Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Ideal Ukrainian Deputy

The Ukrainian media reported today (Liga, UP, ZN) on a Razumkov Center poll asking respondents about their preferred characteristics for members of parliament. I couldn't find the details of the poll on the Razumkov site, so I don't know about the sample or question wording. But, taking the reports at face value (sometimes a perilous assumption), the survey highlights an observation about Ukrainian politics that I have made in the past: divisions are not simply captured by "East vs. West." According to the news stories, what do respondents prefer?*

The "ideal deputy" would be male, Ukrainian-speaking, with an income similar to the population so that he can better understand citizens' needs. He should be party-affiliated, not independent, and part of the opposition. He should have business or legal experience, but not be involved with business. The deputy should advocate gradual rather than radical reforms, strong social welfare protections, stability even at the cost of civil liberties, closer relations with Russia rather than Europe, no change to natural gas prices even at the cost of energy dependence, and Ukrainian as the only state language.

If we looked at preferences by region, some of the expectations of the "East vs. West" divisions would likely emerge. That is, I would expect respondents in L'viv or Donetsk to paint a more consistent portrait of their preferred MP regarding national identity, language, and international orientation. But, the survey suggests that cleavages in society may not consistently divide citizens across starkly defined economic, cultural, linguistic, and partisan domains. Politicians who combine the "multi-vector" approach to foreign policy, a preference for a distinct Ukrainian national identity, and are perceived to be less corrupt and distant from citizens could find a successful niche in electoral politics.

*Presumably, the plurality responses on questions constitute "what Ukrainians want" in the context of the news stories, but the reports are not clear on this matter.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Observations about Ukraine's Upcoming Election, Part 2

On Monday, I had an opportunity to speak with a member of Ukraine's Central Electoral Commission about several issues related to administration in the upcoming election. In the Skype chat, Commissioner Mykhailo Okhendovskyy answered all of my questions about the upcoming elections, providing detailed and nuanced answers.

Following is a summary of our session, not a transcript. The answers paraphrase the Commissioner's comments which are in blue. For the most part, I present the summarized remarks without comment, but on occasion I weigh in with purple text to provide my interpretation. A lack of commentary on my part should not be construed as consent with or dissent from the Commissioner's comments.

Q: Could you give me a general impression, from the CEC perspective, of the challenges of re-establishing the mixed electoral system after conducting the last two elections under nationwide Proportional Representation?

The main challenge was in the process of registering candidates for constituency races. In 1998 and 2002, territorial commissions managed the process, but the new version of the law required the CEC to conduct the process. The CEC had nineteen days to evaluate around 7,000 candidates.

Q: The CEC had to make decisions about district apportionment by oblast, and also district boundaries. Could you describe the process for creating the boundaries of SMD districts? Also, could you comment on the concerns about non-contiguous boundaries for some districts (especially noted in the joint report by the CVU and IFES)?

The current law does not require election districts to be contiguous. The baseline for district delimitation in the upcoming election was not the 2002 boundaries, but rather the territorial boundaries for the 2010 presidential election. Boundaries may vary from the baseline, but they are close. 

The first step of the process is to establish the number of registered voters; Ukraine has an excellent voter registry. The second step is to use the distribution of registered voters to establish districts; they can only vary by 12% from the average number of voters in the districts, which is around 161,000. The reapportionment process took away some districts from the east and reassigned them to areas where the population has grown. The final step is boundary delimitation for the districts, and the CEC had twenty days for this process. Some issues arose with out-of-country voting and a proposal to assign out-of-country voters to Kyiv (which would have given Kyiv 16 districts). In the end, Kyiv received 13 districts. The region with perhaps the greatest challenges due to non-contiguous districts is Luhansk. The process was completed on the 28th of April, and none of the parties were happy with the result, showing that it was objective. A challenge was leveled, but it was denied in the courts.

Q: Legislation was passed to install webcams in polling stations and to transmit live feeds of election day activities. A colleague at the CEC indicated that the law would be implemented, but he did think that webcams were useful. Please discuss your impressions of the advantages/disadvantages of webcam monitoring.

The decision to install webcams was a political one, and they will only be put in place at the 32,188 regular polling places. The remaining polling sites are "special" polling places like hospitals and prisons where webcams will not be installed. Two webcams will be placed in each station. One will focus on the table where voters receive their ballots and one will focus on the ballot boxes. They will begin transmitting at 6:45am when the polling station commissions begin their work, and they will transmit through the opening of the polls at 8:00 am until the close at 8:00 pm. The cameras will continue to record footage, but the vote count process will not be broadcast on the Internet. It will be available for courts, the CEC, and law enforcement and will be stored for one year. The Ministry of Infrastructure, not the CEC, will manage the installation of the cameras. The ruling gave the CEC only three months, so having another institution manage them was helpful. 

Despite his initial skepticism, the Commissioner noted that the installation of webcams could have two advantages. First, it could increase the credibility of the elections. The elections in Ukraine have been transparent, but the public does not trust the process and the results after the presidential elections in 2004. This lack of trust is due, in part, to campaign strategies in past elections that have encouraged mistrust of elections. Second, webcams could serve as a deterrent to improper behavior by officials and other stakeholders.

[EH: An underlying implication of this comment was that the perception of improper administration, advanced by some parties or partisan actors, was greater than the actual level of improper administration on the ground. The preponderance of evidence in 2004 suggests that this was not the case; substantial levels of fraud were in evidence. In later elections, such as the 2010 presidential election, partisans raised the specter of fraud but misdeeds were not widespread or decisive. Indeed, elections in 2006, 2007, and 2010 received high marks for the quality of administration.]

Q: A recent poll, reported by Zerkalo Nedeli late last week, suggests that 73% of Ukrainians do not believe that the election process will be free and fair. How is the CEC working to change expectations about the elections?  

The new electoral law is able to produce free and fair elections. The CEC is involved in civic education activities about electoral processes that may increase public confidence. But, public confidence has been eroded by strategies that blamed unfair election practices for losses at the polls. The atmosphere is important, and the atmosphere has been deteriorating. After this election, some parties may declare victory and use the lack of trust in elections as an explanation for why official results are different from what they claim they should have received. 

Q: Civil society has developed extensive reporting of alleged violations (e.g., Maidan Monitoring and the CVU). How do these activities by civil society help or hinder the CEC in its work? 
 
Many of the Ukrainian so-called non-governmental organizations are paid for - by candidates, parties, and foreign governments. No one trusts these organizations. They only report allegations, and just allegations that are useful for their candidates. The CEC, courts, and law enforcement only address official notifications of violations. These allegations are never submitted to the authorities; the organizations hold press conferences, but do not officially file the allegations for scrutiny. There is a problem with civil society development in Ukraine - it is paid for and not truly independent.

[EH: Non-Governmental Organizations in the post-Soviet region, and in many other parts of the world, face a significant challenge in the perception of their independence. A 2011 survey conducted in Ukraine by IFES found that 22% of Ukrainians believed that NGOs represent "foreign interests that do not reflect the will of Ukrainians" while 37% disagreed (41% did not know). Attitudes about NGOs varied regionally, however: 12% of respondents in the west strongly/somewhat believed that NGOs represent foreign interests, 32% of respondents in the east and 37% in the south held this view. While the survey does not suggest that a majority hold this view, the plurality of respondents did not know or did not respond. 

Associations with foreign governments, partisan politicians, or businesspeople, render NGOs vulnerable to charges of bias. In Russia, new legislation labels groups that receive non-Russian monies as "foreign agents," strongly suggesting that these groups are acting in the interests of external forces. While private or government funding does not necessarily affect the findings of NGO-sponsored activities, maximizing the openness and transparency of the process and better educating the public about NGO activities could allay concerns and inform the public.]

Q: The international press has followed the cases of Yuliya Tymoshenko and Yuriy Lutsenko, including the CEC decision to deny registration on the party list ballot. Could you talk about the process that the CEC undertook to make this decision?

[The Commissioner noted that the rules do not permit a CEC member to talk about specific activities of parties or candidates, and the Commissioner was careful to comply with the law during our conversation.] In general, the law - written by members of the opposition and supported by 366 members of parliament from all sides - indicates in Article 9 that convicted criminals cannot be nominated, registered, or elected. Some parties included convicted persons on their lists in breach of the law, and registration of such candidates was rejected on this basis. Article 76 of the Constitution of Ukraine and Article 9 of the law support this decision. A notable example is that for the first time in Ukrainian election history, some other prisoners also submitted applications to be registered in districts and these were rejected.

[EH: Article 9 states that citizens who have been convicted of committing a crime may not be nominated and elected unless the criminal record has been canceled or withdrawn. In Ukrainian: "4. Не може бути висунутий кандидатом й обраний депутатом громадянин, який має судимість за вчинення умисного злочину, якщо ця судимість не погашена і не знята у встановленому законом порядку." The text of the law is available at: http://www.cvk.gov.ua/metod/kultura/npa/vnd.htm]

Q: Earlier, the Constitutional Court issued rulings on dual candidacy that were controversial. Could you talk about your position or the CEC’s position on dual candidacy?

A temporary ad hoc commission created the law in parliament and this process was managed by deputies without engagement with the CEC or outside experts. There is a saying that election laws in the region are a soft pillow under the heads of the party of power and a stone under the heads of the opposition. In Ukraine it is the opposite. We may suppose that deputies were really tempted to include dual candidacy for their own personal purposes. Even though the courts had ruled on this provision in the past, they were tempted to see if there was enough time for the court to rule. The Constitutional Court used the same language as before to rule dual candidacy unconstitutional. Briefly some thought that the law would allow candidates to contest in more than one constituency, but this perception was wrong.

Q: Could you comment on the likelihood of Ukraine introducing new voting technology for ballots (like optical scan ballots)? Also, could you comment on the effect of revisions to the language law on election administration?

The CEC has studied e-voting, but provisions in Ukrainian law determine how elections will be conducted. They are very detailed and provide specific instructions. The CEC cannot do more in terms of voting technology than the law allows. Regarding the language law, the statute did not refer to active electoral legislation, so there are no implications for this year's elections. In the future, both of these issues may be addressed by the next CEC. 

I want to thank Commissioner Okhendovskyy for being generous with his time and also for his willingness to address all of my questions. Also, thanks to the European Center for a Modern Ukraine for arranging the chat.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Observations about Ukraine's Upcoming Elections, Part 1

With just over six weeks remaining until Ukraine's October 28 parliamentary elections, the key issues around which politicians and parties are mobilizing voters have become clearer, as has the playing field. I will be composing a formal Election Note for The Monkey Cage and Electoral Studies, but following are some observations about the key issues in this election cycle that I will fold into the final version.

1) Prosecution of leading opposition figures. Prominent politicians, most notably former Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko and former Interior Minister Yuriy Lutsenko, remain imprisoned for alleged abuses of power while in office. The united opposition's attempt to nominate both individuals as top candidates on the party list was denied. The pro-government European Center for a Modern Ukraine issued an interpretation of the ruling, noting that Tymoshenko and Lutsenko could not be given ballot access because they could not serve in parliament. Despite their absence from the ballot, Tymoshenko, Lutsenko, and other imprisoned opposition figures remain important players in the campaign, with Tymoshenko's status regularly featured in the press.

2) Party mergers. Some parties have undergone rebranding due to new election rules and changes in political conditions, and several parties have merged for the election. The pro-regime Party of Regions incorporated the Strong Ukraine party, led by former presidential contender and member of government Serhiy Tihipko. The Bloc of Yuliya Tymoshenko, which emerged from the 2007 election as the leading opposition party challenging the party-of-power, reclaimed its party name: Batkyvshchyna (Fatherland) and merged with the Front of Change (led by former Rada speaker Arseniy Yatseniuk). The party has composed a joint list and has coordinated constituency nominations in the districts. The united opposition also incorporated small parties into its campaign, including Reforms and Order, People’s Self-Defense, For Ukraine, and People’s Movement. Other prominent organizations, such as boxer Vitaliy Klitschko’s UDAR and Oleh Tyahnibok’s right-wing Svoboda Party are contesting separately on party lists, but Svoboda agreed to coordinate SMD nominations with the united opposition. Twenty-two parties are contesting the party list ballot, with the Party of Regions, Batkyvshchyna, UDAR, and Communist Party as the leading contenders to pass the 5% threshold according to late August polls. The failure of the opposition to fully consolidate could be problematic, especially if coordination failures undermine constituency candidates.

3) Language Law. Amid controversy about procedural compliance with legislative rules, the Rada passed a new language law allowing local governments to elevate the status of the Russian language. Predictably, some local governments have moved forward (e.g., Donetsk, Luhansk), and others have resisted (e.g., L'viv). Language has been a hot-button topic, closely associated with general issues of identity that include the interpretation of Ukraine's history and perceptions about how Ukraine should interact with Western institutions like the EU and NATO. Presumably, Party of Regions strategists expected this law to mobilize voters in the party's traditional areas of strength. However, this approach could backfire as the language law could also serve as a mobilization tool for proponents of traditional Ukrainian identity who are threatened by the potential for this rule to undermine the status of Ukrainian.

4) Pressure on independent media. Opponents have accused President Yanukovych's administration of targeting critics and the tax evasion case of TVi, an independent television channel, is noted as an example. TVi failed to successfully defend itself in a court case, although it claimed to have made a legal deal with tax authorities to address arrears. During the 2004 Orange Revolution, independent media - especially Channel 5 - played a key role in providing the public with a view that differed from the regime's position. Channel 5 and TVi experienced pressure from the authorities soon after President Yanukovych took office in 2010. The most recent case against TVi is perceived as an effort to quell anti-regime publicity in an environment where most national channels broadcast favorable coverage.

5) Election Administration. The re-adoption of a mixed electoral system largely consistent with the rules used in 1998 and 2002 was initially supported by deputies across Ukraine's political divides. However, subsequent court rulings and administrative decisions have provoked "buyer's remorse" among many opposition members. The elimination of dual candidacy - consistent with an earlier court ruling removing them from the 2002 elections - along with rulings about out-of country voting, the delineation of constituencies, and most recently the method of selecting local commission members, has heightened concerns about the potential impact of administrative decisions on the conduct of the vote and potentially its outcome. Like its neighbor Russia, Ukraine is also installing webcams to broadcast polling station procedures during election day. The images will be scrutinized by the media and observers, but footage of the vote count will not be streamed live.

6) Manipulation and Fraud. Ukrainian citizens are skeptical of the upcoming elections, if results from an August poll by DW-Trend adequately represent public views. In the poll, 73% of respondents expressed skepticism that elections would be free and fair. Citizen organizations are actively monitoring the campaign and reporting alleged violations from vote buying and use of administrative resources to violence. Maidan Monitoring has an especially detailed site, including ongoing reports from the field. The long-standing Committee of Voters has also been active in monitoring and commenting on the election campaign. Accusations of fraud will increase in intensity and scope as the election approaches. In addition to alleged vote theft, regime opponents have identified pressure on the media (see above) and disproportionate coverage of the Party of Regions as additional evidence of regime efforts to undermine a level playing field.