Even if we assume staggering geographical ignorance about at least two major regions of Ukraine, the division of single-mandate electoral districts presented by the Central Election Commission on 28 April flies in the face of logic. With electoral districts requiring ballot papers to be transported from local precincts to the district commission via other electoral districts, it is difficult not to suspect that political considerations were at play.
These concerns have been expressed by the branches of the authoritative Committee of Voters of Ukraine [CVU for the Luhansk and Donetsk regions (oblasts). They are supported by the Civic Network OPORA which in its report issued on 30 April suggests that the situation in certain districts could place both organizational issues and equal opportunities for all candidates in jeopardy.
In the Donetsk region CVU states that the electoral boundaries have been defined “to serve the interests of specific candidates without taking the interests of the region’s voters and communities into account, and sometimes defying commonsense”. It suggests that the city of Donetsk should have been divided into four districts, not five, while some of the electoral “districts” around the oblast are baffling. Electoral District No. 60 covers one fourth of the entire Donetsk region which has 21 electoral districts. During previous elections, inclusion of even 3 rural areas caused logical problems, here there are 5.
Electoral District No. 112 covers four cities in the Luhansk region and an area of 100 kilometres. Ballot papers from 79 precinct commissions will be taken to the district electoral commission through the centres of two other districts. All of this will create major headaches for election observers, and must clearly raise questions as to the motivation..
Some answers are, in fact, provided by the CVU branches involved. In the Luhansk region, for example, the new electoral layout will seriously impede the electoral chances of one popular candidate – Serhiy Shakhov. His Stakhanov District which had existed since 2002 has now been divided into three electoral districts. There have also been changes to Alchevsk where Shakhov campaigned actively during the last elections.
Voters who believe the Resolution infringes their rights have until 3 May to appeal. 3CVU will be lodging appeals with these, at least in the Luhansk region, supported by the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union.
Despite warnings from NGOs and the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission, the Party of the Regions insisted on the parliamentary elections being held with a mixed electoral system - 50% according to party candidate lists, and 50% in single-mandate electoral districts.
This has already resulted in one highly controversial Constitutional Court judgement which even members of the Central Election Commission believe infringes the electoral rights of a large number of voters. The Court’s judgement on 5 April ruled that voters abroad can only vote according to party lists, and not for candidates in single-mandate electoral districts. The law had, as before, stipulated that voters living abroad would vote in Kyiv single-mandate electoral districts. This would have increased the number of such districts which most analysts expected to bring electoral results favourable to the opposition.
The parliamentary elections are scheduled for October and will be closely observed. So too should be decisions such as the 28 April Central Election Commission Resolution establishing electoral district boundaries. In determining whether any game is played fairly, you need to know how the goal posts are positioned. Where changes defy all logic, questions are surely needed.