In terms of mass migration processes inside the country and abroad, the organization of the first post-war elections will require solutions to many serious challenges. In particular, participation of internally displaced persons and members of the military will need to be provided, and prevention and combating electoral fraud in the out-of-country voting will have to be addressed. It was discussed by the representatives of the Central Election Commission, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, police, prosecutor’s office, people’s deputies, experts from international institutions and national non-governmental organizations during the round table on October, 24.
Alina Zahoruyko, a Member of Parliament, and Head of Committee on Elections, Referenda, and Other Forms of Direct Democracy, emphasized that this discussion focused on how to exercise basic constitutional rights for Ukrainian people in the post-war elections. “After all, even the general estimates show that it is about almost a third of Ukrainians. If we do not ensure their proper participation in elections, such as providing them with the opportunity to vote, we will not be able to talk about democratic elections and legitimacy of results. If we talk about the active aspect of suffrage, we face the challenges related to the internally displaced people, and also to forced migrants, and the members of the military,” she highlighted. In addition, she said that the fundamental aspects of post-war elections would be security and the issue with implementing the voting possibilities.
Olena Shuliak, Head of the Verkhovna Rada Committee on the Organization of State Power, Local Self-Governance, Regional Development, and Urban Planning, said that the issue of post-war elections remains sensitive for society, under current circumstances. On the one hand, we are being told that it is not time for elections, and they cannot be held in any case. Besides, the opponents do fear that the parliament, among other things, could be cemented. I need to say that neither me, nor my colleagues, are not holding on to perpetual power; we do want elections to be fair and democratic. On the other hand, the public opinion says that elections must be held but we will need to face a massive number of challenges, which would require amending electoral law,” said she.
Olha Kotsiuruba, senior legal advisor at the Civil Network OPORA, said: “The dedicated committee has become a platform for collecting ideas. It brought together representatives of the government with competencies related to electoral reform in various aspects, also MPs from different parliamentary factions and non-parliamentary parties, and civil society. Such discussions are instrumental for developing constructive changes to electoral law, to ensure the inclusive process and compliance with international standards.” Moreover, she said that last week, OPORA, along with IFES in Ukraine, presented a Roadmap for Electoral Reform. Its first item says that the parliament shall resume expert work with an inclusive approach and develop changes to electoral law, respectively.
Gio Kobakhidze, acting Director of IFES Ukraine, underscored that elections require a lot of preparations. “Several weeks from now, Ukraine will receive the assessment of the next progress report on Ukraine’s EU track. Elections as such are not mentioned in the report as a key precondition. It is an acknowledgement of the huge progress in the field of democratic elections that Ukraine has made before the start of the full-scale invasion,” said he. The expert also reminded that despite the fact that elections are not to be expected in the near future, and also international standards say that electoral law shall not be changed within 12 months before the election day, the preparations shall start in advance.
According to Vitaliy Plukar, deputy Head of the Central Election Commission, in the context of updating voter data, we will have to face the following challenges: lack of the updated database in voter registry because of the massive migration processes, suspension of its regular updates because of the full-scale invasion, resumption of operations of the voter register in the de-occupied territories, lack of technical and personnel resources to support the functioning of register administrations, potential global disinformation campaigns, low voter awareness. According to him, the expert working group at the CEC focusing on those aspects believes it optimal to consider solutions such as expansion of the procedure for temporary change of voting location, active registration for voting out of country, regulating the procedure for the temporary change of voting location for out-of-country voters, compiling voter lists and regulating the issue for voting of the military members.
According to Yuliia Kyrychenko, member of the board of the Center for Polticial and Legal Reform, experts from the working group drafting legislative initiatives for the first post-war elections drafted the White Book on state registration of voters. “With every month of the war, the problem increases, and we’ll need more time after the war to update the voter register. Experts from the working group mapped three challenges related to the State Voter Register: security and reliability of the register, update of the register data, functioning of the register administration bodies in the de-occupied territories. For each of them, we developed recommendations for public authorities about immediate action,” she revealed.
Iryna Herashchenko, co-chair of the parliamentary faction “European Solidarity”, said that since today society has major trust for the army, it must be borne in mind that members of the military must be ensured with the right to vote, but also with the right to be elected. They need to be able to be nominated and run as candidates, to campaign, etc. since there is a suggestion to connect the register of combatants to voter register, the latter shall be promptly and regularly updated. The same concerns women who had to relocated abroad. We need to consider whether their willingness to run as candidates does not go against the requirement to have a permanent residence in Ukraine during 5 years before elections. “If these elections do not have trust, their legitimacy will not be recognized. Trust shall be laid today, but in the settings when we do not have a full-fledged freedom of speech, when we have political censorship used to disguise military censorship, we can already speak of certain manipulation with public opinion about who is entitled to be the next Ukrainian government,” she said. As an example of manipulative practices, she mentioned the polling through the Diia App.
Vasyl Lutsyk, Head of the National Social Service of Ukraine, said that over this year, the number of internally displaced people in Ukraine has relatively stabilized. As of today, they are about 4 912 000 persons. Of them there are almost 1 mln children who are not voting, and in gender terms, it is about 3 mln women and almost 2 mln men. “Since August, the National Social Service of Ukraine conducted 5,700 inspections of the places of residences declared by IDPs. 73% of IDPs have not been found at their place of actual residence, and it is a challenge we are going to face during the voting. Because in fact, the actual place of registration of IDPs, in many cases, may not reflect the status quo, where they are going to vote and how we should track and identify persons during elections. That is why, today is high time to digitalize voter register,” he emphasized.
Pavlo Romaniuk, legal advisor at the Civil network OPORA, underlined that e-polls for public opinion entail certain risks. “In our papers, we always warn against threats and risks coming from polls via the Diia App, to be further used as a basis for government decisions. That is why such polls must follow clear criteria and transparent rules of the game, which today raise certain concerns,” he said. The expert also said that there is certain consensus about the period of temporary change of voting location which shall be extended beyond the election process. Moreover, prolonged terms shall be provided to terminate this procedure for members of the military and police officers ensuring security of voting premises.
Serhiy Postivyi, member of the Central Election Commission, said that almost 566,000 voters have returned to Ukraine but some processes also prove that voters move around within the ER MS. He believes that major challenges for the organization of out-of-country voting are about the definition in the law of the rules for post-war elections, addressing the need of expanding the network of polling stations abroad, concluding bilateral agreements on cooperation between countries hosting Ukrainian citizens, impossibility to make cost estimates, electoral campaigning, informing voters, protecting voting rights, workload on diplomatic missions. “The major challenge is time. For the organization of voting out of country, we need to double the numbers related to the preparation of elections in Ukraine. because interaction with other states also requires additional regulation, which is contingent on their internal procedures,” he highlighted.
During the event, researchers of criminal law from Ivan Franko Lviv National University, Oksana Kaluzhna and Lidiia Paliukh, presented the findings of their study undertaken for the Civil Network OPORA about the interaction between law-enforcement bodies from Ukraine and Poland to prevent and combat infringements of voting rights of Ukrainian nationals staying in Poland. “The data from the 2019 elections shows that about 55,000 voters managed to vote out of country, which is under 1% of all citizens staying abroad at that time. Potentially, in terms of throughput capacity of polling stations out of country, as of today, with the available network of 102 polling stations, the maximum of ab. 250,000 voters would be able to vote, provided the waiting lines are building up from 8 am to 8 pm,” Ms Kaluzhna said.
According to Ms Paliukh, 82% of Ukrainians surveyed in Poland would like to participate in the voting. It would require increasing the number of polling stations, which premises should also be covered by the jurisdiction of administrative and criminal law of Ukraine as they will not be the premises of diplomatic missions only. “The optimal way to ensure the power of administrative and criminal law of Ukraine over electoral fraud committed on the territory of Poland shall be the conclusion of an international agreement between Ukraine and the Republic of Poland. It shall regulate the process of conducting elections and of the creation of additional polling stations beyond diplomatic missions and consular institutions. Secondly, the legal status of such premises shall be equalized with the premises of diplomatic missions and consular offices of Ukraine. Therefore, it would allow to expand the jurisdiction of Ukraine to the offences that could be committed during elections,” she underscored.
Deputy director of the Office for International Cooperation of the Department for International Legal Cooperation of the Prosecutor’s General Office of Ukraine, Olha Lytvynchuk, said the topic is new and cannot rely on any available mechanisms or practices to investigate offences committed on the territory of other states. “Head of a diplomatic mission is not entitled to enter the data on the committed criminal offence to the Unified Register of Pre-Trial Investigations. Their right is to undertake the necessary procedural actions and harvest the data to be transferred to the relevant body of the National Police. Thereafter, the investigator could register the data in the USRPTI. When all the options within the authorities endowed for the head of a diplomatic mission are exhausted, then the legal assistance mechanisms shall be engaged, as provided by the international treaty since during the pre-trial investigation there may arise the need to interrogate persons as witnesses, etc.” she explained.
Director of the Consular Service Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, Roman Horyaynov, said that prosecutor’s office representatives shall not delay and think about the possible webinars they could design for members of diplomatic missions out of country. They could prepare and train people for the actions they might take in case of electoral fraud. He believes that 95% of representatives of diplomatic missions are not aware of their relevant rights. Furthermore, according to him, it would be problematic to find and train potential commissioners as the number of polling stations out of country would have to grow significantly. “We shall not delay with defining the rules of the game during future elections. It is crucial to be able to explain to our international partners about our expectations from them and how they shall respond to our request in the context of international bilateral agreements,” he emphasized.
Event organizers: Committee of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine on the Organization of State Power, Local Self-Governance, Regional Development, and Urban Planning in partnership with the All-Ukrainian Non-Governmental Organization Civil Network OPORA and the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) in Ukraine. Supported by the US Agency for International Development (USAID), Ministry of International Affairs of Canada, and international aid from UK Government.