In April, 2019, pre-election campaigning of presidential candidates in Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyi and Petro Poroshenko was competitive and often conflicting. The peculiarity of the period between the two election rounds was in running negative campaigns against presidential candidates. A key debatable issue in political confrontation of the candidates was the question of organizing the public debate between them. At the same time, the most notable feature was no candidates visits to the regions.
Official launch of election campaigning before the second voting round was on April, 8, 2019. Therefore, the formal period for campaigning of the two first round winning candidates was 12 days (from April, 8, to April, 19, inclusive). The time limits of the campaign determined the format of activities by the candidates that focused on media campaigning and on outdoor advertising. In fact, this form of campaigning in various implicit forms has not stopped in the period from March, 30, until April, 7, despite the statutory ban. Financial costs for campaigning during this time were expressely shadow as they were not covered from election funds.
Candidates for the Presidential post were rather active in using mass media, social media, and outdoor advertising for their campaigning. A key debatable issue in political confrontation of the candidates was the question of organizing the public debate between them. Despite the provisions of the Law of Ukraine “On Elections of the President of Ukraine” and the respective resolution of the CEC on organization of television debate at the cost of the national budget of Ukraine, candidates have preliminary agreed the debate would be conducted at the expense of election funds. At the same time, the format for conducting this element of campaigning remains unspecified for the moment of publishing this report.
No regional visits of presidential candidates is the most notable feature of campaigning in April. While Volodymyr Zelenskyi gave up public meetings, picketing, or meetings with voters as a regular practice thorughout his campaign, in the previous month Petro Poroshenko has been one of the leaders in the number of regions visited and the number of public events conducted (thus, in March, 2019, he visited 18 regions). Besides, campaigning of VIP-campaigners in the regions was less active, and there were no de facto cases of pre-election charity of candidates.
Upon the whole, in April, there has been a much lower level of campaigning activities on the part of presidential candidates and their teams, as contrasted to the previous periods of election process. Regional campaigning offices of Petro Poroshenko gave up mass placements of street information tents. Instead, they continued dissemination of printed materials via the network of campaigners. Printed campaigning materials of Volodymyr Zelenskyi were not disseminated intentionally but were available in regional campaigning offices of the candidate.
With no regional activities, candidates continued using billboards and political advertising in mass media as a key form of campaigning.
Campaigning on outdoor advertising media was the most widespread form of campaigning in April for both candidates. Changes were found not only in updated content of political advertising and in presenting new slogans but also in more active use of “black PR” and implicit campaigning.
Materials of outdoor political advertising were commissioned and disseminated by campaigning offices in a centralized manner, while not accounting for regional peculiarities. Petro Poroshenko team placed billboards all over the country depicting the candidate with the President of Russia Vladimir Putin (and also without him) with a new slogan “April 21 – Decisive Choice”. Another version of billboards spread by the candidate had a slogan “The Crucial Thing Is Not to Lose the Country.” In addition, they continued disseminating materials for outdoor campaigning with the slogan “Think Hard!”
During the last month, Volodymyr Zelenskyi team disseminated in different regions of Ukraine citylights with new slogans “End of Falsehood Age” , “End of Voracity Age” and “End of Poverty Age”.
Low intensity of campaigning in the regions of Ukraine and on the level of local communities had an effect on the number of election fraud cases. Since there were no notable activities of local offices of presidential candidates, OPORA observers have not registered any systemic cases of breaking election law.
The peculiarity of the period between the first and the second round of voting was in running negative campaigns against Ukrainian presidential candidates. Massive anti-campaigning was often anonymous while funding sources for such campaigns were not transparent. The anti-camapaigning efforts often actively engaged certain non-governmental organizations that ran the campaigns against Ukrainian presidential candidates. According to OPORA monitoring, the most active negative materials were spread against the candidate Volodymyr Zelenskyi, but Petro Poroshenko was also the target of such information campaigns.
In April, 2019, OPORA observers registered crucial decrease in cases of misusing administrative resource, as compared to the campaigning period before the first round. Public officials and civil servants from local executive authorities and local self-governments usually refrained from engaging in election campaigning. However, the same as in election campaigning before December, 31, official websites of a number of regional state administrations and district state administrations continued posting campaigning materials in favour of the Ukrainian presidential candidate Petro Poroshenko. Cases of posting on official websites of authorities some materials with de facto campaigning in favour of the Ukrainian presidential candidate Petro Poroshenko had a mass scale, and were registered in Kyiv, Transcarpathia, Zaporizhzhia, Ternopil regions, and in other regions of Ukraine. Posts of local authorities ususally did not include any direct calls to vote for the current Head of State but they either supported his election campaign, or presented activities of the Ukrainian presidential candidate Volodymyr Zelenskyi in a negative light.
A key chalenge for organizing the second round was in establishing polling station election commissions. Due to low level of activity of Ukrainian presidential candidates in delegating candidates for members of polling station commissions, DECs built 15% of DEC membership upon their own nominations, while engaging about 60,000 of persons. 48% of DEC members represent the candidate Volodymyr Zelenskyi, 37% – Petro Poroshenko. Crisis with the candidates underexercising their right to delegate members to DECs is another sign to the need to improve the system of administering election process. In particular, it implies increasing financial motivation on the part of the state for citizens engaged in organization of election.