Parliament must resume electoral reform and prepare for local elections
Civil Network OPORA hereby urges the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, the parliamentary committee on the organization of state power, regional development, local self-government, and urban planning to resume and intensify the electoral reform process and the legislative preparations for the regular local elections in Ukraine. The most recent public and expert discussion in this committee on changes to the Electoral Code took place on March 10 and de facto terminated after the outbreak of the pandemic.
The organization believes that the parliamentary committee should develop changes to the Electoral Code in April 2020 to begin a large-scale online discussion of the draft and to be ready to bring it forward to the parliament’s consideration without undue delay. The task can be efficiently fulfilled under current conditions considering the Verkhovna Rada’s decision to authorize committee meetings as videoconferences. The Parliament, on the other hand, shall introduce critical changes to the Electoral Code before May 2020.
Opora would like to pay special attention to the fact that it is unacceptable to have any backroom deals between factions and groups about elections without due discussions in the parliament and with the stakeholders. Another bad parliamentarian practice is to have possible agreements between factions and groups on supporting some draft laws in exchange for voting for the non-public version of changes to the Electoral Code. OPORA insists on a transparent, open, and highly depoliticized approach to the process of drafting changes to electoral laws.
The pandemic and its various consequences, such as social disintegration and the strengthening of the controlling function of the state, do objectively pose risks to the democratic development of society. An important element of the democratic process is to hold regular elections on the grounds of universal, equal, free, secret and direct suffrage. Currently, different countries in the world are postponing their elections due to coronavirus. The consequences for democracy in these societies are yet to be embraced.
The government’s priority shall be to focus on the life and health of citizens. It must be applied to all spheres of society. If the situation requires, the procedures shall also take into account security challenges and focus on the protection of voters. However, we do believe it is important to avoid any unjustified measures to restrict political and civils rights of citizens.
Society needs to be certain that any measures of the government to counteract the pandemic are warranted by the circumstances and that the restrictions are not based on situational political interests. In Ukrainian reality this means that legislative and organizational preparations for the regular local elections scheduled for this October should continue. In particular, the unreformed electoral law should not be used to justify any reviewing of the period and conditions of the next local elections.
OPORA urges the parliament to make changes in the Electoral Code that improve the quality of the code and address previous substantial shortcomings and gaps.
Key areas to improve the Electoral Code include the following:
- Intensifying the impact of voters on the order of priorities in distribution of mandates under the proportional system with open lists, detailing of the respective procedures.
- Adding more detail to the procedures for registration of candidates at elections and reducing the permitted amount of electoral donations.
- Enhancing the professional level of election commissions and of legislative guarantees for internal reforms in the CEC.
- Improved procedures for running the pre-election campaign and regulating online campaigning including social media.
- Increasing the transparency of election finances.
- Clarifying procedures for registration of voters and administration of the State Voter Registry.
- Adoption of amendments to the Criminal Code and the Code of Administrative Offenses to ensure that electoral offenders face punishment.
- Enhancing legislative guarantees for participation of persons with disabilities in the electoral process.
These priorities for electoral reform, among others, are described in detail in a joint document of the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) and OPORA on reform priorities in the field of elections, referenda and political finance. The outcomes of the public discussion of the law on local elections must be taken under full consideration. The discussion took place in the Committee of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine on the organization of state power, regional development, local self-government and urban planning on March 10, 2020.
Opora hereby recommends to the Committee of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine on the organization of state power, regional development, local self-government, and urban planning:
- During the next videoconference meeting to establish a working group of people’s deputies of Ukraine, representatives of national and international expert organizations, CEC members, and representatives of local self-government to draft the changes to the Electoral Code.
- To establish a general procedure and terms for activities of the working group to improve the Electoral Code while gearing towards a possible finalization of changes by the end of April 2020.
-To ensure wide-spread dissemination of information to the public on the outcomes of the Working Group on all stages of drafting changes to the Electoral Code (such as by introducing a formal mechanism and organizational support for such dissemination).
-To approve an official appeal made to the Chairman of The Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine on the need to prioritize the consideration of the parliament on issues related to the proper preparation for the next local elections, in particular, to amend the Electoral Code no later than the end of May 2020.
Opora hereby urges the parliamentary factions and groups to be consistent in the exercise of their political promises and initiatives regarding the promotion of electoral reform, as well as to publicly declare their position on further improvements of the law on local elections.
OPORA declares its willingness to participate in all activities of the committee and the parliament to prepare for the local elections by offering relevant information, and analytical and expert support.