Following the first round of the Presidential election in Ukraine, EPDE organized a round table with participants of the electoral process and representatives of national and international observation missions. Aim of the meeting was to discuss observations made of the election campaign and on Election day and to reflect on possible recommendations and conclusions for the second round of the election and the conduct of the Parliamentary elections later on this year.
There was a generally positive assessment of the Election day, with no violence or systematic violations recorded that would lead to the elections results being brought into question. The election campaign, however, has been widely criticized due to a lack of public political debate, the frequent use of administrative resources in candidates’ campaigns, intransparent campaign financing and accusations of vote buying launched against certain candidates. Nevertheless, one can qualify the overall result of the election as legitimate.
According to one speaker, precinct and district election commissions made several serious mistakes on the Election day. This can be explained by the frequent rotation of commission members at different levels made by candidates throughout the election campaign. This lead to the situation that almost 40% of commission members were replaced and so did not undergo a proper training to learn the election procedures in detail. It resulted in handing out ballots without proper IDs or frequent mistakes in the voting protocols submitted by the PECs to DECs.
Several speakers addressed the issue of transparency by the Central Election Commission of Ukraine (CEC), stating that some official observers were not permitted access to all meetings of the CEC and therefore could not observe their decision making process. Speakers additionally called on the CEC to release all financial reports relating to the sponsorship of candidates, election campaign spending by candidates, and also of any payments made to election observers or members of election commissions.
The closed nature of certain CEC meetings was defended by one participant, who described that this is necessary to make decisions in a timely manner to keep to the timeline for elections as mandated by electoral legislation.
One speaker explained that electoral legislation loopholes should not be the sole focus of reflections on the election, but that one must speak about how these are being used. The speaker described that the Ukrainian elections in general are characterized by a “lack of good faith”, meaning that participants of the electoral process are striving to use the imperfect legal system and that it would be a question of electoral culture to change this. Issues such as the high turn-over of election commission members could be addressed with a “good faith culture”, where candidates should strive to respect legislation and the electoral process and actively engage with the electorate. This would provide for more trust in the election process, which is currently very low.
Several speakers mentioned the high number of domestic election observers accredited at those elections, asking whether the figures are real. Some speakers emphasized that in very much precincts during the E-Day no citizen election observers were seen at all. 139 Ukrainian election observation NGOs were registered in this election, with 85 never having observed an election before and 36 organizations being directly linked to a single Presidential candidate. One speaker warned that having so many observers from unknown sources could reduce the perceived value of election observation and that this should be carefully investigated. One speaker described suspicious politically biased international election observation missions and individuals accredited in Ukraine who have a history of supporting or representing pro-Russian actors or groups, but concluded that during this election none were active, by which is meant that they did not make any comments that could be seen as politically biased. The speaker warned, however, that these groups could become activated during the second round of the elections.
Concerning the role of the CEC in the accreditation of politically biased election observers, one speaker stated that it is impossible to deny an individual or group accreditation unless they have directly violated Ukrainian law, such as by crossing into occupied territories of Ukraine via unapproved routes, e.g. directly into Crimea from Russia rather than by the administrative border between mainland Ukraine and Crimea. Several speakers criticized this position by the CEC and stated that people should be able to condemn “fake observation” in order to create a trustworthy space around the elections.
No definitive recommendations were made at this early stage as the evaluation of the election is still ongoing, however certain steps for the immediate future were mentioned by several speakers. These included:
Regarding long-term recommendations, one speaker reiterated that a proportional open party list electoral system, according to the Council of Europe Venice Commission proposal, should be adopted in Ukraine to ensure fair and competitive elections in the future.