Restrictions on political competition, the use of administrative resources, and financial incentives for voters are the key risks that may affect the fairness of the early elections of Kharkiv Mayor on October 31, 2021.
The start of the official election phase began 50 days before election day, on September 11. Potential candidates have been active for several month already.
OPORA observers note that six candidates were actively campaigning: Secretary of the Kharkiv City Council, Ihor Terekhov, a People's Deputy of the 4th and 8th convocations, Mykhailo Dobkin, Kharkiv City Council deputy of the 6th convocation, Dmytro Marinin, chairman of the National Corps in Kharkiv, Kostiantin Nemichev, the incumbent Kharkiv city councilors, Anatoliy Rodzynsky and Alina Mustafayeva. Two other potential candidates, a People's Deputy, Yulia Svitlychna, and Kharkiv Oblast Council Deputy, Oleksandr Skoryk, have not been active until the start of the election process in the city, but an analysis of public information indicates that they are likely to stand in this election.
Social media have become the most popular form of public activity of potential candidates. Over the past month, the cost of advertising posts of Kharkiv politicians on Facebook and Instagram has reached over USD 21,000. Social media were also actively used to share materials with signs of black PR against potential candidates. Ihor Terekhov, Mykhailo Dobkin, and Yulia Svitlychna were the leading subjects of such activities. The nature of the messages is completely different: from the past "merits" of the candidates to any of their current activities, and sometimes with an openly discriminatory intentions.
According to OPORA observations, the most active temporary campaign was conducted by an acting Kharkiv Mayor, Ihor Terekhov. The potential candidate has actively held meetings with voters, opened infrastructure facilities, and has a large number of outdoor advertisements with the politician's name. Terekhov's campaign engaged a large amount of budget resources of the city that are used for the reconstruction of the zoo, construction of sports grounds, stadiums, the official opening of which is taking place with signs of early campaigning.
Another active potential candidate is Mykhaylo Dobkin. On January 1, 2021, he announced his candidacy for the mayoral seat. At the stage of early campaigning, the potential candidate actively held meetings with voters in the yards of residential buildings; newspapers and leaflets were distributed on his behalf.
Dmytro Marynin carried out a relatively active early campaigning, repeatedly emphasizing his intentions to run for the mayor in social media. The potential candidate has been meeting with voters, participated in public events, and opened an office in the city.
Direct communication with voters and representation in local media have also become popular with potential candidates. Potential candidates actively held meetings with voters, participated in public events, and opened offices. Potential candidates did not ignore to use the mass media. Materials with signs of campaigning have been intensely posted in the local media at the stage of early campaigning. OPORA observers note a clear link between some mass media and specific candidates, which once again underscores the problem of ensuring equal rights for future electoral actors. After all, not all political actors have free access to local media. In addition, OPORA observers recorded unequal access of potential candidates to outdoor advertising.
On the eve of the election process, the regional leadership of the National Police and the Kharkiv Regional State Administration changed. Acting Head of the regional state administration, Oleksandr Skakun, stated that the main task was to ensure fair elections in the city. Carrying out important personnel changes related to the start of the election campaign, on the one hand, may indicate preparation for counteracting the expected risks of destabilizing the election process. On the other hand, it shows the intention to strengthen the agency's control in the election process. OPORA emphasizes the priority tasks for law-enforcement agencies, such as protecting the voting rights of citizens and respond effectively to violations.
Regarding the proper organization of the election process of the extraordinary elections, OPORA observers note the absence of risks in the work of the Kharkiv City Commission. However, in the conditions of the quarantine, the members of the commission should pay attention to the observance of anti-epidemic measures set by the decision of the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine. As to local authorities, they should assist the election commission, within their powers, in exercising their authority, in particular with regard to the provision of personal protective equipment.
OPORA also calls on the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the National Police to promptly take preventive actions in order to create safe conditions for public election campaigns and to prevent illegal actions by participants in mass events. They should also exercise proper supervision and control over the observance of anti-epidemic measures without the application of restrictions or obstacles to the current activities of the subjects of the election process and in the course of their pre-election activities.
In addition, OPORA urges the officials of central and local authorities to avoid cases of abuse of administrative resources, not to use official measures related to the performance of official duties and which are carried out within the budget, for the pre-election purposes of candidates or parties.
The CEC should also ensure that potential participants in the election process are informed about the responsibility for violations and the illegal nature of current campaigning, accompanied by charitable aid and other forms of material incentives for voters.