On October 28, the international election observation missions of the Ukrainian World Congress (UWC) and the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America (UCCA) presented their preliminary observations of Ukraine’s local elections.
The purpose of the UWC and UCCA missions is to support an open and transparent electoral process in Ukraine. The UWC and the UCCA support Ukraine’s commitment to international standards for free and fair elections, which reflect the will of the electorate, and do not support any candidate, political party or bloc.
The Central Election Commission of Ukraine accredited 26 official observers from the UWC and the UCCA. On election day, the electoral process was monitored by official observers from six countries, namely, Canada, the U.S.A., Denmark, Switzerland, Great Britain and France. The UWC and UCCA missions observed the electoral process in the Dnipropetrovsk, Donetsk, Kyiv and Chernihiv oblasts, and in the city of Kyiv.
The UWC and UCCA international missions focused on the following key tasks:
- analyzing the legal basis of the electoral process, particularly, the Electoral Code of Ukraine, and Ukraine’s commitment to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the Council of Europe, and in the context of other international standards of democratically held elections;
- evaluating Ukraine’s readiness to ensure democratic elections, counteracting possible foreign interference, manipulation and violations of the electoral process;
- monitoring Ukraine’s readiness to hold elections during the pandemic;
- media monitoring, including international media;
- observing the election process on the eve of and on election day at polling stations, as well as observing the vote-counting process and the announcement of election results.
The mission noted a number of positive legislative changes compared to the 2015 local elections. This is the first time that the suffrage of internally displaced persons (IDPs) and internal labor migrants was adjusted for the purpose of local elections, and that innovative electronic services to change electoral addresses were introduced. Almost 92,000 voters used this service and changed their voting addresses to participate in the local elections.
Another positive factor is the approach toward gender representation introduced in the Electoral Code of Ukraine during the formation of single and territorial electoral lists, providing for the inclusion of at least two candidates of each gender in every consecutive set of five candidates.
It was also the first time that Ukraine has adopted the legislative norms to fully ensure the voting rights of people with disabilities.
The UWC International Election Mission was alarmed by the fact that, despite the Verkhovna Rada’s July announcement about the local elections taking place all over Ukraine except for the temporarily occupied territories, no elections were held in 18 territorial communities of the Luhansk and Donetsk oblasts.
In 2019, these 18 communities held both presidential and parliamentary elections. Now that a ceasefire has been declared, the conditions for holding elections are likely to be more favorable than a year ago.
The mission noticed imperfections of legislation that gives civil-military administrations the right to not comply with the resolution of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine and to decide on the impossibility of holding local elections. Notably, civil-military administrations have a conflict of interest with local communities over control of community funds. More than 500,000 voters were effectively robbed of their constitutional right to elect the government of local self-government bodies.
Since the launch of the electoral process, the UWC and the UCCA international election observation missions met with representatives of key government bodies that were responsible for facilitating various aspects of the election: the CEC leadership, Ministry of Internal Affairs, National Police, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and representatives of the Verkhovna Rada. The UWC and UCCA missions also worked closely with international missions, including the OSCE, expert NGOs such as the Committee of Voters of Ukraine and OPORA, and a number of other NGOs and think tanks. In addition, meetings were held with the hierarchs of Ukrainian Churches.
The missions noted that any direct interference in Ukraine’s internal affairs by foreign states is absolutely unacceptable. This includes campaigning for a political party during Hungarian State Secretary Janos Arpad Potapy’s visit to the Zakarpattia region and the call of Hungarian Foreign Affairs Minister Péter Szijjártó addressing Hungarians of that region to support the party KMKSZ – the Hungarian Party in Ukraine – in the local elections on October 25.
On the eve of and during election day, official observers noted the following violations and difficulties at selected polling stations:
- delays in opening some polling stations;
- lack of ballot boxes, in one case one of the two mobile ballot boxes could not be sealed;
- improper sealing and placement of ballot boxes, including mobile ballot boxes, at the polling station;
- attempts to take a picture with a ballot paper and attempts to take a ballot paper outside;
- lack of voting booths, including special voting booths for people with disabilities;
- voting of people with disabilities in wheelchairs outside the booths;
- improper arrangement of voting booths;
- elements of prohibited campaigning on election day;
- problems with lists, the absence on the lists of people who were discharged on the eve of election day;
- difficult access of elderly people and people with disabilities to certain polling stations,
- non-compliance with anti-epidemiological measures.
These violations were not systemic and generally did not affect the election results. These preliminary conclusions are submitted before the counting of votes is completed and the preliminary and final results of the elections are announced, and possible complaints and appeals are considered.
“These elections were different from other elections in the history of Ukraine because of the challenges associated with the pandemic and the expanded powers of local government bodies to address local issues,” emphasized Andriy Futey, head of the UCCA Election Observation Mission.
“In fact, Russia’s hybrid military aggression against Ukraine had the largest negative impact on the 2020 local elections in Ukraine, as it did not allow the Ukrainian people to elect local governments in Crimea and in the occupied territories of the Donbas,” noted the head of UWC Election Observation Mission, Borys Wrzesnewskyj. “The UWC and UCCA missions continue their work, expecting to submit a detailed report from both missions after the elections with specific recommendations for improving the electoral processes,” he said.