2019 Ukrainian Presidential Election. Report on the observation of the electoral process (second intermediate) March 1-28, 2019

On January 18th 2019, the "Uspishna Varta" human rights platform received permission from the Central Election Commission (hereinafter - the CEC) to have its official election observers. Observation is carried out via the work of more than 100 long-term and short-term observers in constituencies; interviews with representatives of candidate headquarters, election commissions, the media community, and the public sector; the collection of information from public sources of information.

This report was formed following the results of observation for the period of 1st-28th March 2019 in order to inform the Ukrainian and international community about the course of the electoral process in Ukraine and violations that may affect the free will of citizens and the election's result.

Following the observation of the electoral process during March 2019, the observers of “Uspishna Varta” identified a number of risks that can significantly affect the results of voting and pose a significant danger from the point of view of compliance with democratic electoral standards in the conditions of the presidential election.

A low level of competence and professional training, as well as the unwillingness of members of lower level election commissions to carry out their functions, remain a significant destabilizing factor in the organization of the electoral process. The main problems in the work of the commissions are the massive refusal of their members to work and the extremely low level of material and technical support for the work of the commissions. In a number of precinct election commissions (PECs) the process of replacing commission members, including leaders, was still ongoing as of March 28th-29th.

In general, the members of the district and precinct commissions who the representatives of “Uspishna Varta” communicated with evaluate the organization of the electoral process by the CEC as unsatisfactory.

Frequent changes in the composition of district and precinct commissions are also due to the high number of so-called "technical" candidates for the presidency. A number of candidates carried out more than 100%replacements of the commission members that were submitted by them initially. Commission members put forward by “technical” candidates informally represent the interests of the headquarters of more rated candidates, thereby helping them get a majority in district and precinct commissions.

According to experts, more than 50% of the members of DEC and PEC members are controlled by the current president, Petro Poroshenko, through a number of technical candidates and those PEC members who were appointed to replace the recalled technical candidates. This situation creates a significant risk of the results of citizens' voting being distorted by the falsification of the protocols of voting results or by intentionally creating the conditions for invalidating the elections in those polling stations and districts where the opponents of the current president lead.

Inaccuracies in the voter list can also be used to falsify voting results. The number of voters for the first round of elections (and the printed number of ballots) projected by the CEC was 30,028,913. Observers and journalists found mass cases of people who have died still being present in the voter register for a long time. The exact number of such "dead souls" in voter lists is not known. In addition, more than 3 million labour migrants who will actually be absent in Ukraine on election day were added to voter lists. At the same time, less than 6% of the 1.5 million internally displaced persons from the Donetsk and Lugansk region took advantage of their right to change their place of voting. In total, 315,725 Ukrainians changed their place of voting for the presidential election, and 37% of them are members of election commissions, police officers, and official observers.

Observers are also concerned about the situation with voting at 80 special polling stations in military units in the zone of the Operation of United Forces (OUF), as well as in polling stations in military units. Commissions and observers at such sites are formed from the military personnel themselves, their family members, and the “civilian” residents of military camps attached to the units. Voting on such sites is non-controlled and significantly vulnerable to administrative resources.

President Poroshenko’s use of his official position and official powers to influence the results of voting is also a topic that has the heightened attention of observers. During March, President Poroshenko actively used his official position to carry out an electoral campaign, despite there being a direct legislative ban. In March the president carried out 18 campaign trips to regions, as well as a campaign rally in Kiev. In each region the president, in an official capacity, held a Regional Development Council meeting, which was attended by representatives of local government and executive authorities. The trips of the president were accompanied by campaign rallies, which people who disagree with his policies were not allowed to attend and\or were taken away from by force.

A reason for concern is also the information coming to observers about the exertion of pressure on the staff of state and budgetary institutions (teachers, doctors, employees of lower level executive authorities). Being faced with the risk of being dismissed from work, they are forced to participate in campaign rallies in support of the current president, to participate in his campaign as commissioners and observers, and to vote in his favour.

As observers already noted earlier, before the elections, a number of state measures were started concerning the indexation of pensions and the monetization of subsidies for the payment of utility bills by citizens. During March one-time payments were issued in accordance with these programs, which were presented as a result of the policies of President Poroshenko.

During January-March, through public organizations and local organizations, Poroshenko's headquarters implemented a multistage scheme for constructing so-called "webs" of voters who received material assistance for budgetary social programs. Experts suggest that more than 45,000 volunteers and promoters of Poroshenko will be presentat polling stations in the status of official observers in order to control the voting of people who received financial assistances. In addition, local officials may be present at polling stations for the purpose of controlling voting under the guise of “voluntary fire brigades”, despite this being prohibited by electoral legislation.

In addition to the current president Petro Poroshenko, active campaigning in the regions was also carried out by the candidates Yuliya Tymoshenko, Anatoly Gritsenko, Ruslan Koshulinsky, Igor Smeshko, Yury Boyko, Aleksandr Vilkul, and Oleg Lyashko. The candidate Vladimir Zelensky, who has the highest approval rating among all candidates (according to sociological polls), did not carry out an electoral campaign in its classical sense and did not hold mass meetings with voters in regions. His campaign was concentrated on the Internet, billboards, and television advertising.

In March observers continued to record the use of "black PR" technology in the form of covert campaigning against candidates for the presidency. In some cases, such as with the billboards of the music group “TIK”, these campaigns also contained a hidden call to support Petro Poroshenko. However, the CEC did not regard such campaigns as promotion and referred to the freedom of creativity. Before the day of voting, leaflets and actions aimed at reducing the voter turnout of Yuliya Tymoshenko and Vladimir Zelensky were also recorded.

By publicly declaring neutrality and unbiasedness, the Security Service of Ukraine continues to be involved in the electoral campaign, carrying out actions in the interests of the current president, Poroshenko.

During March the SBU carried out public and secret investigative actions against candidates who are the main opponents of President Poroshenko in the elections (Zelensky, Tymoshenko). In addition, in accordance with the resolution of the CEC, representatives of the SBU were included in the working groups of district commissions, which are supposed to ensure the safety of the "Vybory" automatic information system. The presence of representatives of the SBU at the time when the results of voting are being transferred may lead to abuses of official position and interference with the results of the counting of votes.

Like before, the principles of justice, balance, and impartiality in covering electoral campaigns in the Ukrainian media are not respected enough, including the lack of equal and impartial treatment in relation to all candidates. Both traditional media and social networks were used during the campaign, not only to promote candidates, but also to discredit campaigns against opponents. At the same time, during the presidential campaign representatives of law enforcement continued to take actions aimed at restricting freedom of speech and opinion in Ukraine. A number of foreign journalists were denied entry into Ukraine, Ukrainian journalists were searched, and pressure was exerted on independent media companies (the “Avers” TV and radio company).

Human rights activists are also concerned about the possibility of obstacles being placed in front of the work of official observers, and even members of precinct election commissions not allowing official observers to be present on election day. In addition, the presence of a large number of observers (more than 45,000) from the incumbent President Poroshenko on election day may lead to the risk of provocations or the disruption of elections in those regions where his competitors lead.

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