INTERNATIONAL ELECTION OBSERVATIONMISSION (IEOM): Statement of Preliminary Findings and Conclusions (Ukraine— Local Elections, 25 October 2015)
Kyiv, 26 October 2015—This Statement of Preliminary Findings and Conclusions is the result of a common endeavour involving the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OSCE/ODIHR), the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe (Congress) and the European Parliament (EP).
(…) The assessment was made to determine whether the election complied with OSCE commitments and Council of Europe standards, as well as international obligations and domestic legislation. Each of the institutions involved in this IEOM has endorsed the 2005 Declaration of Principles for International Election Observation. This Statement of Preliminary Findings and Conclusions is delivered prior to the completion of the election process. The final assessment of the election will depend, in part, on the conduct of the remaining stages of the election process, including the tabulation of results and the handling of possible post-election day complaints and appeals. The OSCE/ODIHR EOM will maintain a presence in Ukraine for observation of the foreseen second rounds of mayoral elections. The OSCE/ODIHR will issue a comprehensive final report, including recommendations for potential improvements, some eight weeks after the completion of the election process. The Congress final report will be adopted at the next plenary session in March 2016. The EP will present its report at an upcoming meeting of the Committee on Foreign Affairs.
The 2015 local elections were widely viewed as a barometer of the authorities’ intentions to maintain the positive standards achieved during the 2014 presidential and parliamentary elections. The elections were competitive, well organized overall and the campaign generally showed respect for the democratic process. Nevertheless, the complexity of the legal framework, the dominance of powerful economic groups over the electoral process, and the fact that virtually all campaign coverage in the media was paid for, underscore the need for continued reform. Additional efforts are needed to further enhance the integrity of and public confidence in the electoral process. The voting and counting process was transparent and orderly overall, despite the lack of clarity in the procedural provisions.
The elections took place in challenging political, economic, humanitarian and security environment, and against the backdrop of a constitutional reform process aiming at decentralization. The context was characterized by the illegal annexation of the Crimean peninsula by the Russian Federation and the temporary control of parts of the territory of the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts by illegal armed groups. This made it impossible for over 5 million voters in these areas to vote. The Central Election Commission (CEC) made resolute efforts to organize elections throughout the country, but they could not be held in parts of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts and on the Crimean peninsula.
The election law was adopted less than four months before election day in an non-inclusive manner. Despite long-standing OSCE/ODIHR and the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission recommendations, the legal framework continues to be fragmented, contains gaps and ambiguities and lacks clarity. Overall, the legal framework falls short of some OSCE and Council of Europe commitments and international standards.
The CEC operated collegially overall, meeting legal deadlines. Cases of decisions along political lines, of evasion of open discussion during sessions, of arbitrary decision-making, as well as abuse of authority by some Territorial Election Commissions (TECs), undermined confidence in these commissions. The complexity of the election law raised concerns among the commissioners and affected their performance. A number of interlocutors voiced allegations of corrupt practices related to the trading of seats in the Precinct Election Commissions (PECs).
OSCE/ODIHR EOM interlocutors expressed general trust in the voter registration system. Voters who were away from their voting addresses on election day were not able to cast their ballots, except for those voting in special election precincts established in medical institutions. The law does not provide for voting by internally displaced persons (IDPs).
The restrictive interpretation and inconsistent implementation of candidate registration rules hindered the right for candidates to stand on an equal basis in several instances, contrary to OSCE and Council of Europe commitments and other international obligations and standards. These problems persisted throughout the pre-election period, affecting the equal opportunity to campaign. In a number of instances observed by OSCE/ODIHR EOM, TEC decisions with respect to the registration of certain candidates and party lists appeared politically motivated and designed to exclude certain political forces from participating in the elections. Often the CEC and the courts intervened to restore the rights of candidates.
The campaign environment was competitive and voters had a wide array of parties and candidates to choose from. However, it was dominated by wealthy donors and their associated business interests who focused their resources on the mayoral and oblast council races. The absence of ceilings on campaign expenditures further prevented the level playing field during the campaign period. Campaign finance regulations remained insufficiently transparent. The OSCE/ODIHR EOM received widespread allegations of vote-buying. In some areas the campaign was marred by threats and physical attacks targeting candidates and campaign workers.
The media sector with its vividness and turmoil reflects Ukraine’s overall political climate. The growing power and politicization of media groups affect both national and regional media. The political and business interests controlling the media often influence editorial policy, and the malpractice of paid-for journalism is widespread. The legal framework overregulates pre-election coverage, yet poorly defines provisions for it, at odds with OSCE commitments and international standards. The halting and incomplete transformation of the National Television and Radio Company (NTRC) from a state-owned to a public broadcaster hampered independence and editorial freedom of the NTRC called for by international obligations. OSCE/ODIHR EOM media monitoring showed that only three registered parties were granted meaningful editorial coverage across the media landscape. Most of the monitored TV channels with a nationwide reach, including the NTRC, predominantly featured two to three political parties each within their prime time programming.
National minorities’ participation in these elections was affected by the crisis in the east and the temporary control of parts of the territory by illegal armed groups, and the illegal annexation of the Crimean peninsula. Representation of national minorities was further hindered by several aspects of the election legislation, especially the inability to self-nominate or run independently in local council races, as well as the increased five per cent threshold for party lists.
Most complaints filed with the CEC were considered in private by individual CEC members, which undermined the transparency and collegiality of the process. Courts handled complaints and appeals within the established timelines respecting due process. However, non-uniform interpretation of the law undermined legal certainty, as well as the principle of equality before the law.
Citizen observer groups and international organizations could register an unlimited number of observers who have broad rights, including the right to attend sessions of all election commissions and to receive documents, including results protocols. The inclusive accreditation of observers contributed to the transparency of the electoral process.
For the first time, the election law introduced the requirement of at least 30 per cent representation of each gender on a party list, but regrettably did not provide for any sanctions for failure to comply. According to the CEC, women comprised about 35 per cent of all registered candidates for the proportional races and 13 per cent in mayoral races. However, female candidates were largely absent from the media landscape, and a small number of them featured in the campaign across the country. Women are well-represented at the CEC and on the TECs, including in leadership roles.
The voting and counting process was transparent and orderly overall. Printing and distribution of ballots proved problematic in many parts of the country. Despite the lack of clarity in the procedural provisions, the PECs were generally able to organize the voting and counting well. Tabulation was ongoing at the time of publication. Party and candidate agents were present in large numbers during all stages of the process, while citizen observers were noted less frequently.