Civil Network OPORA hereby urges the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, the parliamentary committee on the organization of state power, regional development, local self-government, and urban planning to resume and intensify the electoral reform, and legislative preparation to the regular local elections in Ukraine.  The recent public and expert discussion of changes to the Electoral Code took place in the Committee on March, 10, and de facto terminated after the escalation of the epidemiological situation.

The organizations believes that the parliamentary committee shall develop changes to the Electoral Code during April, 2020, to run the large-scale online discussion of the draft, to be ready to bring it forward to the parliament’s consideration without undue delay. The task can be efficiently fulfilled under current conditions, taking into account the Verkhovna Rada’s decision to authorize committee meetings in a videoconference mode. The Parliament, on the other hand, shall introduce critical changes to the Electoral Code before May, 2020. 

We would like to pay special attention to the fact that it is unacceptable to have any backroom deals between factions and groups about elections without due discussions in the parliament and with the stakeholders.  Another bad parliamentarian practice is to have possible agreements between factions and groups on supporting some draft laws in exchange for voting for the non-public version of changes to Electoral Code. OPORA insists on the transparent, open, and highly depoliticized approach to the process of drafting changes to electoral laws.

Pandemics and its various consequences, such as social disintegration and reinforcement of the controlling function of the state, do objectively pose risks for democratic development of society. An important element of a democratic process is to hold regular elections on the grounds of universal, equal, free, secret and direct suffrage.  Currently, different countries in the world are postponing their elections due to coronavirus. The consequences for democracy in these societies are yet to be embraced.

The government’s priority shall focus on life and health of citizens.  It must be applied in all spheres of society. If the situation requires, the procedures shall also take into account security challenges and focus on protection of voters. However, we do believe it is important to avoid any unjustified decisions on restricting political and civils rights of citizens. 

Society needs to be certain that any measures of the government to counteract the pandemics are warranted by the circumstances, and the restrictions are not based on situational political interests. In Ukrainian reality, it implies the need for due legislative and organizational preparation to regular local elections scheduled for this October. Specifically, the non-reformed electoral law shall not be used as a formal substantiation for political decisions on reviewing the period and requirements to conduct the regular local elections. 

OPORA urges the parliament to provide for quality changes in the Electoral Code that had included substantial shortcomings and gaps before. 

Key areas to improve the Electoral Code include the following:

  • Intensifying the impact of voters on the order of priorities in distribution of mandates under proportionate system with open lists, and detailing of the respective procedures.
  • Adding more detail to the procedures for registration of candidates at elections, and reducing the amount of electoral deposit.
  • Enhancing the professional level of election commissions and of the legislative guarantees for internal reform in the CEC.
  • Improved procedure for running the pre-election campaign and regulating the campaigning on the Internet and in social media.
  • Increasing transparency of electoral finance.
  • Elaboration of procedures for registration of voters and administration of the State Voter Registry.
  • Approving changes to the Criminal Code of Ukraine and to the Code on Administrative Offense to provide for the irreversible punishment for electoral fraud.
  • Enhancing legislative guarantees for participation of persons with disabilities in the electoral process.

These priorities for electoral reform, among others, are described in detail in a joint document of the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) and OPORA on priorities of reforms in electoral field, referenda and political finance. The outcomes of the public discussion of the law on local elections must be taken into account. The discussion took place in the Committee of Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine on organization of state power, regional development, local self-government and urban planning on March, 10, 2020.

We hereby recommend to the Committee of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine on the organization of state power, regional development, local self-government, and urban planning:

  • At the nearest videoconference meeting, to establish a working group of people’s deputies of Ukraine, representatives of national and international expert organizations, CEC members, and representatives of local self-government to draft the changes to Electoral Code.
  • To establish a general procedure and terms for activities of the working group to improve the Electoral Code, while providing for the possible finalization of changes by the end of April, 2020.
  • To provide for systemic  wide dissemination of information to society on the outcomes of Working Group on all stages of drafting changes to the Electoral Code (such as by introducing a formal mechanism and organizational support for such dissemination).
  • To adopt an official request to the Head of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine on the order of priority to consider aspects of due preparation for the regular local elections, such as introducing changes to Electoral Code before end of May, 2020. 

We hereby urge the parliamentary factions and groups to be consistent in the exercise of their political promises and initiatives on promotion of electoral reform, as well as to publicly declare their position on further improvement of the law on local elections.

OPORA states the willingness to participate in all activities of the committee and the parliament on preparation to local elections, to offer the respective information, analytical, and expert support.