Kyiv, October 27, 2020 – “The European Network of Election Monitoring Organizations (ENEMO) preliminarily assesses that the 2020 Local Elections were generally free and competitive and well administered, although the process was affected by challenges mostly related to COVID-19, the complexity of the new electoral system, biased media coverage, allegations of vote buying and abuse of administrative resources”, said Mr. Zlatko Vujovic, Head of the ENEMO Mission to Ukraine at the press conference held at News Agency UNIAN.
The 2020 local elections were held under a new Election Code, including substantial changes to the electoral system. The preliminary voter turnout announced by the CEC was 36.88 per cent. The tabulation process, as well as allocation of seats remains to be finalized. ENEMO will continue to follow these closely and comment on them in its second preliminary statement after the second round of elections.
“The legal framework generally provides grounds for the conduct of elections in line with international standards. Recent reforms have, overall, strengthened the framework, although not all observer recommendations were addressed”, explained Mr. Vujovic.
ENEMO deems that the combined use of proportional and majoritarian systems for the election of local officials is reasonable in the context, but does create a level of complexity for electoral officials and voters alike.
“As such, even more emphasis should have been placed on training and voter education for election officials and voters respectively. The inclusion of open party lists for the election of local deputies in areas with more than 10,000 voters was welcomed, as it enhances transparency and accountability. The adoption of a mandatory gender quota for party lists was a positive step towards higher levels of representation for women in political life, although ENEMO notes that it is not reinforced with an obligation to replace a leaving councilor with a candidate of the same gender” added Mr. Vujovic.
ENEMO notes that the Central Election Commission (CEC) demonstrated its professionalism and operated in a mostly transparent manner, working diligently to meet all deadlines in the election calendar, despite not providing an online register of complaints at the election administration level therefore limiting the transparency of the complaints adjudication process.
Mr. Vujovic, stated: “The work of the CEC was burdened by the need to adopt COVID-19 prevention measures for Election Day due to failure of the Verkhovna Rada to pass these measures ahead of the elections. Additional challenges were caused by uncertainties related to financing of these measures and late decisions of the Cabinet of Ministers”.
In addition to uncertainties in the process pertaining to measures to limit COVID-19 infections at polling stations, the work of the CEC was further challenged by frequent requests for replacement of Territorial Election Commission (TEC) members. However, the work and professionalism of TECs can be positively assessed overall, in particular given the above mentioned challenges, although levels of preparedness of members seemed to vary due to frequent replacements and insufficient training.
Mr. Pierre Peytier, Deputy Head of Mission said: “Universal suffrage and the right to vote are generally provided for in Ukraine. However, nearly half a million Ukrainian voters were disenfranchised in these elections, due to the decision of the Verkhovna Rada not to conduct elections in 18 communities in Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts, on account of security concerns caused by the ongoing conflict in eastern Ukrainian territories and the Autonomous Republic of Crimea”.
Furthermore, he added: “The new simplified measures for voter registration were welcomed, in principle facilitating the participation of IDPs, economic migrants and voters without registration. However, few requests were filed and few voters took advantage of this possibility to register in the election, while some cases of abuse of this procedure were noted”.
The process of candidate registration was overall inclusive, despite some cases of candidates and political parties not being given the opportunity to correct mistakes in the registration process, resulting in appeals to the courts. Several of these cases included non-compliance with the new gender quota in party lists and other technical issues. The mission observed inconsistencies in the application of the gender requirement by TECs in charge of registering the candidate lists and by courts.
“Candidates and parties were generally able to campaign freely, despite considerable limitations on public gatherings due to COVID-19. As a consequence, electoral contestants put emphasis on campaigning through digital means including social media, messaging applications, and online platforms. Isolated cases of violence and widespread “black PR” towards candidates were reported by ENEMO observers during the campaign”, explained Mr. Peytier.
A vast majority of ENEMO interlocutors raised concerns regarding misuse of administrative resources and abusing incumbency.
“Despite reinforced sanctions against direct and indirect vote-buying in the Election Code, multiple cases of vote buying schemes were also reported to the mission. Additionally, the lack of an upper limit for candidates’ spending on electoral campaigns, political parties and candidates not complying with the financial reporting requirements, and the limited oversight capacities of the TECs, creates an unlevel playing field and limits campaign finance transparency”, added Mr. Peytier.
Additionally he stated that Freedom of expression is provided for and the media landscape continues to be diverse, although disinformation, biased media coverage, and hidden advertising (jeansa) remain a concern. ENEMO deems insufficient the array of sanctions at the disposal of the National Television and Radio Broadcasting Council (NTRBC).
“The scope for deploying international election observation missions to Ukraine for these polls was considerably limited due to the COVID-19 pandemic, limiting the opportunity to further increase the transparency of the electoral process”, he said.
Ms. Maja Milikic, Press Officer stated: “This statement is preliminary in nature, pending final count and tabulation of results, and is based on ENEMO’s findings throughout the regions of Ukraine observed from 15 September to 26 October. Following this preliminary statement of findings and conclusions, the mission will continue following potential complaints and appeals after Election Day. A final report including potential recommendations will be issued within sixty days from the certification of results”.
Disclaimer: ENEMO’s international observation mission for the 25 October 2020 Local Elections in Ukraine is financially supported by USAID through the National Democratic Institute (NDI). The content of the document is the sole responsibility of ENEMO and does not necessarily represent the position of the donors.