The Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine voiced approval of the draft Law of Ukraine “On Introduction of Amendments to Certain Legislative Acts of Ukraine Aimed to Strengthen the Liability for Violation of Electoral Legislation”, which was elaborated by Civil Network OPORA in cooperation with the Ministry of Internal Affairs, National Police, Prosecutor General’s Office, Ministry of Justice and Central Election Commission. The corresponding decision was adopted at the Cabinet meeting on Wednesday, April 11.

Minister of Internal Affairs of Ukraine Arsen Avakov noted that the work on elaboration of draft law has been going on for almost two years, the document underwent a long-term public discussion and received a favorable review from experts.

“The draft law received the approval from all relevant ministries and departments. One of the key amendments is the introduction of inevitability of punishment for crimes against electoral rights of citizens”, - said Arsen Avakov.

According to Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs Tetyana Kovalchuk who delivered the presentation of legal document, relevance of this draft law is evidenced by enormous number of electoral violations which are being recorded by independent observers during elections in Ukraine.

“According to the results of 2017 survey conducted by GfK Ukraine at the request of Council of Europe Office in Ukraine, 68% of Ukrainians are dissatisfied with the level of fairness of election process in Ukraine. Public opinion on compliance of electoral process with generally recognized standards indicates the need for effective prevention, detection and investigation of electoral crimes. Effective application of the law should convince general public that the government guarantees legitimate, fair, competitive and free elections. The results of survey also show the need for increasing the level of responsibility of voters who have mixed feelings about electoral violations. In particular, according to the results of above-mentioned survey, only 16% of Ukrainians would appeal to the law enforcement agencies if a party or a candidate offers them money or gifts in exchange for their votes”, - said Tetyana Kovalchuk.

In the run-up to 2019 regular elections of the President of Ukraine and the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, National Police and OPORA propose to introduce amendments into the Criminal Code and the Code of Administrative Offences of Ukraine.

“Imposition of tougher sanctions on perpetrators of electoral crimes is not an end in itself. The draft law provides for the introduction of amendments aimed at creating preconditions and instruments for detecting and investigating crimes as well as prosecuting the offenders. For this purpose, the draft law provides for granting an absolute discharge to persons who voluntarily  informed the law enforcement agencies about facts of vote buying or forgery of election documentation and provided assistance in investigation. This legislative innovation will motivate citizens, who are being induced to perform illegal activities during the elections, to take the path of law abiding citizen and provide assistance to law enforcement officers”. - noted Tetyana Kovalchuk.

The draft law provides for criminalization of pre-election campaigning accompanied by provision of unlawful benefits to voters.

The proposed amendments to the Code of Administrative Offences provide for a substantial increase in fines for violating the restrictions on election campaigning - up to 100-200 non-taxable minimum incomes of citizens.

Drafters propose to release voters who conceal or destroy their own ballots from criminal prosecution.

It is also proposed to impose administrative liability on voters who voluntarily divulge their electoral choices at the voting premises, which should prevent third parties from exercising different forms of control over the process of expression of will of voters.

Coordinator of electoral and parliamentary programs of Civil Network OPORA Olha Aivazovska noted that since 2014-2015 OPORA has been actively cooperating with law enforcement agencies in the matter of communication on the subject of loopholes in legislative framework insofar as it relates to electoral crimes.

“The sad fact is that amendments which had already been introduced into the Criminal Code of Ukraine and other codes didn’t contribute to greater transparency and openness of electoral process. For example, courts delivered only 13 judgments of conviction in the cases of electoral fraud throughout Ukraine, following on from the results of 2014 parliamentary elections. 69 condemnatory judgments were delivered after 2015 local elections. However, it can be said that since 2015 there has been a steady increase in the number of court decisions directly related to imposition of severe sanctions on perpetrators of electoral crimes, such as bribery of voters. Nevertheless, no one was put into prison during this period, since the majority of convicted persons received deferred sentences. Unfortunately, we recorded several cases where certain external factors influenced the course of election process not only on Election Day, but also in the course of investigations. Therefore, we hope to receive an adequate number of police responses and court judgments in the course of election process and on Election day in order to ensure inevitably of punishment for those who committed administrative offences or partially decriminalize those activities that were previously made a criminal offence”, - said Olha Aivazovska.

“There is an urgent need for adopting this draft law, submitting it to parliament, asking the parliament to consider it as soon as possible, and putting it into execution. There is one year left until the elections, so we have enough time for adopting the law and enacting it in a proper manner. I think we can adopt it at the current session of parliament. Why not?”, - said Prime Minister Volodymyr Groisman.

Presentation of proposed amendments by Tetyana Kovalchuk can be accessed here