region have been analyzed by them, jointly with the Joint Forces Operation Command, Chief Board of the Security Service of Ukraine in Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts, and the Chief Board of the National Police in Donetsk oblast.” On the grounds of the analysis, the CMA stated the impossibility to hold local elections in 10 hromadas of the region. 

According to the CEC decision, Luhansk CMA notified the position of the Joint Forces Command, whereby the complicated social and political situation poses excessive threat for civilian population. The CEC also received a letter from the Chief Board of the SSU in Luhansk Oblast, which stated that the “cease-fire” under the “Minsk Agreements” cannot guarantee the 100% security for citizens in the settlements located along the demarcation line. On the other hand, the National Police in Luhansk Oblast notified the CMA on the “present continuous threat of mortar artillery bombardment or terror acts coming from subversive reconnaissance militant groups at a distance of 30 to 35 km from the demarcation line when holding local elections.” On the grounds of the information, Luhansk CMA applied to the CEC to notify on the infeasibility to conduct local elections in 8 hromadas in the region. 

OPORA has multiple times drawn the legislators’ attention to the lacking clear criteria for the decision on non-conduct of elections, and to the possibility of individual sole drawing of the respective conclusion by the CMA heads. In particular, the organization proposed to enhance a collegiate nature of the process of drawing the conclusions on infeasibility to hold elections in certain areas, including its coordination by the National Security and Defense Council.

The criteria to identify territories where the elections are infeasible shall include the experience of holding previous election campaign, territorial reference points as to the distance from the demarcation line and their uniform application, time limitations for postponement of elections, etc. 

The collegiate nature of decision making, transparent criteria and timelines for postponement of elections are the mandatory democratic parameters to account for security risks during election organization and to avoid possible political abuse. Currently, OPORA does not have any sufficient grounds to believe that the stated requirements have been fully taken into account during the establishment of the infeasibility to hold elections in the 18 hromadas of the region. For example, local elections are not going to be held in Severodonetsk and Lysychansk of Luhansk Oblast, despite the fact that the hromadas did elect their local and national authorities in 2014-2019. Thereat, the neighbouring city hromada of the Rubizhne city will be able to form their local self-government this year.  

 Taking into account that during 2015-2020 the parliament was ignoring the task to duly regulate the peculiarities of election processes in Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts, the decision not to hold local elections in the 18 hromadas in the region is conflicting, and contains significant legal uncertainty. The same as during the previous electoral cycles, a key question is still about a clear identification of the period and conditions to resume citizens’ right for local self-governance and their voting rights. Lack of clear answers on the part of the government will definitely aggravate political discussions and increase distrust to the institute of elections among big numbers of citizens.  Possible negative social consequences from the non-transparent decisions may also be confirmed by a rather high interest of voters to participate in elections in the hromadas where the local elections are not going to take place. Specifically, at the extra-ordinary elections of people’s deputies of Ukraine in 2019, voter turnout in the constituency No 106, with a center in Severodonetsk, was almost 51%, while in constituency No 107, with the center in Lysychansk, it reached 44%. At the same time, the nationwide turnout was 49.84%

In order to provide for transparency of decisions in the field of voting rights for citizens, OPORA hereby recommends: 

For the Central Election Commission:

  • To make public the documents of civil military administrations that served as the ground to make the decisions not to hold local elections in certain hromadas of Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts (except for the possible classified information).

For Donetsk and Luhansk Oblast Civil-Military Administrations:

  • to have public events in the region, with detailed explanations of their conclusions on the infeasibility to hold local elections in certain hromadas;
  • to provide for a transparent and systemic communication with the public from the territorial hromadas of the two Oblasts and with political parties on issues related with having local elections in the region.

In order to secure voting rights for citizens, we hereby recommend:

For the Central Election Commission:

  • to explain the possibility for CMAs to submit updated conclusions on the feasibility to conduct local elections in 18 hromadas in Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts before the official start of electoral process, and to explain other options to resume voting rights for citizens in such hromadas.

For the Verkhovna Rada Committee on the Organization of State Power, Regional Development, Local Self-Government, and Urban Planning:

  • to initiate, without undue delay, the discussion of different scenarios for legislative regulation of local elections in Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts, and to suggest to the Parliament a solution to provide for legal certainty and democratic exercise of the right to local self-governance for the hromada members, and of voting rights for citizens, with account for security situation. 

OPORA hereby urges all the competent authorities to invest the maximum effort into securing citizens’ suffrage, and to create conditions for local citizens to exercise their right for local self-governance. Thereat, the security factor must be comprehensively explored and taken into account during the election organization, on the basis of an objective and joint analysis of the situation.

Full list of hromadas in Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts covered by the decision not to have local elections can be found in the CEC resolution at the link.

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