After the second round of the Presidential election in Ukraine, EPDE once again invited Ukrainian and international election experts to discuss the findings of international and citizens’ election observations and to reflect upon conclusions drawn from the two rounds of elections.
Numerous speakers spoke of this election as a “truly historical event” given Ukraine’s special challenges of external pressure and the military aggression by Russia. Domestic and international observers have largely assessed the Election Day, despite these hurdles, as peaceful, free, fair, and in accordance with basic international standards for democratic elections. The Central Election Commission (CEC) was commended for managing to organize two elections within the space of three weeks, which is a daunting challenge for any country.
Recorded violations on Election Day were, similarly to the first round, not of a systemic nature and observers agree that they should not impact the overall result. However, some speakers identified worrying systemic trends of the electoral code being manipulated rather than violated, which must be addressed to improve Ukraine’s democratic process.
Unequal access to the media was one of the most important issues during the elections. This election was marked by a big discrepancy regarding the air-time of different candidates, with Selensky appearing more frequently than other candidates on popular channels such as 1+1, which broadcast his series “Servant of the People” and numerous other programs in which the newly elected president appeared throughout the election period, including the day of silence before E-Day. Some speakers concluded that unequal access to the media could have had an impact on the election outcome. Another point of concern was the manipulative use of sociological research. Opinion polls were largely published without sufficient indication of the methods used to compile the data (number of respondents, time and place of data collection).
Another important issue to solve is the lack of real political debate between the candidates. Some speakers questioned the sense of having a day of silence and suggested to re-consider this apparently outdated concept. A proposal was expressed to have public debates at least one week before E-Day rather than just before the day of silence to ensure sufficient time for the mass media and experts to reflect on this.
Non-transparent campaign financing and the misuse of administrative resources remain major challenges for the integrity of the entire election process. Shadow financing of campaigners, election commission members at varying levels, and the heads of these commissions remain to be a serious problem, which one speaker stated could partially be resolved with legislative provisions that would introduce a limit on electoral expenditure.
To the question regarding the qualitative difference in the conduct of the first and second round of the Presidential election, some speakers suggested that there was less excitement regarding the second round, thus explaining a more relaxed atmosphere and less violations in general. The work of the Precinct Election Commissions (PECs) was again criticized and some observers highlighted that there were mistakes in the preparation materials for PECs provided by the CEC. In general, the PECs performance was assessed as better than during the first round, which might be related to the fact that only two candidates ran in this round.
There is still no good practice regarding the equal right to vote. Unnecessary constrains regarding the registration of voters who changed their place of residence remain in power. Any regulations of the CEC, which could simplify the registration process, however, could apparently be challenged in courts. Other important issues are the procedures for voting abroad. A simplification of registration procedures and the broader access to polling stations abroad will be seriously discussed in the coming months, along with the introduction of electronic voting or postal voting.
Issues regarding the lack of secrecy of voting have also been discussed since, according to some speakers, approx. 90% voters did not fold the ballots when putting them into the transparent ballot boxes. According to other speakers, this problem decreased since the last elections and was “only” registered in approx. 5% of the polling stations. Some speakers welcomed the large information campaign discouraging voters from committing a common violation that occurred in the first round - the photographing of filled in ballot papers - which led to a reduction of this violation in the second round.
A positive trend can be seen in the decreased number of cases of voting protocols being re- written by PECs – this was observed in only approx. 1% of cases.
Many speakers addressed the longstanding need to reform the electoral system and to introduce a proportional system with open party lists, which would help limit corruption schemes in majoritarian districts. However, according to the Venice Commission’ good practice in electoral matters, any electoral code changes shall be done no later than one year before the elections. According to some speakers, changing the election law before the parliamentary elections scheduled in October would disrupt the electoral process, force the CEC to issue many new regulations, challenge the political parties and candidates running in the elections, and make it difficult for voters to understand the new rules and procedures. Although the CEC might be able to prepare the election according to the new law, sufficient training for election commissioners might represent a serious challenge for the CEC.
Some speakers also spoke of issues during the election being a question of culture rather than representing faults in the electoral code, which is a slow development that cannot be changed overnight, but requires continuous open discussions about future developments in Ukraine’s electoral procedures. Some speakers highlighted the need to introduce hard-hitting sanctions for those who breach the election law.
Regarding Ukraine’s standing in the international community, it was stated that the “political disruption”, which was clearly shown by voters who voted against the “old political class” during these elections, shall not cause a disruption in the relationship and cooperation between Ukraine and the EU. There is an overall uncertainty as to how Ukraine’s foreign policies will develop under this untested politician, yet speakers reaffirmed an international support for Ukraine and its democratically elected president.
Speakers gave differing recommendations that have not been finalized yet as the evaluation of the entire election period is still ongoing. These included to: