Civil Network OPORA made the following conclusions based on the results of independent observation of 17 July 2016 parliamentary by-election:
- Candidates for MPs of Ukraine widely used activities that could be characterized as voter bribery during the campaign period and right before the election day. Another issue was attraction of public officials to the electoral process for the benefit of the certain candidates;
- Campaign activities that were aimed to provide the voters with monetary incentive could have had a significant influence on election results. Thus, law-enforcement bodies should urgently respond to each suspicious fact detected by electoral subjects;
- Although there is the certain progress in the way law-enforcement bodies responded to violations in parliamentary by-election in Ukraine, they have failed to provide proper reaction to illegal technologies, use by a number of candidates for MPs of Ukraine; Violations, which were detected by law-enforcement bodies or electoral subjects, require immediate investigation and publication of investigation results;
- OPORA's observers reported a number of violations committed by election commissions, candidates and voters, many of which were gross violations of legislative requirements and electoral standards. However, the violations that OPORA's observers noticed on the election day itself were not widespread. It would be reasonable to differentiate between violations related to activities of election commissions and the results of planned technologies involving voter bribery or controlled voting;
- There were major issues in election administration related to overpolitization of district and precinct commission members, rotations in DECs and PECs, and low competence of commission members. Mutual oversight mechanisms between subjects of the election process was weakened because many candidates, who didn't actually participate in the election campaign, used their right to nominate PEC members.
- The CEC should demonstrate the readiness to use its every legal power in order to properly finish the election process, taking into consideration insufficient cooperation with district election commissions.
ASSESSMENT OF THE CAMPAIGN AND ELECTION DAY
Voter bribery remains the key factor used by the candidates to influence the voting results. Candidates used charitable funds deliberately and methodically to conduct hidden campaigning, and their campaign events often included distribution of free commodities and services to the voters. There were some incidents with the voters involved on the election day, which may be characterized and monetary bribery of voters. For example, observers have reported individuals in Dnipropetrovsk oblast (PS #121221), who received remuneration for controlling the voters who came to the polling station and marking them in previously compiled lists. Another example is that law-enforcement bodies have detained a voter near polling station #650703 in Kherson oblast, who confirmed that he was promised a monetary reward if he votes for the certain candidate. Such incidents prove that there are more widespread and systematic mechanisms used to influence the voting results by the means of bribery, and OPORA detected their features throughout the election campaign. Thus, during the whole election campaign OPORA have been receiving from observers the information about possible preparation of monetary bribery schemes, and promptly reported it to law-enforcement bodies.
Charitable funds, which activities were often directly or indirectly related to candidates for MPs, allowed them not to declare election expenses in an official and transparent manner, and to get non-competitive advantages in campaigning.
Although law-enforcement bodies responded to information about incidents featuring indirect voter bribery quite promptly, there usually was no proper investigation of these facts. Another problem is lack of cooperation between the police, prosecution and electoral administration bodies aimed at detection, investigation and prevention of voter bribery schemes. As long as activities of charitable funds in the election period is not regulated, it's difficult to identify pre-electoral charity as an indirect voter bribery and, therefore, there are no sanctions, applicable to candidates who use such methods.
OPORA's observers reported organized transportation of voters to polling stations in single-member district #183 (Kherson oblast), particularly near the settlements of Heolohiv, Sukharne, Zhytloselysche, and the village of Komyshany. Although the scale of such transportations has decreased compared to previous election circles, electoral subjects may use them as a basis for different forms of voter bribery. Transportation of voters is a free service, which is not declared in campaign fund reporting, and the information about the customers who order such services is not transparent. If the transportation is combined with campaigning, it may be considered as political corruption or misuse of administrative resources in the interests of the certain candidates. Thus, transportation of voters to remote polling stations should be regulated, and local authorities or local self-government bodies should be empowered to organize it in a transparent way. In other case, the law should secure a proper reaction of law-enforcement bodies and sanctions for organization of such transportation services.
The candidates holding offices in local authorities and local self-government bodies have been actively using their status and access to administrative resources, mostly the budget and mass media. Misuse of administrative resources often appears not only when the certain candidates use political ties with public officials, but also because there is no explicit line between duties of nominated public officials and their campaign efforts. Election campaign of the Head of Kherson Oblast Council is a bright example of this problem.
Notifications about mining of PECs, which have being received during the whole election day coming from Kherson (district #183), caused permanent closures of polling stations. Thus, they may be considered as attempts to create artificially low voter turnout. Besides that, such incidents affect the stability of electoral process and question the ability of law-enforcement to counteract illegal election schemes and ensure the safety of voters.
Attempts to issue ballots without previous passport verification were the most common violations detected by OPORA's observers on the election day. Thus, observers have notices such incidents at 41 PECs in all seven districts. Most of them were prevented thanks to the interference of citizen observers and coordinated work of law-enforcement and election commission members. Violation of the voting secrecy was the second most common violation on the election day (occurred at 13 PECs). The third common violation – voters taking pictures of their ballots (detected at 8 PECs). Attempts of ballot-box stuffing (more than one ballot per voter) were detected at 9 PECs. The total number of typical violations has decreased if compared to 2014 parliamentary elections, but the dominating types of violations remained the same.
ACTIVITIES OF ELECTION COMMISSIONS GENERAL ASSESSMENT
There were serious issues with election administration in this parliamentary by-election in Ukraine, mostly related to political impartiality of election commissions, mutual control between electoral subjects, proper conditions for observation, and commissions' ability to organize the election process on a high level of quality.
The current system used to form district and precinct election commissions in parliamentary elections is based on the mechanisms ensuring mutual control between political parties and candidates. However, OPORA believes the real division of influence in district and precinct election commissions is not transparent because many candidates do not actually participate in the election process. This problem was seen quite vividly when precinct election commissions were being formed, taking into consideration a large number of so-called technical candidates.
Thus, many political parties and candidates remained inactive in the campaign, but used the right to delegate representatives to DECs and PECs. As long as electoral subjects devalued the mechanisms of mutual control, activities of election commissions was often politicized and the candidates didn't trust their decisions taken during the election process.
OPORA's observers recorded all the flaws in activities of DECs during this parliamentary by-election in Ukraine, and DECs #206 and #114 turned out to be the most problematic.
Decisions, actions and inaction of DEC #206 (Chernihiv city) concerning electoral procedures, interaction with electoral subject including official observers from NGOs, as well as unauthorized persons interfering into its activities – all these are the proofs that members of this commission failed to secure the compliance with the law. Besides that, observers detected a proxy of a candidate interfering in activities of the election commission, obstruction to activities of observers and violations in formation of PECs.
There were also serious problems in organization and conduct of elections in SMD #114 (Luhansk obl.). For example, the DEC didn't collect and publish official information about voter turnout as of 12, 16 and 20 PM on 17 July 2016. The preliminary voter turnout was published on official website of the CEC around 3 AM on 18 July, and commission members affirmed there were no solid reasons for such a delay. Besides that, OPORA's observers reported that the DEC has substantially reconsidered the voter turnout data as of 12 PM on 17 July 2016. Thus, the DEC has failed to provide the voters with information about voter turnout on the election day and, as a result, caused the electoral subjects to distrust its activities. In addition, members of the DEC #114 failed to solve the problems that appeared in PECs when new members required to confirm their authority after numerous substitutions.
Wide-scale rotations in district and precinct election commissions made all the trainings organized for commission members in vain.
As a result, SMD #114 (Luhansk obl.) suffered the most as new PEC members were submitted on the eve of the election day, and considered by the DEC shortly before preparatory meetings of PECs on 17 July 2016. There were numerous conflicts questioning the authority of these PEC members on the election day, and election administration was made by individuals whose authority has been terminated or individuals who have not acquired it in a legal way. Significant rotations in PEC memberships were also made in other election districts, what stood in the way of proper organization of the voting.
OPORA's observers reported a number of violations committed by PECs on the election day, both during the vote count at polling stations and submitting the electoral documents to DECs. These violations concerned issuance of ballot papers without passport verification, attempts to fill in vote count protocols before the end of voting, disregard of vote count procedures and their succession, making illegal changes in precinct protocols. For example, the National Police has opened two criminal proceedings based on OPORA's information concerning illegal attempts to fill in vote count protocols before the end of election at two polling stations in district #85 (Ivano-Frankivsk obl.). At the same time, PEC members in SMD #206 (Chernihiv city) physically obstructed OPORA's official observer when he was trying to record on video commission members illegally filling in precinct protocols near the DEC.
Although gross violations did occur at PECs during the election day, 17 July 2016, OPORA's observers affirmed they were not widespread. However, one should differentiate the influence of violations which occurred in PECs and the influence of voter bribery schemes, used by unfair candidates.
According to OPORA's assessment, the CEC sometimes didn't secure proper response to the problems in organization of election process in single-member districts and to violations of electoral legislation. There were also flows in its oversight over equal application of the law by election commissions and in coordination of their activities. For example, there could be more efficient response to the problems which occurred in SMD #114 (Luhansk obl.) on the election day, and during formation of PECs in SMDs #114 (Luhansk obl.) and #206 (Chernihiv city).
However, inactivity of the CEC may be explained by the fact that this body is still undergoing the formation process.
To candidates for MPs of Ukraine:
- To refrain from any actions that are not established by the Law concerning the vote count, tabulation of votes and determination of election results;
- To use the existing legal mechanisms of challenging or substantiating electoral violations regardless of the candidate's results.
To the Central Election Commission:
- To use controlling and explanatory functions more often and secure a prompt and comprehensive cooperation with district election commissions; to inform the media and the public about any detected problems and the ways they can be solved.
To district and precinct election commissions:
- To secure legal tabulation of votes and determination of election results, in accordance with the principle of political impartiality and based on the mutual control between electoral subjects.
To Law enforcement agencies:
- To strengthen the efforts in prevention and investigation of election law violations, detected during the election process.