As long as regular local elections are going to be held soon in Ukraine, by-election of an MP of Ukraine in single-member district #205 (Chernihiv) are quite significant to the state, which will have to prove that it can secure adherence to international and domestic electoral standards, as well as guarantee due legal response to law violations. After 2014 early parliamentary elections in Ukraine, when the certain progress in adherence to electoral standards was reached, Ukrainian state authorities and leading political parties should demonstrate in this by-election of an MP in Chernihiv their readiness to guarantee steadiness of this positive tendency in election processes.
There is an unprecedented number of candidates registered for this by-election of an MP of Ukraine in single-member district #205. The voters are going to choose from 91 MP candidates, 7 nominated by political parties and others nominated by themselves.
However, despite the number of candidates is high, only 17 of them participate in the election campaign to the certain extent, communicate with the voters, organize public events and build their campaign networks. Such numerical superiority of candidates who don't participate in the election campaign over active candidates means that the problem of so-called “technical candidates” still exists.
As a result, real candidates cannot receive equal representation in precinct election commissions where “technical candidates” get the certain number of formalistic representatives. Besides that, this factor creates extra risks for an already resonant election process itself if technical candidates are used to destabilize the situation or escalate conflicts during vote count and tabulation to the benefit of a third party. At the same time, there will be no official proofs of the most active candidates being involved in destabilizing activities of non-active candidates, and such involvement is not going to be publicly known. We would like to pay special attention to the fact that DEC #205 has many members who held the corresponding offices in problematic districts in Kyiv, Cherkasy oblast and other regions, in 2012 regular elections to the Parliament of Ukraine, repeated election in single-member districts #94, 132, 194, 197 and 223 in 2013, and some other quite resonant election campaigns.
This election campaign was full of acute confrontations between leading parliamentary and non-parliamentary parties, and the level of conflicts sometimes exceeded an admissible level in terms of electoral standards.
A number of use-of-force and provocative incidents took place during the election process (for example, on 16-17.07.2015, representatives of candidate Hennadii Korban blocked a car with unknown people inside). Official investigation by law-enforcement bodies revealed weapons and a significant amount of money in the car. Representatives of candidate Hennadii Korban affirmed that persons in the car had relation to candidate Serhii Berezenko. Representatives of the latter refuted such accusations. Besides that, a number of anonymous bomb threats to public places and premises were received during this election process, what caused aggravation of an already provocative campaigning process. Some MPs of Ukraine were personally involved in use-of-force incident when MPs Andrii Lozovyi and Ihor Mosiichuk had beaten a self-nominated candidate Oleksii Durniev.
Such use-of force incidents discredit the election process not only before the voters, but also before the whole international community, which has specifically emphasized the need to investigate electoral violence and threats during the previous elections. In particular, OSCE-ODIHR monitoring mission has stated in its Final report that a competitive election campaign in 2014 early parliamentary elections in Ukraine was overshadowed by violent incidents. At the same time, the OSCE-ODIHR Mission recommended to secure an independent and unbiased investigation of all violent incidents or threats against electoral stakeholders, and bring the guilty to responsibility in accordance with the legislation. Besides that, Ukrainian state was recommended to strengthen its efforts aimed to secure equal opportunities to all candidates without fear of violence or punishment .
Thus, intensification of the use-of-force confrontation, especially during the voting process and vote count, can question ability of government bodies to secure stability and legitimacy of the election process, and take into consideration shortcomings in maintenance of law and order during previous elections.
OPORA welcomes decision of the Minister of Internal Affair of Ukraine Arsen Avakov to deploy an operational-investigative group and additional units of the security forces in order to secure legitimacy of the election process, announced on 7/19/2015. At the same time, we are concerned about mere efforts of law-enforcement bodies in regard to prevention of election law violations before this decision of the Minister of Internal Affair of Ukraine was published.
The most active candidates based their campaign strategies in the nationwide political contexts and topical confrontation issues for leading political parties. As a result, the election campaign in the district became excessively resonant and candidates could barely interact without conflicts.
The fact that activities of the Regional Development Council under the President of Ukraine are used to campaign for the candidate Serhii Berezenko, nominated by the Petro Poroshenko Block, makes the people think that the highest official is involved in local election process and erodes public trust to activities of state authorities and law-enforcement bodies.
The most active candidates in the single-member district are actively using electoral technologies which can be characterized as voter bribery and misuse of administrative resources. For example, the Ukrop Charitable Fund has launched its activities right during the election process, and its symbol is identical to a symbol of the same named party Ukrop, which has nominated in the district candidate Hennadii Korban. The fund has distributed a large number of food sets among the voters. The candidate used to deny his direct involvement in fund's activities, but now he doesn't. The Ukrop Charitable Fund and political party Ukrop were both founded by the same person, according to official registers of legal entities.
At the same time, representatives of candidate Serhii Berezenko, nominated by the Petro Poroshenko Block, conclude "social agreements" between the candidate and Chernihiv citizens for campaigning services. Taking into consideration that some candidates claimed the people received payments under these agreements and the fact that similar technologies were used in parliamentary election campaigns, law enforcement agencies must secure due investigation of any claims related to this type of campaigning efforts. The candidates also provide infrastructure construction works (repairing roads, entrances of apartment buildings and other objects), which can be classified as voter bribery under the effective Article 160 of the Criminal Code.
According to the Law of Ukraine on Elections of People's Deputies of Ukraine, a candidate is not withdrawn from the race even in case he is proven guilty of voter bribery or other violations in court. Thus, internal affairs bodies must conduct an unbiased investigation of the abovementioned campaigning efforts through criminal proceedings, and candidates should assist them in investigation. Such unbiased investigation shall be based on the certainty of punishment principle in relation to crimes against electoral rights of citizens. Besides that, all the stakeholders must remember that not only the Criminal Code of Ukraine was amended with consideration of repeated voter bribery incidents in Ukraine, where the voter bribery was made a separate substance of a crime in 2014, but voter bribery is also condemned by reputable international organizations.
Serhii Berezenko (Solidarity Petro Poroshenko Block) and Hennadii Korban (Ukrainian Union of Patriots – UKROP political party) remain two the most active majoritarian candidates. Unfortunately, both candidates use unfair campaigning methods including voter bribery concealed by pre-electoral charity and even less disguised methods of influence. Ukrop Charitable Fund has placed a number of tents in Chernihiv, disseminating product sets and providing catering for low-income people. Election headquarters of candidate Serhii Berezenko use so-called "social agreements" to mobilize voters.
Political parties in the Parliament and current MPs interfere in the electoral process and publicly support the certain candidates: on one side, they condemn misuses and violations committed by opponents; on the other side, they don't acknowledge and even avoid political responsibility for unfair campaigning efforts of their candidates.
Besides that, some state and local officials don't adhere to the principle of neutrality and use their powers for hidden campaigning or negative campaigning for the benefit of the certain candidates.
Numerous public conflicts and confrontations among electoral subjects with law-enforcement bodies and wide public involved were reported during formation of precinct election commissions in electoral district #205. Conflicts and confrontations in district election commission question its ability to secure due and unbiased administration on the election day and especially during the vote count and tabulation of results. However, openness of the DEC and availability of independent citizen watch over its activities (in accordance with the law) on the election day would allow to neutralize these threats at least in part.
All the progress reached in implementation of democratic electoral standards in the last election campaigns (particularly 2014 Presidential election) can be vanished by targeted efforts of electoral subjects as well as inaction and non-interference of bodies responsible for guaranteeing legitimate and democratic election process in Ukraine.