Which mechanisms secured implementation of electoral rights of Ukrainian citizens in Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts in autumn of 2015 despite the armed conflict? Which risks may appear if Ukraine's internally displaced persons are deprived of electoral rights? Which international standards exist to guarantee general and equal suffrage for IDPs, and which successful international practices may be applied to solve this issue in Ukraine? What is a politically motivated observation, and which “fake” international missions have been functioning during local election campaign?
International experts and NGO representatives discussed these and other questions on public discussion titled “Problematic aspects of elections in Ukraine: a view from inside and outside”, held on 21 December 2015 in Kyiv.
According to the international expert Steffen Halling (Berlin, Germany), local elections in Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts were highly competitive and have diversified political range in the region: “Despite Opposition Bloc (successor of the Party of Regions) still dominates after the local elections, this party has lost political monopoly it had in the past years. Growing political competition has also strengthened mutual oversight of electoral stakeholders and, therefore, political balance was reached to the certain extent.” At the same time, Olha Aivazovska (Civil Network OPORA) and Roman Kyslenko (Donetsk Oblast Organization of the Committee of Voters of Ukraine), who participated in a citizen observation campaign, emphasize that a decision not to appoint the elections on territories outside Ukraine's control was politically motivated, and based on recommendations from military and civilian administrations of Donetsk and Lugansk oblasts without any public discussions. Besides that, it was emphasized that transparent criteria were not applied as when recommendations of military and civilian administrations became the basis for the decision.
Restricted electoral rights of IDPs is the major gap in Ukraine's election process, according to discussion participants. Displacement must not become a basis for discrimination of internally displaced persons. Thus, to find a solution for this problem in Ukraine, we have to learn from countries which have succeeded in securing IDPs right to participate in political life of their country. In fact, international expert Elena Nizharadze (Tbilisi, Georgia) presented a comparative analysis of approaches used in order countries to guarantee electoral rights of internally displaced persons, their pluses and minuses. “As for Georgia, internally displaced persons can participate in all election campaigns regardless of their residence. They don't lose their IDP status or any preferences they have if they realize such right. In contrast to Georgia, internally displaced persons in Bosnia and Herzegovina may vote either in their temporary place of stay or at their permanent living location. Besides that, they can choose to vote personally or distantly”, – said the expert.
The following NGO representatives spoke on the need to amend national legislation and secure internally displaced persons with the right to participate in all types of elections: Oleksandr Kliuzhev (Civil Network OPORA), Tetiana Durnieva (Institute for Social & Economic Studies), Viktoriia Savchuk (Krym.SOS), Suleiman Mamutov (Right for Protection All-Ukrainian Charitable Foundation) and MP Nataliia Veselova.
Discussion participants have agreed that the corresponding amendments to Ukrainian legislation should be adopted to allow internally displaced persons vote at their temporary place of stay. It's especially important in case the conflict is going to last for many years. At the same time, voting at a place of stay shall not cancel registration of a person at a permanent place of residence or deprive the IDP status as well as any preferences that it gives.
“Unfortunately, the public has easily accepted the fact that the problem of guaranteeing IDPs voting rights wasn't resolved. In fact, Ukrainians still consider realization of some rights a privilege. According to the Law of Ukraine on Local Self-Government, any restrictions of citizen rights on participation in local self-government are banned, what corresponds to the Constitution saying that life and dignity of a person is the highest social value in Ukraine. The fact that voting rights of IDPs were groundlessly restricted is the proof that real observance and respect of human rights and other values is possible only when both government and society apprehend these values” – stated Suleiman Mamutov. Tetiana Durnieva has also commented on the situation: “Similarly to the other problems, the issue with voting rights of internally displaced persons has emerged because there is no definite state policy regarding IDPs. Such policy should be developed with participation of both IDPs and civic organizations that work on the issues of this category of citizens, the way bill 2501а-1 was developed with participation of organizations that cover both election procedures and rights and freedoms of IDPs. Attraction of all interested groups to decision-making would help to develop the best strategy with minimal risk of errors, decrease tensions in the society, and raise the trust of both internally displaced persons and international community.”
Another discussion participant MP Nataliia Veslova has agreed that NGOs, political parties and other interested parties should participate in meetings of working groups and other events dedicated to voting rights of internally displaced persons and development of the corresponding law amendments. She has also emphasized that Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine launches public hearings on 16 February, dedicated to integration of IDPs.
Third discussion panel concerned politically motivated observation. According to international expert Anton Shekhovtsov (Vienna, Austria), some politically biased election monitoring organizations have been functioning in Ukraine since 2002. We should mention in the first place the CIS Interparliamentary Assembly (Russia), Commonwealth of the Independent States - Election Monitoring Organization (Russia), and European Centre for Geopolitical Analysis (Poland). These organizations worked in co-operation with Eurasian Observatory for Democracy & Elections (EODE, Belgium), and Civic Control Association (Russia). “Although fake observation efforts are less widespread in Ukraine after Russian Federation started military operations on Ukrainian territory and such fake observers were detected, new fake observation missions are emerging. For example, Political Initiative International NGO, which monitored 2015 local elections in Ukraine. Having analyzed the membership of the Political Initiative, we discovered that some its participants have already participated in fake election observation efforts on Ukrainian territory, and monitored illegal election processes like Crimean “referendum” in March 2014 and “parliamentary elections” on some territories of eastern Ukraine in November 2014, occupied by Russian militants and pro-Russian separatists. Besides that, most of Political Initiative members are pro-Russian activists or members of political parties which do not conceal their pro-Russian orientation. Their observation efforts in Dnipropetrovsk and Mariupol make an impression that they act in the interests of the Opposition Bloc – successor of pro-Russian Party of Regions,” – stated the expert.
Olha Aivazovska (Civil Network OPORA) and Nataliia Lynnyk (Committee of Voters of Ukraine AUNGO) have shared their thoughts after interaction with politically motivated missions. According to Parliamentary and Electoral Programs Coordinator Olha Aivazovska, only 5 of 85 NGOs registered to observe 2015 local elections were providing reports on a regular basis. Other organizations were politically biased, aimed to only secure media coverage. Nataliia Lynnyk, Deputy Director General of the Committee of Voters of Ukraine AUNGO, suggested the following steps to settle the issue: “We need to conduct information and awareness campaigns 'Stop-fakeobservation' under the European Platform for Democratic Elections (EPDE) during regular and early election campaigns and referendums. Besides that, standard monitoring reports of local election monitoring organizations should contain a paragraph dedicated to politically motivated international and domestic monitoring missions.”
Yelizaveta Rekhtman (Donetsk Oblast Organization of the CVU) and Veronika Kruhlashova-Velch (Chesno Civic Movement) explained the politically motivated observation in theory. According to Veronika Kruhlashova-Velch, pseudo-democratic regimes use international election observation missions to reach their external political legitimization. Thus, they create so-called “fake missions”, working to legitimize the certain political party in accordance with political views. Reports of such missions are usually controversial, but convenient for media precedents. Elections are informational war, and statements of international observers are a significant component of this war.
At the same time, Yelizaveta Rekhtman has emphasized that the European Platform for Democratic Elections (EPDE) developed a methodology to monitor international observation missions, tested in Azerbaijan parliamentary elections in November 2015 and Constitutional Referendum in Armenia in December 2015. This methodology is based on international observation standards, established by the UN Declaration of Principles for International Election Observation, 2005.
The event was organized with assistance of the European Platform for Democratic Elections.
You are welcome to learn the researches of international experts, presented on the discussion: