On September 1, the election process started for the by-elections of the People's Deputy in constituencies No.184 (with a center in Nova Kakhovka, Kherson region) and No.197 (with a center in Zolotonosha, Cherkasy region). OPORA observers have registered the actual start of the early campaign by potential candidates in the constituencies. In particular, in August, the activity of 12 potential candidates was recorded: 9 – in a single-member constituency 197, and 3 – in a single-member constituency 184. The early campaign of potential candidates was accompanied, in particular, by the provision of goods and services, as well as by activities with elements of administrative resources.
Potential candidates met with voters (public events, charities, and door-to-door campaigns) and used outdoor advertising media. Advertising on social media was typical of Cherkasy region only. Local media was used less often for early campaigning by potential electoral subjects; neither has street campaigning been intensely engaged, including branded tents.
As to early campaigning in the Kherson region in August, it did not take a large scale. OPORA observers noted that three potential candidates have shown public activity: Hennadiy Lahuta ("We are here to live"), Ihor Tokovenko ("Popular Will"), and Ihor Yosypenko ("European Solidarity"). The most active potential candidate was Hennadiy Lahuta. In March, the Ihor Kolykhaev's party "We are here to live!" officially decided to nominate Lahuta as a candidate in the constituency. The main form of the candidate’s early campaigning was the direct communication with voters, which included a panoply of pre-election charity events handing out gifts and services.
In August, Ihor Tokovenko representing the Narodovladdya (lit. – Popular Will) political party focused more on the distribution of printed materials and outdoor propaganda. Next in intensity of early campaigning comes the potential candidate Ihor Yosypenko (“European Solidarity”). The potential candidate did not publicly announce his intention to run for this election, but he began to be active in the form of charity and street board posts.
In contrast to the Kherson region, in constituency No. 197 the activity of 9 potential subjects in August was intensive. Vladyslav Holub, Vitaliy Voitsekhivsky, Andriy Illenko, Roman Sushchenko, and Ivan Stepanets were most actively involved in the early campaign. They held meetings with voters, attended celebrations and festivals in the communities, used outdoor advertising and advertising on social media, and were represented in the local media. At the same time, the public activity of potential candidates Mykola Tomenko, Maksym Zelensky, Yulia Hershun, and Ihor Zaychuk was limited to a small number of initiatives, which included mainly participation in public events.
The early campaign of potential candidates was manifested in material incentives for voters and public activity with signs of administrative resources. The informal stage of the election process motivated potential candidates to provide a variety of services and goods to voters, free of charge. After all, after the official registration of candidates, such “election charity” may have signs of voter bribery, which is expressly prohibited by election law and shall entail administrative or criminal liability.
Furthermore, one of the obvious and unresolved risks to the democracy of the by-elections is the misuse of administrative resources. Different stages of the early campaigning for the by-elections on October, 31, engaged potential candidates who are currently officials at local self-government bodies – Vitaliy Voitsekhivsky, Roman Sushchenko, Hennadiy Lahuta, Yehor Ustynov. The implementation of the principle of equality of rights of future electoral subjects relies on a clear distinction between the current activities of a local government official and his political activity, including at the stage of early campaigning.
OPORA calls on the President of Ukraine, members of the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine, and on officials of central and local authorities to promote the politically neutral nature of public administration during the election process, to provide the actual equal opportunities for candidates in the by-elections in Ukraine, to clearly adhere to the distinction between functioning of political parties and candidates, and to prevent the use of central government and municipal resources in the interests of voters.
As it is known, on October 31, 2021, by-elections of people’s deputies will take place in two constituencies: No. 184 (Nova Kakhovka, Kherson region) and No. 197 (Zolotonosha, Cherkasy region). The election is scheduled because the People’s Deputy Ihor Kolykhayev became the mayor of Kherson in the local elections in 2020, and the People’s Deputy Oleksandr Skichko was appointed the head of the Cherkasy Regional State Administration. According to the Law of Ukraine “On Elections of People’s Deputies of Ukraine,” also valid for the by-elections of people’s deputies, the election process began on September, 1.