Statement on recently adopted changes to electoral legislation
Statement by Civil Network OPORA:
On July, 16, 2020, Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine approved in the second reading the draft law No 3485 on changes to electoral law. The decision that implies amendments to the Electoral Code, the Criminal Code and the Code on Administrative Offense, the laws on the CEC and the State Voter Register was supported by the 308 people’s deputies of Ukraine.
Approval of the draft law No 3485 was the regular next step of the discussion in the parliament of the 9th convocation about the Electoral Code that has been on since August, 2019, since the moment the presidential veto was applied thereto. Accepting the proposals to the Electoral Code from the President of Ukraine in December, 2019, did not eliminate all the remarks from the people’s deputies of Ukraine and the experts. It resulted in the review of voting rules in the run-up to the 2020 local elections. Therefore, the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine of the 9th convocation failed to provide for the guarantees for sustainability of electoral law, which replicated the improper practices of the previous parliament. The sectoral committee of Verkhovna Rada on electoral law and the parliament in general showed the intention to avoid the monopoly influence of one political group on the final rules for election administration. However, the broad parliamentary compromise also regretfully included the arrangements about politically biased decisions on election system, and on certain aspects of election administration.
OPORA states the significant progress in the field of securing suffrage for citizens that the Ukrainian parliament has reached in finalizing the Electoral Code. The current composition of the parliament approved the effective decisions on regulating problematic aspects in exercising the suffrage for internally displaced persons and internal migrant workers. The issues arose back before the 2015 regular local elections, but it was efficiently resolved only in December, 2019, with further finalization this July. The parliament’s readiness to take into account the citizens’ needs on the level of the law enabled the CEC to implement the practical mechanism for changing the electoral address to internally mobile voters. Specifically, the legislative decisions opened the way to securing rights to more voters, and also they created the preconditions for the higher election administration authority to administer elections via the innovative electronic services to change the electoral address.
Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine showed the readiness to enhance the efficiency of the law to counteract electoral fraud, their investigation and application of the respective sanctions to the perpetrators. People’s deputies of Ukraine supported most changes to the Criminal Code and the Code on Administrative Offense that have been jointly developed by the law-enforcement bodies and expert organizations back in 2017. Unfortunately, the politically biased statements of certain people’s deputies at the parliamentary session led to deleting the provision on the liability for voter bribery from the package of legislative innovations. As the previous elections show, it is a rather efficient technology for the influential electoral actors to make their own ‘network’ of fake candidates to mislead voters and to establish the non-competitive control over election commissions.
OPORA hereby commends the parliament’s decision to crucially lower the monetary deposit at local elections, as compared with the previous version of Electoral Code, which excessive amount could largely impact the election competitiveness. The negative impact could be especially critical in the combination with the monopolization of the parties’ right enshrined in the law to nominate their candidates to most local councils and to enhance control over the elected persons through the mechanism of their withdrawal. Competeitiveness of elections can also be improved due to the revised ballot template at elections with the proportionate system. Unlike the previous version, it will help personal voting for the certain candidate from the political party they chose.
People’s deputies of Ukraine also created the positive legislative framework for full-fledged securing of voting rights for people with disabilities who are still facing the huge obstacles in access to the operations of election commissions and during reading the pre-election campaigning materials. It is obvious that the practical exercise of the new guarantees for voters with disabilities will require due coordination among authorities and election commissions, and also due financial support from the Government. However, the proactive position of the parliament and the CEC offers a chance to Ukraine to solve problems for this group of citizens in the election process.
In addition to the important progress of the government in voting rights for citizens and the election anti-fraud, OPORA needs to quote the parliament’s infringement on the principle of stability of the key elements of the electoral system.
Extending the proportionate electoral system to the territorial communities with the number of voters 10,000 or more, crucial reduction of opportunities for self-nomination, deleting the election of starostas (elders) in amalgamated hromadas less than two months before the election process, do not comply with the international standards of democratic elections. In fact, in Ukraine, there has developed a negative political tradition for making a legal framework for elections shortly before their start. It creates potentially unfavourable conditions to prepare local leaders and political groups for elections. Instead, legal uncertainty of electoral process is less critical a problem for the financially capable political actors.
The complicated electoral systems, new reality for election administration in the context of having Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine create big districts and lack of time to train the election commission members – these are key organizational challenges for the 2020 electoral process. They were enhanced by the parliament’s decision to empower deputy groups of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine to conclude agreements with local party organizations, and thus claim the mandatory representation in TECs and PECs. The deputy groups of the parliament are not subjects of electoral or party processes, while their agreements that do not have any clearly defined legal status and consequences may cause further destabilization of election commissions and aggravate the signs of political corruption.
OPORA hereby pledges the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine and its responsible committees to provide for due technical and legal finalization of Electoral Code provisions about the equal representation of men and women in the party voting lists.
Instead, we hereby recommend to the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine, to the Central Election Commission, and to other competent authorities to immediately launch the awareness campaigns for voters on key innovations in the electoral process 2020.