On 24 December 2017, the election was held in 51 united territorial communities, including 5 city, 30 village and 16 settlement communities. In 17 oblasts of Ukraine the elections were held at least in one territorial community, while the majority of UTCs were electing local self-government bodies in Mykolaiv (7), Poltava (7), and Khmelnytsk (6) oblasts.
OPORA's long-term observers are providing an independent non-partisan observation of the first local elections in united territorial communities on 24 December 2017, except for electoral processes in Kyiv and Khmelnytsk oblasts. OPORA observed key stages of the election process, including the election day on 24 December 2017. OPORA didn't deploy a network of short-term observers at election precincts, providing a narrow observation.
OBSERVATION FINDINGS OF THE ORGANIZATION AND CONDUCT OF ELECTIONS
The first local elections of 24 December 2017 have one more time showed it's necessary to improve the electoral legislation and election administration system, as well as to raise the competence of election commission members and introduce efficient practices preventing electoral violations. The following factors have had a negative influence on the electoral process in united territorial communities, held on 24 December 2017: obscurity of some regulations in the Law of Ukraine on Local Elections and, as a result, the legal uncertainty of some important electoral procedures; nontransparent financing of election campaigning; misuse of administrative resources by civil servants; and problems with the production of ballot papers. Similarly to the previous first local elections in united territorial communities, unequal application of the law by election commissions and courts remains the topical issue, proving the need to improve the legislation and conduct full-scale training campaigns. In some cases, wrong interpretation of electoral legislation have resulted in prolonged electoral disputes, including the registration of candidates.
The problems, noticed by OPORA's observers are not new for local elections in Ukraine. Moreover, similar issues were detected during the previous elections in united territorial communities. Unfortunately, Ukrainian Parliament and its committees have ignored previous calls of independent observation organizations and the CEC to improve the legislative framework for the first local elections, preventing the repeated drawbacks in future elections. OPORA is convinced that the Parliament should urgently return to the development of the electoral reform with consideration of the drawbacks of the first local elections in united territorial communities.
The certainty of punishment for electoral crimes remains the key function of the state, which hasn't been fulfilled properly. OPORA's observers have detected a number of electoral violations, particularly violation of campaigning rules, interference of state officials in the election process, the use of municipal resources for the benefit of the certain candidates, violation of electoral legislation by election commission members. Besides that, many reports and appeals from electoral subject should be verified by law-enforcement bodies in an independent and unbiased manner. We are especially concerned about the information regarding probability of voter bribery technologies on this election, as well as manipulations with the votes at special election precincts and while voting at the places of stay. This information should be confirmed or refuted on the basis of proper investigation by law-enforcement bodies. OPORA's observers call on the law-enforcement bodies of Ukraine to inform mass media and the public about the course of investigations into violation of electoral legislation.
OPORA draws attention to apparently politically motivated decisions, actions and inaction of election commissions. Although such decisions were not wide-scale, they resulted in significant restriction of the competitiveness in electoral process. The most controversial incident was noticed in Tairovska settlement community (Odesa oblast), where a candidate for the settlement head was not registered because the TEC didn't execute court decisions. The CEC didn't respond to the issues involving illegitimate inaction or decisions of TECs, and didn't use the authority it has to restore the constitutional rights of electoral subjects. In 2015 regular local elections, however, the CEC had been actively restoring the electoral rights of candidates and local party cells, violated by TECs. OPORA's observers emphasize the need of renewing membership of the CEC, what will positively influence its motivation to respond to the issues of electoral process, as well as raise the legitimacy of election processes and election administration bodies in Ukraine.
Taking into the consideration a set of the issues, detected during 24 December 2017 first local elections, we can not affirm that the election process was held in line with the generally recognized electoral standards and the national legislation. OPORA believes that such observation summary must motivate the state authorities to introduce a comprehensive electoral reform involving the certainty of punishment for electoral violations.
Local party cells are actively involved in the first local elections. According to OPORA's data, around 80% of candidates for village and settlement heads were nominated by local party cells and only 20% of candidates nominated independently. Such high involvement means that the parties have enough staff and are already preparing to the next national election campaigns. The parties, for their part, should guarantee a balance between the national agenda and local development issues, but not the dominance of the first context in their pre-election campaigns.
According to OPORA's observation findings, local party cells and candidates didn't use to the full extent the legislative opportunities to influence and oversight the election administration process. This problem occurred, for example, during the formation of PECs and control commissions for ballot production, demonstrating that the parties are not motivated to facilitate the stability of election administration.
ASSESSMENT OF THE VOTING AND TABULATION
On 24 December 2017, official observers of Civil Network OPORA provided an independent observation of the voting process and vote count during the first local elections in united territorial communities (except for Kyiv and Khmelnytsk oblasts).
The observers haven't noticed any substantial violations, which could have affected the voting process or the election results with the scale or consequences, on the election day. Activities of precinct election commissions and election administration were properly organized. However, most of the detected issues and incidents were caused by unprofessionalism or low competence of precinct election commission members.
Employees of law-enforcement bodies ensured public order at election precincts quite well, and guaranteed the safety for each electoral stakeholder with no intervention in the voting process. OPORA's observers closely cooperated with law-enforcement bodies, aimed to prevent violations or their proper documentation. OPORA's observers made a report on violation for each incident, to guarantee an evidential base for bringing to liability for violations.
Key issues in guaranteeing the legitimacy and proper organization of the election day resulted from procedural violations, committed by PEC members. They often caused conflicts among electoral subjects, complications in activities of election commissions and inconveniences in the voting process. For example, the incidents in Volyn (precinct #070454 in the village of Zaturka) and Odesa oblasts (precinct #510685 in the village of Lymanka, 11 Raduzhnyi residential area), where the certain conflicts and attempts of putting pressure upon observers or the voters occurred when the violations were detected and stopped.
Besides procedural violations committed by PEC members, candidates and parties detected the most often a violation of law requirement prohibiting the distribution of campaigning materials on the eve of the election and the election day itself. Attempts of unauthorized individuals (party members and officials) to stay in PEC premises and watch the voting process is another usual violation, when public figures do knowingly ignore the law and try to perform unusual for them to function.
The situation with low-quality ballot printing and the lack of oversight over ballot production is almost threatening. There were incidents of errors in personal data of candidates or even the absence of some candidates in ballots (such incidents occurred the most often in Poltava oblast).
A special attention should be paid to the problem of sticking to the deadlines and the consequence of procedures by PEC members on the election day (established by the Article 77(4) of the Law of Ukraine on Local Elections). OPORA's observers have reported late openings of election precincts and beginning of the voting process, caused by the delays with sealing of ballot boxes, counting of ballots, registration of observers and proxies attending the morning meetings. In particular, such incidents occurred in Dnipropetrovsk oblast (precinct #120473 and #120588), Ivano-Frankivsk oblast (#260280), Zaporizhia oblast (#230259, #230244, #230243), Odesa oblast (#510685, #511449, #510682), Sumy oblast (#590398), and Volyn oblast (#070454).
Numerous attempts of issuing ballots without passport verification require a wide-scale awareness and training campaign. Such incidents occurred in Volyn and Chernihiv oblasts the most often. For example, members of the PEC #230515 in the village of Novooleksiivka (Zakarpattia oblast) had unanimously allowed a voter to vote on the basis of passport copy, stating they know him personally. However, the law clearly states that the only document which certifies the identity and confirms citizenship and residence is a passport of the citizen of Ukraine. OPORA's observer has drawn up the corresponding act to report on this violation.
Observers have also detected illegal issuance of ballots, causer either by legal ignorance of PEC members, or by their intention to purposefully distort the election results. For example, in Odesa oblast (precinct #510685 in the village of Lymanka, 11 Raduzhnyi residential area), observers and proxies have detected an attempt to issue ballots to the voters, registered in another district (city of Podilsk, Odesa oblast). Operational-investigative group has detained three persons and made an investigation of an incident involving them and two commission members. In Cherkasy oblast (precinct #710257, the village of Rebedailivka), a voter had mistakingly received ballots from another district, where he is not allowed to vote. However, the voter has managed to vote for a city head and a councilor, and throw the ballot into ballot box. When the mistake was discovered, the commission had drawn up a report on mistakingly issued ballot, and issued the voter another ballot, from his district this time, allowing him to vote for a councilor again, what is contrary to the Article 77 of the Law of Ukraine on Local Elections. Similar situation occurred at precinct #710436 (village of Buky), but the commission gave a justified rejection on the voter's request to vote again.
State Voter Register maintenance bodies should make stronger efforts to inform the voters about the importance of checking their personal information in the lists. Inaccuracies in voter lists occur more often, compared to the previous local elections, resulting in the impossibility to realize the voting rights by the voters. Thus, every single PEC in Odesa oblast had an incident when the voters didn't find themselves in the voter lists. In the village of Novopetrivka (Shyrokivska UTC, Mykolaiv oblast) at precinct #480620 the citizens couldn't vote for council members because of discrepancies in information about their registration address. In Poltava oblast (precinct #530774), some voters, who received invitations, were not found in voter lists. Besides that, one of them received an invitation on the name of his relative, who passed away more than two years ago.
The presence of unauthorized persons, who use their official status or authority of a deputy to watch the voting process at PEC premises regardless of the law, has a negative impact on the course of election process. Observers have regularly reported such incidents. For example, representatives of Vinnytsia oblast cell of the AUU Batkivshchyna political party were present at election precincts in Novohrebelska territorial community, and Head of the UKROP faction was present in oblast council, and all of them introduced themselves in different ways (as deputies at one PECs and as correspondents at another). Head of Enerhodar city cell of the AUU Batkivshchyna attended at PEC #230259 (Zaporizhia oblast, village of Ivanivka, Kamianko-Dniprovskyi raion) without any document allowing his presence. The man had left the premises after an observer and police intervened. OPORA's observers have noticed that 4-5 representatives (observers) of one electoral subject were present simultaneously at some PECs in Chernivtsi oblast.
Not all electoral subjects follow the prohibition on campaigning after 12 PM of the last Friday before the election day (the majority of incidents were detected in Dnipropetrovsk and Poltava oblasts). Taking into consideration that such incidents are easy to notice and report on, law-enforcement bodies should make more efforts aimed at the detection and investigation of such violations. Besides that, such violations often involve dissemination of campaigning materials without an imprint, or materials financed from other sources than the electoral fund.
Observers draw attention to the material and technical condition of election precincts – poor arrangement of PEC premises, the absence of comfortable conditions for commissions and the voting process, interruptions in power supply.
Observers had been receiving the information about voter bribery attempts from time to time on the election day (particularly in Chernivtsi oblast and Chernihiv oblasts), but we haven't managed to find any evidence for this information. However, Civil Network OPORA emphasizes the need for more coordinated activities of law-enforcement bodies, aimed to detect either initiators and bribery networks, or the sources of false information.
To the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, VRU committees
- To guarantee a comprehensive dialog in the Parliament concerning the experience of holding to first local elections in united territorial communities and determine the priorities for improvement of the corresponding legislation.
- To guarantee a proper parliamentary oversight of the investigations into electoral crimes.
- To return to the obligations concerning electoral reform in Ukraine, including those in the Coalition Agreement, signed in 2014.
To the Central Election Commission
- To secure an efficient oversight of election commissions working in line with the legislation on the stage of establishing the election results.
To law-enforcement agencies of Ukraine
- To guarantee investigation of violations, committed on the first local elections, and inform the public on their results.
To territorial election commissions
- To guarantee the legitimate tabulation of election results in the first local elections (and prevent making any illegal specifications in precinct protocols).
- To guarantee the oversight of adherence to legislative requirements concerning the reporting of electoral fund managers of local party cells and candidates.
- To guarantee the rights of observers, providing the best opportunities to monitor the final stage of electoral process.