OPORA’s legal advisor Oleksander Neberykut summarized the findings from the long term observation of the campaign at EPDE’s Media Center in Kyiv. He stated that out of the 39 initially registered candidates, 19 were still actively running by the end of March and 5 top candidates lead a full-fledged nation-wide campaign. Interestingly, 24 candidates used their maximum or near to maximum quota of representatives that they are allowed to appoint in election commissions of different levels and could therefore influence the conduct of the voting.
At the same time, there is a major concern regarding the frequent substitutions and replacements of these appointed members of election commissions, where a third of members have been replaced, while in the 2014 elections it was almost 50%. These conditions make it difficult to secure an effective work of the commissions and to conduct trainings for the members to raise their level of competence, which is “lagging far behind”. “These replacements are a proof of the fact that the submission of these nominations was not quality driven and that many people just don’t know what their role entails”, said Neberykut.
The large number of candidates and the resulting competition led to a lack of appointments for leading positions and lacking proportional representation on commissions. In some regions, commissions had to be entirely dissolved. The observers are also concerned by signs of informal influence by candidates and interest groups on election commission members.
In the last month of campaigning, candidates have not only mobilized their resources and administrative resources, but also used political resources in the regions. Especially the Radical Party and Batkivshchyna have a sufficient amount of representatives on the local government level which allows them to wield influence on local decision making.
Olha Kotsyuruba, lawyer at OPORA, outlined issues around the transparency of the CEC, which has refused to provide open access to public information to observers, such as relating to reported cases of illegal payment to canvassers. Kotsyuruba also stated that “there is a marginal improvement in the response by law enforcement to reports and statements of election legislation violations”, said Kotsyuruba. In the Charkiw, Dnipro and Zhytomyr regions were the best response rates to claims of election violations. “Law enforcement collect reports and materials on violations but lack the knowledge on how to document these properly, thus leading to many cases being thrown out of court”, Kotsyuruba said.
With regard to the protection against manipulations from IDPs and people from abroad, Kotsyuruba responded that law enforcement is closely monitoring the situation in areas not under Ukrainian control and have stationed additional forces at checkpoints on the contact line in Eastern Ukraine. It is not assumed that there will be major manipulation from people coming from abroad during this round of the election, but that this could increase in the second round as this falls over the Easter holidays. This would give people who may travel to Ukraine over the holidays the opportunity to vote and thus influence the election results or offer more opportunities for outside manipulation of the elections.