Civic organizations initiate wide public discussion of electoral reform
The OPORA Civic Network, the Committee of Voters of Ukraine, the Legislative Initiatives Laboratory and Ukrainian Independent Centre of Political Research have announced that they are creating a consortium aimed at ensuring public participation in the drawing up of electoral legislation and legislation regulating the activities of political institutions.
At a press conference on 29 March, representatives of the civic organizations stressed that the public needs to be as fully involved as is feasible in improving electoral legislation and that the process must take place in a transparent and open manner. They also put forward a number of proposals summarized below.
While noting that all existing electoral systems have their faults, they believe that the best system for Ukraine would be a proportional representation system with voting for “open lists” of candidates. However, as long as generally accepted European standards for holding democratic and honest elections are observed, with procedure clearly defined, together with liability for violations or abuse, any system would be acceptable.
A TNS study in February 2011 found that only 22.5% of Ukrainians believe that the next parliamentary elections should be held according to a proportional system with closed lists of candidates from parties or blocs. Only 27.6% support the introduction of a mixed electoral system. The parliamentary elections of 1998 and 2002 showed that a mixed system leads to significant disproportion between the number of votes given for a party and the number of actual mandates received. This is linked with the considerable influence of “administrative resource” on the results of elections in single mandate constituencies. A mixed system has a number of other failings as well: infringement of the principle of equality of deputies voted in according to party lists and those separately; weakened liability of the government before parliament; etc.
It is stressed that given the present political will to introduce a mixed system, the President and the Committee he has created should take into consideration the experience of electoral campaigns carried out under an analogous system – the parliamentary elections of 1998 and 2002 and the 2010 local elections. The latter were marred by systemic violations of international norms which were programmed in by the electoral law introduced earlier in 2010.
Furthermore a mixed proportional majority system which does not ensure the right of individuals to put themselves forward as candidates means that the electoral process is closed around party organizations which do not enjoy a high level of public confidence.
Summary of the pecific proposals
1. The time frames of the electoral campaign should be established taking into account the organizational needs and constitutional requirements for the election process. This includes ensuring adequate time to exercise ones right to appeal against decisions, actions or omissions linked with the elections.
2. Participation of blocs in the electoral campaign should be regulated by the profile law taking into account the low corporate level within “bloc” factions outside the election period.
The formation of electoral commissions on the basis of balanced party representation is impossible if quotas are issued to factions since the parties within a bloc compete among themselves, while factions where there is only one party have an unwarranted advantage.
3. Territorial organization of the elections must be determined bearing in mind the type of electoral system. The rights of those living outside Ukraine must be observed, as well as ensuring adequate time to exercise ones right to appeal against decisions, actions or omissions linked with the elections. Other issues involve bearing in mind where there are large national minority populations; fairly dividing precincts between temporary and permanent residents, etc.
4. Formation of district and precinct electoral commissions must take place according to the principle of equal representation for parliamentary parties and those not represented in parliament.
Given the present situation with mono- and multi-party factions, any distribution of places should be through a system of drawing straws for each individual commission.
5. Distribution of leading positions (head, deputy and secretary) in electoral commissions must be through a draw between candidates with previous experience of such work. Practice has shown that choice exclusively according to another criterion creates the conditions for manipulating what is understood by “experience”.
6. Practice of Ukrainian elections and the logic of the process need to be taken into account to determine the most acceptable quorum for meetings of electoral commissions. It is suggested that the principle of 50 % + 1 is warranted and reasonable, with decisions passed by a majority of those present, this ensuring the necessary equality of chances for parties of the parliamentary majority, the minority and those political forces outside parliament.
7. Observers from Ukrainian civic organizations with broad powers can ensure unbiased evaluation of the electoral process, record infringements and promote their eradication. They should have the same rights as observers from the political parties.
8. Grounds for refusing to register a candidate must be clearly and exhaustively listed in the law and not allow for ambiguous interpretation of the relevant norms by electoral commissions.
9. Funding of electoral campaigns should be through public funding and from the electoral funds of those taking part. In the case of snap elections, the money should come from the Cabinet of Ministers Reserve Fund. Together with the new law on the elections, amendments should be made to the Law on Political Parties regulating this, with amounts of party contributions, etc, stipulated and mandatory publication on the Central Election Commission website of annual reports about party income and expenditure.
10. Various points regarding the drawing up and correction of voter lists.
11. Election campaigning. The new law must clearly define election campaigning, political advertising, and official reports on the actions of candidates for post of deputy. In order to ensure equal opportunities for participants in the elections, the quotas for political advertising envisaged in the Law on Advertising need to be revoked.
In accordance with OSCE recommendations, electoral commissions must be freed from any duties regarding helping candidates in running their election campaigning. Right of response must be brought into line with European standards.
The last date for publishing public opinion surveys should be reduced to 7 days before Election Day, this being in line with foreign practice.
12. Overseeing the printing and transportation of ballot papers. Problems in this area can undermine confidence in the electoral process altogether. The law should stipulate that the number of ballot papers printed may only be 0.5% higher than the number of voters on the list. It must allow for the mandatory presence of members of the relevant electoral commissions when the papers are prepared, when the printing templates are destroyed, etc.
13. Confidentiality of voting is not only a right, but a duty, and failure to fulfil it must be punished by any ballot paper whose contents were revealed being declared invalid. There should be sanctions against members of an electoral commission where this was due to their actions or omissions.
14. Appeals against decisions, actions and omissions linked with the elections. Procedure for court examination of electoral disputes must be stipulated solely by the Code of Administrative Proceedings, and not electoral legislation. The code and law must ensure that courts are able to deal with all cases pertaining to law suits, appeals, etc, regarding the electoral process.
15. The content of the ballot paper must correspond to the list of registered parties. Positioning of candidates on the ballot paper should be determined by a draw at a special meeting of the relevant electoral commission.
16. The vote count protocol must take into account and reflect all procedure and actions of the precinct commission’s members. The number of papers in each of the ballot boxes must be recorded, together with the results of voting beyond the polling station (home voting), the number of spoiled papers, etc. The law must demand that the protocol is signed by the members of the electoral commission.
17. Ensuring the information component of the electoral process. The principle of free elections envisages not only the right to be elected, but also the right to elect others. This necessitates having the fullest possible information about the election process and candidates, regardless of which system is applied. The State must ensure access to information of public importance, including within the electoral process. They propose significantly improving the level of information about candidates in order that voters can make an informed choice.