2019 Ukrainian Presidential Election. Report on the observation of the electoral process (interim) January-February 2019

The next presidential election in Ukraine is scheduled for March 31st, 2019. The electoral campaign was launched on December 31st 2019, in accordance with the legislation.

On January 18th 2019 the “Uspishna Varta” human rights platform received permission from the CEC to have its official election observers. Observation is carried out through the work of more than 50 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 on the basis of observation during the period from December 31st 2018 to February 28th 2019 with the aim of informing the Ukrainian and international community about the electoral process in Ukraine and violations that may affect the free will of citizens and the results of elections.

Intermediate Report on Monitoring Ukraine's 2019 Presidential Election from Правозащитная платформа «Успішна варта»

The legal framework as a whole is sufficient for holding democratic elections. At the same time, further efforts are needed to ensure the stability of the electoral legislation and its unification (adoption of the Electoral Code). After the start of the 2019 presidential campaign, draft laws affecting the course of elections were considered in parliament. Thus, on February 7th, along with slogans of anti-Russian rhetoric, a law was passed restricting the ability of international organizations to observe elections (banning citizens of the Russian Federation from being observers at elections in Ukraine). Also, during the campaign a draft law on toughening criminal liability for violations related to elections was included on the agenda of the parliament.

As of February 28th the electoral process has been managed within the timeframe and scope of the powers stipulated by electoral legislation. By February 18th the Central Election Commission (CEC) formed 199 district election commissions (DECs). 44 candidates filed submissions to 7,355 DEC members. The specified amount is sufficient to form commissions without sending a request for the appointment of members to the CEC. According to Ukrainian journalists, DEC members from a number of candidates in the previous elections worked for other candidates. Experts admit that such “overflowing” is due to the fact that a number of candidates are technical. And the members of the DEC appointed by their submission will work in the interests of other candidates who are leaders of the race. Also, the first facts of pressure being put on the work of the DECs by right-wing organizations (DEC number 24 in the Dnepr) were recorded.

Voter registration is passive, constantly functioning, and takes place on the basis of a centralized State Voter Register (SVR). The preliminary list of voters in the presidential election included 35,602,855 citizens (as of December 31st, 2018). A positive point is the fact that the CEC has simplified the procedure for the temporary change of voting places for internally displaced persons from the Donetsk and Lugansk regions. At the same time, almost 1 million citizens will be deprived of the right to vote in the presidential elections of 2019 due to the lack of a registered residence. The electoral rights of about 3 million Ukrainian citizens residing in the Russian Federation in connection with the CEC’s decision to close polling stations in this state are also limited.

The candidate registration process was held in accordance with legal requirements. Within the statutory period, the commission received 89 applications for registration as a candidate for the presidency, and from this figure 44 candidates were registered. The CEC’s refusal to register the candidate from the Communist Party, Petro Simonenko, was challenged in a court of law. The court of first instance and the Supreme Court dismissed the claims. Experts note that a number of registered candidates do not have an electoral support rating and are “technical” in nature for larger participants in the election race. In addition, a twin candidate was registered against one of the opposition leaders (a candidate with a similar last name and initials).

During the first two months of the electoral campaign, violations carried out by candidates of the procedure for conducting electoral campaigning, such as disseminating campaign products without statutory basic data, hidden campaigning, and placing campaign products in government premises and communal institutions (mainly campaigning for the current President), were recorded. The frequent cases of campaign materials, billboards, and campaign tents being damaged (recorded in different regions and in relation to different candidates) act as obstacles impeding the campaigning of candidates. Also, attempts made by right-wing organizations to disrupt the activities of candidates (February 9th in Kiev during the rally of the candidate Yuliya Tymoshenko) were recorded. In the course of the campaign candidates also reported cases of physical violence against their HQs (A. Gritsenko, A. Vilkul, O. Bogomolets).

The current President Petro Poroshenko's use of his official powers and administrative resources for his electoral campaign as a candidate for the presidency can significantly affect the results of the expression of will of citizens. After the start of the electoral campaign and before his official registration as a candidate, President Poroshenko made a number of trips to the regions of Ukraine for the presentation of the received Tomos of Autocephaly (the so-called Tomos-tour), which can be regarded as electoral trips for the purpose of election campaigning.

The problem of bribing voters, including through legal payments of social assistance and the monetization of social benefits (subsidies), is also relevant within the framework of the current electoral campaign. Journalists published data about a multi-stage scheme for buying off voters through a so-called "grid" by the headquarters of the current president of Ukraine, Petro Poroshenko. People who have expressed support for the current president Poroshenko were further offered the opportunity to receive additional social benefits from the state.

Participants in the electoral process also reported about being pressured and harassed by law enforcement bodies. Such cases were recorded in relation to candidates who have an opposition position vis-a-vis Petro Poroshenko (E. Murayev, Y. Tymoshenko). In general, as part of the electoral campaign, there is a trend where a part of law enforcement bodies (the Security Service of Ukraine and the Prosecutor-General's Office of Ukraine) carry out actions and make statements that are in the interests of the current president, Petro Poroshenko. At the same time, the Ministry of Internal Affairs takes positions that may indicate support for the interests of another race leader - the candidate Yuliya Tymoshenko. This trend was most clearly demonstrated on February 21st-22nd, during the mutual denunciation of the schemes using so-called “electoral pyramids” that are allegedly used by these candidates.

In addition, the cases of social network users who allegedly wanted to influence the election process “on the instructions of Russia” being detained become more frequent in connection with the start of the electoral campaign in Ukraine.

The activities of the media during the electoral campaign are governed by the Election Law, which stipulates that both public and private media outlets must provide balanced coverage of candidates. On the eve of the electoral campaign the state policy of Ukraine was aimed at creating additional restrictions for the work of independent media and journalists under the guise of combating separatism and the need to protect the information space from Russian aggression.

During the 2019 electoral campaign the National Council for Television and Radio Broadcasting has retained its practice of appointing inspections of opposition television channels (“Nash”, 112 Ukraine). In addition, a number of candidates reported the presence of their names in “black lists” of people who are not invited to certain TV channels and are not published in the media. The campaign is also characterized by the broadcasting of defamatory information (“black PR”) against opponents on TV channels owned by candidates or persons close to them (for example, the “Zashkvareni” cartoon series on “Pryamoy” TV channel close to President Poroshenko). A special feature of the 2019 campaign is the active use of advertising on the social networks YouTube and Facebook by candidates.

It will be possible to check whether or not this is paid from their election funds after the publication of financial reports on the use by candidates of election funds. They must be submitted to the CEC and the National Agency for the Prevention of Corruption and then published no later than 5 days before the voting day (March 25th). According to experts, there is a common practice where candidates pay for a number of activities outside the framework of their electoral fund. We are talking about paying for the work of agitators, the so-called "jeansa" programs on television and radio, "black PR" technologies against competitors, etc.

As of February 22nd the CEC also accredited 36 observers from foreign countries and 312 observers from international organizations. At the legislative level, the parliament has prohibited citizens of the Russian Federation and persons proposed by the Russian side from being an election observer (the law was adopted on February 7th). In addition, 139 Ukrainian public organizations received the right to observe the electoral process. Human rights activists are concerned about the provision of observer status to right-wing paramilitarist groups (“National Druzhina”, “State Initiative of Yarosh”). The participation of these groups, which have previously repeatedly participated in acts of aggression against dissidents in Ukraine, can lead to the intimidation of candidates and voters, as well as to forced behaviour at polling stations on election day.

2019 Ukrainian Presidential Election. Report on the observation of the electoral process (interim) January-February 2019

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