PACE: Ukraine’s parliamentary elections ‘marred by a tilted playing field’
The Final Report of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe’s election observers is damning, reaching much the same conclusions as almost all other election observers, or “absurd”, if you are a Party of the Regions MP.
This was the comment given by Party of the Regions MP Olena Bondarenko regarding the PACE report by delegation head Andreas Gross from Switzerland. He “pointed in particular to the to the misuse of administrative resources and a lack of transparency in campaign and party financing, as well as an imbalance in media coverage.
The observers were also aware of suspicious changes made by marginal parties to their members of election commissions just days before the elections, and other aspects of the election which show serious unwillingness to play by the rules.
“Serious irregularities were noted in at least 13 majority constituencies, in five of which the election results were cancelled. The observers expressed “grave concern” at this and said these irregularities were “liable to vitiate the whole electoral process”.
8. Conclusions and recommendations
51. The ad hoc committee concluded that the 28 October 2012 parliamentary elections in Ukraine were marred by a tilted playing field which contributed to the dominance of the major economic and financial groups, particularly because of the misuse of administrative resources and a lack of transparency in the financing of the election campaign and of the parties, but also owing to an imbalance in the media coverage. The voters had a choice of different parties and a large number of candidates who had been able to register, thus catering for a wide variety of political views.
52. Election day was quiet. The members of the ad hoc committee noted the well-ordered running of the election, finding that, on the whole, the voting and vote-counting operations were conducted in a professional and calm manner. The situation worsened during the calculation of results in a considerable number of majority constituencies, which led to long delays in the counting procedure. Serious irregularities were noted in at least 13 majority constituencies, in five of which the election results were cancelled. In this connection, the ad hoc committee expresses its grave concern and considers that these irregularities are liable to vitiate the whole electoral process.
53. The ad hoc committee notes with satisfaction that the Verkhovna Rada adopted a number of amendments to the Electoral Law in November 2011 in response to several Venice Commission recommendations, including the right of independents to stand for election, unrestricted media access to all the events linked to the elections, the elimination of the provisions authorising voters to be added to the electoral rolls on election day, and the abolition of the parties’ discretionary right to dismiss commission members without valid reason. The ad hoc committee also noted the improved quality of the electoral lists as compared with those used for previous elections.
54. Nevertheless, the ad hoc committee underlines the fact that the electoral system set out in the Electoral Law was not the one recommended by the Assembly in its Resolution 1862 (2012) , and by the Venice Commission in its joint opinion of October 2011. In its resolution, the Assembly regretted that its main previous recommendations, including the adoption of a unified electoral code and of a proportional regional electoral system, had not been implemented.
55. The ad hoc committee voices its concern about the serious problems which are noted election after election: misuse of administrative resources; active participation by regional and local government officials in candidates’ meetings; the distribution of fake newspapers containing erroneous or slanderous information about candidates; cases of distribution of material goods to voters, mainly by individual candidates, which could be seen as an indirect form of vote buying; and the presence of so-called “technical” candidates and political parties. The ad hoc committee is convinced that these phenomena are unhelpful in terms of building voter confidence in the electoral process.
56. The ad hoc committee regrets that the elections took place against the background of the cases involving Ms Timoshenko and Mr Lutsenko, two major opposition figures who are currently serving prison sentences.
57. In connection with party funding and the financing of the election campaign, the ad hoc committee recalls that during the 2010 presidential election, it voiced its concern about “the place of money and oligarchies in politics in Ukraine in general and in the election process in particular”. This reality appears to have reached even more alarming proportions during this election campaign. Unfortunately, many Ukrainian citizens are seeing the political “combat” as a struggle between different clans and their financials interests rather than between competing platforms and ideas.
58. The ad hoc committee considers that on the whole the CEC operated satisfactorily, holding regular meetings which were open to party representatives, candidates, the media and observers. However, the CEC also held some meetings behind closed doors, which did nothing to increase the transparency of its operations. The CEC failed to regularly take appropriate steps, within its mandate, to tackle occasional allegations of vote buying or breaches of the rules on media coverage of the election campaign.
59. The ad hoc committee considers that the Parliamentary Assembly should continue its close co-operation with the Ukrainian Parliament and institutions, by means of its monitoring procedure, and with the Venice Commission, in order to resolve the problems noted during the parliamentary elections on 28 October 2012 and to further consolidate the whole electoral process. Consequently, the ad hoc committee invites the Ukrainian authorities to:
- finally adopt a unified electoral code, preferably before the next elections, as recommended by the Assembly in itsResolution 1862 (2012) , as well as by the Venice Commission in its joint opinion of October 2011;
- reform the electoral system in order to allow small parties to enjoy some measure of electoral success, in particular by improving regional representation and increasing voters’ influence over their representatives in parliament, by adopting a multi-constituency proportional representation system based on open party lists;
- fully implement the recommendations of the Assembly and those of GRECO issued in October 2011, in order to reinforce the transparency of political party and election campaign financing;
- conduct investigations into all allegations of misuse of administrative resources and other electoral irregularities, and publish the results of these investigations;
- conduct effective investigations into the irregularities noted in the majority constituencies where the election results had to be cancelled, as well as in other majority constituencies where serious violations of legislation were noted; establish the responsibilities of the authors of these irregularities and any others working behind the scenes, and inform the Assembly of the outcome as soon as possible;
- draw a clear distinction between the State administration and the political parties in office;
- take the requisite steps to guarantee media pluralism during electoral campaigns;
- examine the means of simplifying the long, complex vote- and ballot-counting procedures on the day of the election;
- organise training courses for members of the polling stations, particularly in rural areas, in order to improve their command of procedures on election day.
60. The Assembly is prepared to assist Ukraine in implementing these important electoral reforms.
The report can be read in full here