Following the non-partisan observation at the interim elections of people’s deputies of Ukraine in constituencies No 50 and No 87, OPORA hereby states the violation of the political neutrality principle in candidates’ favour on the part of public administration.
According to the law, equality of rights and opportunities for candidates shall be ensured, inter alia, through equal and unbiased attitude of public authorities from all levels to electoral actors. Instead, the organization’s observers registered a number of abuse cases of administrative resources in the two constituencies, in favour of various candidates. The documented violations of principles and standards testify to the burning need of introducing additional warranties for political neutrality of public officials, on the level of the law and by-laws, as well as to change the practices of political actors.
The most resonant case is about the official statement of Ukraine’s Presidential Office on the discussion on March, 25, 2021, when the head of state talked about the vaccination process in Ivano-Frankivsk Oblast with Vasyl Virastiuk, a candidate in constituency No 87 (nominated by the “Servant of the People party). The content of the post on the website of the Presidential Office confirms the official status of the meeting that included public officials from local state administration and local self-government. OPORA hereby states that holding a meeting in the Office of the President of Ukraine attended by Vasyl Virastiuk, a candidate in constituency No 87, qualifies as the violation of democratic standards of elections.
The Presidential Office informed that the discussion of the matters between Volodymyr Zelenskyi and the candidate took place during the working meeting engaging Andriy Boychuk, a head of Ivano-Frankivsk RSA, and Zinoviy Andriyovych, a city mayor of Nadvirna. A big part of the discussion was dedicated to explaining the candidate’s position on the efficiency of pandemic containment and the compensations to small businesses for the quarantine restrictions. Thereat, the Office of Volodymyr Zelenskyi mentioned the candidacy of Vasyl Virastiuk at the interim elections of people’s deputies. The RSA head and the Nadvirna city mayor attending the meeting (Nadvirna is the constituency center) also reported to the President of Ukraine on the state of affairs in preventing the flooding and provision for local health care measures.
Inviting a candidate for people’s deputies of Ukraine to the official event of the Presidential Office attended by the Head of State and public officials from local authorities is the abuse of administrative resources for electoral purposes. This type of breaking electoral standards lies in the fact that certain candidate had been granted the unjustified advantage through the abuse of his personal links with public administration authorities.
A candidate Vasyl Virastiuk participated in the meeting in the role of an electoral actor, which is confirmed by the official note on the website of the Presidential Office. He did not have any legitimate objective related to the performance of official duties to participate in the event administered by the Office of the President of Ukraine that included the executives of the RSA and local self-government. At the same time, the meeting concerned public policy and the functioning of governments of different levels, and cannot be considered a political event of the President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyi.
OPORA hereby urges the President of Ukraine and his Office to not break the standards of democratic elections and to ensure the genuine political neutrality of public administration within their competence. Although the Head of State is a political figure, the official events with his attendance, as organized by civil servants and having the official status, shall undergo all and the same restrictions provided by the national law and international documents.
In addition to this incident, observers registered multiple facts of local self-government officials participating in de-facto campaigning events for a broad range of candidates. In constituency No 50 in Donetsk Oblast, local self-government officials campaigned in favour of the candidate Andriy Aksionov (“Poriadok” party); in constituency No 87 of Ivano-Frankivsk Oblast, cases have been registered of engaging public officials from local self-government into campaigns supporting candidates Oleksandr Shevchenko (“For the Future”), Ruslan Koshulynskyi (“Svoboda” AU), Vasyl Virastiuk (“Servant of the People”), and Yuriy Holiney (“Platform of Hromadas” All-Ukrainian Union). The actual participation of public officials in pre-election campaigns of certain candidates saw various manifestations, and did not always directly break the law. However, in OPORA’s view, prevention of direct or implicit abuse of power for electoral purposes is a key precondition, among others, for competitive and democratic elections.
As regards the scale of the issue, the government shall introduce efficient mechanisms to prevent the implicit campaigning and abuse of administrative resources during elections. OPORA hereby calls upon the Committee of Verkhovna Rada on the organization of state power, regional development, local self-governance, and urban planning to pay a special attention to the issue when drafting the amendments to the Electoral Code.
In addition, OPORA hereby emphasizes it unacceptable to have candidates and political parties make use of the pandemic as a “legitimate” reason to implement the technologies of financial incentivization of voters. Candidates’ activities in providing health care facilities and individuals with equipment, goods, and services related to the disease containment included the elements of indirect voter bribery.