Sunday, October 12, 2014

Myths, Misconceptions, and Misdirections in the Ukrainian Conflict

I was recently invited by Professor Geir Flikke of the Department of Literature, Area Studies, and European Languages at the University of Oslo to make public presentations about the current conflict in Ukraine to various constituencies in Norway. The Norwegian Institute of International Affairs (NUPI) presented a live stream of my remarks and the Q&A that followed the talk. The entire session is embedded below.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Spatial Variation in the Administration of Ukraine's 2014 Snap Presidential Election

In a forthcoming article in the journal Eurasian Geography and Economics (co-authored with Nazar Boyko and Roman Sverdan), we assess an unusual phenomenon in the staffing of Ukraine's polling stations during the 2014 snap presidential election. Partisanship is the key factor used to allocate commission positions, and historically candidates and parties have provided a full slate of administrators to manage election processes. However, in the snap presidential election, candidates did not supply adequate personnel, requiring District Electoral Commissions to step in and fill gaps. We assess regional and partisan explanations for variation in the level of personnel contributions. Notably, proximity to areas of conflict was not a significant factor explaining variation in staffing. Rather, candidates (especially with past connections to the Party of Regions) failed to mobilize staff members in certain regions of the country. In the paper (available here in draft form), we address how partisanship interacted with region, and evaluate how staffing practices affected election results.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Washington Post - Monkey Cage Blog on the Upcoming Parliamentary Elections in #Ukraine

As preparations move forward for the October 26 snap parliamentary elections in Ukraine, Nazar Boyko (CIFRA Group) and I evaluate challenges facing administrators, parties, and voters on the Washington Post's Monkey Cage Blog.

The published piece omitted a couple of acknowledgements. We thank Roman Sverdan (CIFRA Group) for the visualizations and Brian Mefford (Committee for Open Democracy) for election observation data.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Election Eve

The day before elections is "silent": all campaign materials are removed by municipal workers and campaign ads disappear from TV and radio. For election observers, it is a staging day. Most teams are deployed to their regions already; groups from the Committee for Open Democracy traveled to Dnipropetrivsk, Donetsk, Kharkiv, and Odesa yesterday after the training session. I travel today to Cherkasy, a few hours south of Kyiv, to prepare for tomorrow's elections. In addition to the presidential election, important local elections are being held concurrently, including mayoral races in Cherkasy, Kyiv, and Odesa. CfOD is the largest international organization monitoring the local elections, so I received accreditation as an observer for both contests. Several important questions should be resolved tomorrow and into the early hours of Monday.

1) Will Petro Poroshenko win in the first round, or will a runoff be needed? Brian Mefford suggests that a first round Poroshenko victory is likely. Several polls indicate that Poroshenko should receive around 50% of the vote, but the tipping point for a first round win tends to fall within a standard margin of error for polls (I don't have all of the details on each of the polls to be more precise). Poroshenko should win a strong plurality, and a majority is not out of the question.

2) How many Ukrainian citizens have been disenfranchised? The annexation of Crimea and instability in Donetsk and Luhansk will dissuade a sizable contingent of voters from casting ballots. Violence and intimidation, at least on a large scale, currently appears to be contained. Just a few weeks ago it seemed destined to spread, so the more limited size of the conflict zone is a welcome development under the circumstances. If the status quo persists, Ukrainian authorities have the potential to implement a credible election in most of the country.

3) How much traditional fraud will occur? Insurgent occupation of PECs and DECs in Donetsk and Luhansk, as well as theft and destruction of election equipment, is a type of "disruptive fraud" designed to undermine confidence in the election process. More traditional fraud - efforts to influence voters or the process to benefit a candidate - is also likely to occur (and Maidan Monitoring is once again conducting a crowdsourcing effort to gather reports of fraud). The most contentious races, like the mayoral contest in Odesa, may also produce the strongest evidence of fraud. Given conditions on the ground, notably the short-term disarray of the patronage networks that were associated with the Party of Regions and the strong expectation of a Poroshenko win, perpetrators of fraud may calculate that they will be better served by saving their resources until the next parliamentary election (which may occur early as well).

In much of Ukraine, the day of silence seems to have begun calmly. As election day draws even nearer, I hope that Alexis de Tocqueville's observation about US presidential elections from long ago is realized:

"As soon as the choice is determined, this ardor is dispelled; and as a calmer season returns, the current of the State, which had nearly broken its banks, sinks to its usual level: but who can refrain from astonishment at the causes of the storm."

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Is Ukraine Ready to Vote?: Washington Post/Monkey Cage Blog #elect_ua14 #вибори2014

My piece about Ukraine's election administration, part of an election note I am preparing for Electoral Studies, is online at the Washington Post's Monkey Cage Blog ( The Electoral Studies article will include additional information, notably an assessment of the competitors and the results. Below is some supplementary information that did not make it into the Monkey Cage entry, but may be a part of note.


Competitors and Campaign 
Prior to the collapse of Viktor Yanukovych’s government, the political opposition discussed the possibility of endorsing a single candidate if an early election were to be held. After the election date was formally announced, it quickly became clear that the opposition would not fully coordinate. Former supporters of the Yanukovych government also split, with the Party of Regions endorsing a candidate who would contest alongside other members of the former ruling party.

Candidates were required to register by March 30, 2014 to gain access to the ballot. The Central Electoral Commission (CEC) officially registered 23 candidates. Only seven of the candidates were formally nominated by political parties, including prominent politicians such as Yuliya Tymoshenko (Batkivshchyna) and Oleh Tyahnybok (Svoboda). Of the fourteen candidates who filed as independents, several are linked to parties although they are not formally standing as party-nominated contestants. For example, Mykhailo Dobkin received the Party of Regions endorsement, but he is running without a formal party label.

Two prominent politicians who were expected to run, Vitaliy Klychko and Arseniy Yatseniuk, supported other candidates. Klychko decided to back the current presidential frontrunner, Petro Poroshenko, and instead run for mayor of Kyiv. Yatseniuk, whose party coalesced with Tymoshenko’s Batkivshchyna, stepped aside and supported Tymoshenko’s nomination. Three candidates withdrew from the race in early May after gaining ballot access. One of these former candidates, Oleh Tsarov, is associated with the separatist movement in the southern and eastern regions of the country. Two other candidates withdrew just over one week before the vote: Petro Symonenko, the Communist Party candidate, and Oleksandr Klymenko.

Campaign activity has been subdued. Pre-election polling by the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology (KIIS) and International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) suggests that Petro Poroshenko, an entrepreneur known as the “Chocolate King”, enjoys a substantial lead over other competitors. The effective removal of around one million voters due to Crimea’s loss, and the potential for disruptions to voting for around four million additional voters in Donetsk and Luhansk, is likely to further dilute support for candidates associated with the ousted regime. While Poroshenko is currently the favorite to win the presidency, it is unclear if he will have enough support to win in the first round or if a runoff will be required. 

Conditions on the Ground
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) is deploying the largest election observation mission, including approximately 100 long-term and 900 short-term observers. The CEC currently lists around 1,400 accredited international observers from fourteen organizations and six national delegations, as well as ten domestic observation groups. Given the recent experience with international observation missions in Azerbaijan, where many questionable organizations deemed the elections “free and fair” and only the OSCE challenged the credibility of the vote, the assessments themselves will also be under scrutiny and allegations of bias may emerge.


In addition to the text that did not make it in the final version of the blog post, two maps that further illustrate issues with election administration were omitted and are displayed below. Like the maps published in the Monkey Cage, these are based on data from Ukraine's Central Electoral Commission, coded by Cifra staff, and designed by Roman Sverdan.

The first map shows how PEC officers have changed, and especially illustrates how DEC staffing has affected the distribution of candidate-affiliated officers. The withdrawal of candidates, especially Symonenko's late decision to leave the campaign on Friday, will affect the identity of replacements. Officers have agenda-setting powers, and the affiliations of DEC officials could influence who is selected to fill open positions in PECs. I will be assessing this phenomenon with Nazar Boyko after all of the data are collected and processed.   

The next map is an oblast-level visualization of PEC staffing problems. In the Monkey Cage entry, I noted that DECs supplemented staffing for PECs that were unable to fill their positions. The map below shows variation in DEC contributions to PEC staff with data aggregated to the oblast level. At this level, the challenges of staffing central and western polling stations are more apparent.

I will be observing the election with the Committee for Open Democracy's team (the full list of accredited observers from CfOD is on the CEC site). I plan to post updates about the election here and also on Twitter as @erikherron, with the caveat that I may have limited online access during my trip.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

How - and Why - to Spoil an Election #elect_ua14 #ukraine

Ukraine's election administrators, as well as domestic and international observers, face several vexing dilemmas with the upcoming presidential election. The occupation of Crimea, and ongoing provocations in Donetsk, Luhansk, and other parts of the east and south, generate significant logistical and political problems. In addition, Russian government interests may be well-served by an election process so problematic that it cannot be validated by outside observers. In this post, I explore tactics that could be used to undermine elections and interpret them in the current Ukrainian context.

Outside of any efforts to undermine the election's credibility, the official timetable has created tremendous logistical challenges. The announcement of a May snap election, with a shorter period for the formation of District Election Commissions (DEC) and Precinct Election Commissions (PEC), renders staffing and training difficult to accomplish. PEC officials are the front-line for credible elections as they are responsible for an orderly election day process. But, DEC and PEC staffing is not permanent. While veteran DEC and PEC members may participate in the election, recruiting and training new members and officers is a significant challenge. Further, the recruitment process opens the door to individuals who could facilitate sabotage.

Crimea's annexation and instability in Donetsk and Luhansk create further logistical problems. The CEC has announced that it will serve Crimean voters in Kherson, and this decision is probably the only reasonable choice. Ukrainian authorities maintain that Crimea is occupied, and its citizens should have the right to vote in Ukraine's elections. Russia has claimed Crimea as its own territory and will not permit polling stations to operate.* Setting up special polling places in Ukrainian-controlled territory close to the peninsula addresses this issue, in principle. In practice, however, with the announcement that even Mustafa Dzhemiliev is banned from entry into Crimea (a point disputed by Russian authorities), Crimean Tatars might hesitate to exit their homeland if the probability of return is low. In addition, it is likely that border crossings will be slowed on election day. Given all of the impediments, Crimean Tatar turnout in Kherson should be low.

Maintaining the security of the vote, and of the voters, will also be a challenge in Donetsk and Luhansk. Not only are government buildings occupied, but the status of law enforcement is in doubt. Groups of protesters advocating irredentism could easily disrupt the election process in these regions, and mobilization of protesters elsewhere could further undermine the ability of Ukrainian citizens to go to the polls. Other security challenges could occur, such as direct threats to candidates (even suspicious attacks on presidential candidates have a precedent in Ukraine**).

Public participation in the elections could be undermined by intimidation, not just from "green men," but also from other covert actors. Strategically, it would make more sense to stage intimidation in the east that could be attributed to Right Sector (Indeed, Ukrainian authorities allege that this has already occurred - with a meme in response). Intimidation of voters would not be limited to the east and south, but the tools are readily available there.

Staging and subsequently "discovering" vote fraud would also be advantageous to a narrative of a failed election. Standard methods that observers could not miss, such as ballot box stuffing and election commissions issuing biased decisions, would be valuable tools as they would be noted in official observer reports. Exploiting crowdsourced election observation to report carousels and other forms of vote buying taking place outside the polling stations is also possible. This tactic could co-opt civil society NGOs into validating staged allegations. While some of these methods may be employed by candidates seeking to win the election, incentives exist to manufacture fraud.

Beyond standard tactics of vote fraud and manipulation, more sophisticated methods could be employed to disrupt processing. Electronic systems are used by the CEC and other units to gather and tabulate election data, and to disseminate results. DDoS attacks, and methods of infiltration into CEC systems, could delay tabulation and publication of results. More insidious methods could corrupt election data, requiring recounts from paper ballots and protocols. Delays are often signals of manipulation, and could be interpreted in this way.

This election may produce an unusual election manipulation story. Perpetrators of fraud generally cheat to win, gather information, or send signals about the regime and opposition to various constituencies. Perpetrators of fraud in Ukraine's upcoming presidential election may have different motivations than we have typically encountered - intentional disruption of the process to call into question the competence and legitimacy of authorities.

A great advantage for those who would interfere with the election process is that blame attribution will not matter. If the elections are not deemed to be in line with international standards, then the legitimacy of the government in Kyiv can be further questioned. Moreover, a faulty process would enhance pressure on the EU and US to either disavow objective observer reports and deem the elections successful - lending further support to the Russian narrative of Western manipulation - or admit that the elections were unsuccessful and undermine the legitimacy of Ukraine's government.

As a concluding note, I am generally skeptical of broad conspiracy theories, as they often require a level of coordination and silence that is nearly impossible to achieve. This post is not a set of allegations, but rather a type of thought experiment. If political actors (in this case, the Russian government) had strong incentives to spoil an election (in this case, Ukraine's snap presidential election), what levers might they use? Elections have many moving parts, and the process presents vulnerabilities that could be exploited. Election administrators and observers may have an even higher bar to pass in the upcoming election than in any previous contest - not only must they conduct and monitor elections under less than ideal circumstances, but they have to carefully document and interpret allegations to distinguish fraud designed to benefit a candidate from fraud designed to undermine the process.***

*An option for Russia would be to offer Ukraine the opportunity to open special polling stations like those used for expatriate voters around the world. Of course, Ukraine would not accept such an offer as it would explicitly acknowledge Crimea's annexation.

**Natalya Vitrenko, a strongly anti-Western candidate, was injured by a grenade attack in the 1999 presidential campaign. Individuals associated with Socialist Party candidate Oleksandr Moroz, who was a more credible challenger to then-president Leonid Kuchma, were linked by officials to the attack. The incident was characterized as an intentional provocation to discredit Moroz.

***Given the history of Ukraine's elections, anomalies are likely even under the best of circumstances. Professional administration and vigilant observation are needed to undermine the incentives for prototypical fraud that may be present in the first and second rounds.

Friday, March 21, 2014

The Effects of Partisan Election Administration

Nazar Boyko (Cifra Group) and I are presenting a research paper at the Midwest Political Science Association Conference that investigates how partisan staffing of polling stations affects election outcomes. We focus on the role of technical parties: formally registered parties whose primary purpose is not gaining seats for themselves, but rather assisting their patrons.* Political observers in Eastern Europe and Eurasia have argued that technical parties (and candidates) are ubiquitous and influential, but no research thus far has empirically classified them or evaluated their effects.

Our paper relies on extensive personnel data from Ukraine's 2012 parliamentary elections to identify the most active technical parties, connect technical parties to their patrons, and assess how the assignment of partisan polling station officers influences election outcomes. We find that the presence of technical party-affiliated officers is associated with improved outcomes for the Party of Regions and Batkivshchyna, but that the extent and magnitude of effects is greater for the Party of Regions.

The paper's bottom line is that electoral administration matters, and staffing practices can influence results. Partisan staffing of electoral management bodies, coupled with liberal registration rules permitting large numbers of parties to participate, creates strong incentives for major parties to influence decision-making through affiliated technical parties. The participation and influence of technical parties has the potential to undermine the perception that elections are managed in a free and fair manner.

A draft version of the paper is available for download; comments are welcome.

* Patrons are major parties or candidates contesting in the election who have especially close ties to technical parties.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Exceptional Results in the #Crimea #Referendum

Yesterday on Twitter, I sent an inquiry to the official Crimea Referendum account for information about the publication of referendum data, especially polling station level data. I have searched for the data and have not found it online, and my request was unanswered. I cobbled together a bit of information based on press releases, and have a couple of observations about the course of the elections.

The proportion of reported invalid ballots (0.72%) is low compared to earlier elections in Crimea (for example, earlier elections yielded invalidation rates of 2.9% in 1998, 3.6% in 1999, 3.7% in 2002, 1.5% in 2004, and 1.2% in 2010 for Crimean voters). Voters make mistakes, and they also intentionally invalidate ballots to send messages. While voter education, ballot complexity, and other factors influence the accuracy of ballot casting, it would be interesting to see the distribution of invalid ballots as 0.72% is quite low.

Turnout data also illustrate the exceptional nature of this vote. The figure below shows reported Crimean turnout in elections held from 1998-2014 at various reporting periods throughout the day. The referendum vote (red squares) even exceeds the falsified second round of the 2004 presidential election in turnout at every reporting period. Crimean voters were either incredibly mobilized to participate - far beyond any past election - or the results were artificially inflated.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

How "Soviet" is the #Crimea #Referendum?

The Soviet Union, as a general practice, did not call public votes on policy matters. The only exception to this rule was the 1991 vote on preserving the union. If we think of the Crimea referendum as a vote on policy, then it is not a particularly "Soviet" approach to engaging with the public. However, thinking of the vote in these terms is probably faulty.

I reflected extensively on Soviet elections in my 2009 book, Elections and Democracy after Communism?, emphasizing that there is no single approach to elections across Soviet history. The earliest elections (1917-1936) were characterized by substantial variation in practices, in part because the Bolsheviks were in the process of establishing the USSR and also engaged in internal struggles for authority finally resolved with Stalin's consolidation of power. The middle period of elections (1936-1984) fits the stereotype of the Soviet approach, with centralization of procedures and pre-ordained outcomes. The final stage of elections (1985-1991) was competitive but short-lived. Watching today's coverage of the Crimea Referendum reminded me of several passages from Chapter 2:
During most of the Soviet period, elections were analogous to elaborately staged theater. Soviet electoral practices required political actors to find appropriate candidates, ensure voter turnout, manage activities at polling stations, and troubleshoot problems. Moreover, these activities demanded substantial personnel, financial, material, and technical resources. Not only were citizens expected to vote, but millions of citizens served in a formal capacity during local and national campaigns as commission members, voter mobilizers, or candidates. Why would the Soviet Union direct so much effort to an enterprise with preordained outcomes?
…Soviet elections were designed for consumption by internal and external audiences. For the domestic audience, holding elections for local councils (soviets) continued the practices of limited enfranchisement that began in the tsarist period. By controlling suffrage and nomination, the Bolsheviks could eliminate challenges to their rule while offering the people what appeared to be a voice in public affairs. For the international audience, Soviet elections could showcase the state's "democratic" credentials and facilitate propaganda efforts aimed to discredit the democratic credentials of the West. Soviet propagandists asserted that electoral practices in the West, and especially the United States, were dominated by entrenched economic interests, discriminated against minority candidates and voters, and were plagued by bribery and fraud. In Soviet rubric, elections engaged the people directly in governance and were not compromised by the shortcomings commonly found in bourgeois societies.
In addition to legitimization, elections served several additional functions to strengthen the Soviet state. The election process allowed the leadership at the national, regional, and local levels to evaluate the performance of functionaries. The selection of "appropriate" candidates whose record of accomplishments reflected Soviet ideals, success in engaging voters and limiting expressions of dissent, and the overall management of large-scale mobilization conveyed information to higher-level officials who would make decisions about promotion (Carson 1955). While direct elections were not used to select major policymakers, the expansion of contestation rights and the reconfiguration of responsibilities for officials, particularly characteristic of the late Soviet period, could provide political actors access to positions where real policy decisions were made (Roeder 1993). Elections also habituated the population to participation in the Soviet system: casting a vote for a candidate was equivalent to supporting the regime (Gilison 1968; Roeder 1989).
…Turnout in second-era Soviet elections reflected the new emphasis on participation. By 1939, officially reported voter participation was nearly 100 percent, a level it would maintain during this period (Carson 1955; Swearer 1961). Several scholars have challenged the accuracy of official turnout results, suggesting that higher levels of nonparticipation were obscured by various techniques. Soviet officials did not report, nor did Western scholars have access to, reliable data on the number of citizens who did not register to vote, who obtained absentee certificates and did not use them, or the magnitude of data falsification (Zaslavsky and Brym 1978; Roeder 1989). All of these factors could explain the impressive turnout figures in Soviet elections, but coordinated mobilization efforts also encouraged citizens to cast ballots... Voters scheduled to be out-of-town obtained an absentee certificate allowing them to cast their ballots outside of their home precincts (Zaslavsky and Brym 1978). A public campaign praising candidates, and the direct intervention of agitators who visited voters and pressed citizens to come to the polls, also encouraged high levels of participation (Mote 1965; Gilison 1968; Hill 1976; Zaslavsky and Brym 1978).  
As we await the official results, it is important to remember that the referendum is not about citizens expressing preferences on a policy outcome. Rather, it is a theatrical exercise designed to showcase its outcome: "proof" to others that Russians in the near abroad desire reunification with Russia.*

* Even this assertion is potentially problematic for Russian government elites. In a survey conducted a few years after Soviet collapse among Russian speakers in Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Ukraine, Lowell Barrington, Brian Silver, and I showed that Russians in the near abroad overwhelmingly opposed Russian state intervention on their behalf (Barrington, Herron, and Silver 2003). While several years have passed since those surveys were held, it is hard to develop a causal story that would flip ethnic Russian opinions in these regions.

[UPDATE: The relevant figure from our article is below.]

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Ballots, Bullets, and the #Crimea Referendum

Next week, Crimea is scheduled to stage a referendum on its status. The vote has been characterized in the Russian press as a ratification* of the decision by the Crimean parliament to separate from Ukraine and join Russia. The organization of this vote is problematic for several reasons.

Ballot Design. Several images of the referendum ballot have been circulating, and all of them consistently show a trilingual sheet with two options.

Notably, the ballot provides two questions for which assent is the only option. The first question is: "Are you for the reunification of Crimea with Russia as a subject of the Russian Federation?" The second question is: "Are you for the re-establishment of the 1992 Constitution and for the status of Crimea as part of Ukraine?" Because voters cannot register a "no" vote for either option, the status quo is not an alternative.

The status quo generally would be an alternative in such a decision. For example, the referendum on South Sudan independence gave voters two options: unity with or separation from Sudan. The former choice was the status quo - remaining a constituent part of Sudan.

South Sudan Referendum Ballot (REUTERS/Albert Gonzalez Farran)
Voters who oppose a change in Crimea's status may only cast blank ballots or deface their ballots. If they cast blank ballots, the votes should be counted as invalid. Blank ballots create opportunities for mischief, permitting polling station officials (or others) to alter the ballots by marking one of the options. Ballots that are defaced would be rendered invalid and not be recorded in the tallies for any option. In short, the ballot is poorly designed if its goal is to assess citizen preferences about Crimea's status, but not if it is designed to permit fraud and "ratify" a preferred outcome.

Conditions on the Ground. Armed occupation is not an optimal circumstance for democratic elections, although many states in conflict have held votes. However, the threat of violence and uncertainty about the what the troops will do during the voting process undermines safety and security, critical elements for a proper election or referendum.

Given that the identities of the armed forces on the ground have not been acknowledged, their participation in the vote is an open question. All of the evidence indicates that many, if not most, of the armed troops are Russian citizens (media reports have noted that vehicles have Russian plates, weapons are military-grade, and so on). The Russian government's insistence that they are not Russian, however, suggests that they will be considered "local citizens" who have the right to vote. The Central Electoral Commission's decision to withhold voter registries, designed to demonstrate that the referendum is not legal, will likely facilitate this fraud as voters will simply be checked in on election day without up-to-date documentation of registered voters.

The Crimean Tatars have called for a boycott of the vote. This position is understandable, especially since the expressed preference of leaders to remain part of Ukraine under current institutional rules is not an option on the ballot. Their boycott should affect turnout, and it will be important to evaluate if participation is demonstrably lower in regions that should have depressed participation.

As I noted in my 2009 book, most referendums in the post-Soviet region have not offered citizens an opportunity to express their preferences on policy matters. I asked: "... how do political elites use referendums? Do referendums provide citizens a meaningful opportunity to directly influence policy decisions? Or, do they present a false choice, with political elites offering questions for public vote only when they are confident in a favorable outcome?" Based on the evidence, I concluded that referendums "...tend to be legitimization tools for the political elite... with questions and processes favoring the ruling elite's preferences." The ruling elite in today's Crimea has made its preferences clear not only through its words, but also by its actions in organizing the upcoming vote.

* When I originally tweeted this RT article, it characterized the vote as "ratifying" the assembly's decision. The current version has scrubbed this term from the article.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Early Thoughts on Possible Snap Elections in Ukraine #EuroMaidan

Today's tentative deal between the opposition and regime paves the way for early presidential elections. While it is unclear if the citizens protesting in the streets will accept an arrangement that leaves President Yanukovych in office, it is worth noting critical issues that the opposition and ruling party will face if elections move forward.

Election Legislation. The negotiations have focused on the constitution, with the promise of returning to the settlement from 2004 that reduced the powers of the presidency (the provisions took effect in 2006). However, election legislation, especially rules for election administration, may be problematic. The 2012 parliamentary election introduced a modification to the system for populating electoral commissions, permitting "technical" parties to capture seats on the commissions (my colleagues at CIFRA Group have conducted excellent work on this issue: While "technical" parties vary in terms of their activities and effects, they are essentially registered groups that are not legitimate contenders for seats. Rather, they support major parties by peeling off votes from their competitors or influencing election administration decisions.* In 2010's presidential election, the second round populated the commissions with representatives of the two remaining competitors rather than permitting technical candidate representatives to remain on the commissions. Ensuring that technical candidates do not improperly influence administration, and crafting legislation to enhance transparency, will be an important step to reduce the likelihood of improper influences on election management.

Election Observation. As Fredrik Sjoberg and I point out in a recent working paper, the tactics of fraud have varied in Ukraine. Traditional election observation efforts conducted by international and domestic organizations focus on "vote manipulation," especially perpetrated in the polling stations. However, "voter manipulation," perpetrated outside the polling stations, is a major concern. Traditional methods of observation may not capture these activities. Crowdsourcing efforts, like those conducted by Maidan Monitoring and ElectUA in the 2012 parliamentary election, may be better suited to identifying activities like vote buying and intimidation. More active incorporation of these efforts by monitoring organizations will be an important check on the integrity of the process.

The Contenders. Both opposition and regime supporters will face challenging calculations when considering who should run for the presidency. Ukraine's majority-runoff system favors the proliferation of candidates in the first round. This feature is especially problematic for the opposition. The opposition appears unified now, as it did in 2004. But, this unity is propelled by their common disdain for President Yanukovych. Immediately following President Yushchenko's victory in 2004, the coalition of "Orange" forces showed signs of dissent, enhanced by the dismissal of Yuliya Tymoshenko as prime minister and the defection of the Socialist Party to the Party of Regions/Communist coalition. Not only do the personal aspirations of opposition leaders vary, but their policy objectives differ. Most notably, the Svoboda Party has strong rhetorical and policy aspirations to build a Ukraine for Ukrainians, defined in a manner that may not appeal to a majority of the population. If the leaders of the opposition do not keep their promise of running a consensus candidate, these differences could become enhanced and undermine their effectiveness.

The Party of Regions also faces nomination challenges. Presumably, Viktor Yanukovych will contest (under the conditions we see today). He may face challenges from others, such as Serhiy Tihipko, who are more moderate and palatable representatives of Eastern/Southern interests. In 2010, Tihipko demonstrated wider regional appeal in the first round and he could potentially emerge as a favored contender.

In short, the two-round system could enhance divisions in the opposition and ruling parties.** The first round would be a furious contest to survive into the second round that could damage longer-term cooperation. The matchup in the second round could also tip the election in unexpected ways.

Many other issues are likely to intervene between now and the possible election in late 2014 that will affect who contends and how the process is conducted. If the negotiated settlement is sufficient to calm the streets in the short term, it is almost certain that other complications and conflict will emerge over the coming weeks and months.

*I witnessed the effects of "technical" candidates first hand in the 2004 presidential election. During the overnight vote count in my polling station in Kherson, the commission had to make decisions about the validity of ballots with extra marks. By law, voters were supposed to mark the box next to their preferred candidate. However, some voters both marked the box and crossed off the name of the competitor (likely prompted by earlier Ukrainian election rules that used negative balloting where citizens voted by crossing off candidates they did not support). The commission considered around 30 of these ballots. When the ballot favored Viktor Yanukovych, the commission voted to label it valid. When the ballot favored Viktor Yushchenko, the commission voted to label it invalid. The votes of non-competitive candidates from the first round swayed the commission.

**This assessment assumes that Yuliya Tymoshenko is not released from prison. If she is freed, she will have a tremendous impact on the landscape.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Legitimate Regimes Resolve Conflict Without the Use of Force #EuroMaidan

Robert Jackman's 1993 book, Power without Force, speaks directly to the conflict raging in Ukraine. As he notes in the preface, "regimes and institutions are legitimate insofar as they are able to resolve conflict without the overt use of force. But legitimacy is a two-way street, and we need also to focus on the degree of compliance or consent exhibited by those who are governed."

Ukraine's authorities have chosen violence as a means to coerce citizens to obey, or perhaps to turn citizens into subjects. No matter how this conflict is resolved, the stakes have been raised as the costs to "losers" are likely to be higher than if a political resolution had been reached.

For the Ukrainian people, the costs will be high regardless of the outcome. If the regime prevails, they face repression; if not, they face retribution. As I noted in an earlier post, large-scale repression extending beyond Maidan will be required to quell protest. Ukrainian citizens will resist the Azerbaijan- or Belarus-style solution. If the regime crumbles and Russia perceives the successors to oppose its interests, Ukraine is likely to face economic costs with restrictions on natural gas, trade across borders, and movement into Russia where many Ukrainians work. Regions in the East and South are also likely to use tactics of resistance similar to those currently in play in the West (especially in Crimea which already has autonomous status).

Ukraine's moneyed interests also face stark choices, and the potential to lose either way. Ukrainian oligarchs, large and small, have accumulated and maintained wealth in ways that do not conform with European rule-of-law standards. Movement closer to Europe threatens their resources. Russia's moneyed interests are more integrated with the state, and are positioned to raid and overwhelm their Ukrainian counterparts. However, if European governments follow through on veiled threats of sanctions, these oligarchs could find their assets frozen and movement restricted; they seem to prefer European destinations for travel, investment, education, and asset storage to Russian ones.

The state security apparatus faces critical choices. For those individuals who have already engaged in violence or ordered it, the possibility of punishment now looms behind defeat. Those who have not engaged in violence are confronted with the choice of committing violence against unarmed civilians of all ages. Further, the military, which tended to avoid politicization from the Soviet period onward (perhaps with the exception of the 1991 coup attempt), is facing the choice of participating in activities that the Interior Ministry has "led."

President Yanukovych and his closest allies are now "all in," but victory and defeat are costly. If additional Russian assistance is required, Yanukovych risks loss of (or restrictions on) the power and wealth that he has wielded. In any case, more repressive measures will be required. If his supporters waiver, he could once again lose office as a sacrifice by other political actors interested in their own survival (much like what occurred in 2004-5). The opposition is also "all in." The leadership is likely to face imprisonment or exile if the regime prevails. If the regime does not prevail, opposition leaders face economic crisis, the strong likelihood of regional resistance, and the potential for efforts by outsiders to enhance Ukraine's instability.

Russian interests are not fully clear. In some ways, an unstable and chaotic, but modestly democratic, Ukraine serves as a valuable symbol, suggesting what the "democratic" alternative looks like to Russian citizens. Ukraine has been a useful foil for Russian actors who want to discredit their own domestic opposition. A more authoritarian Ukraine does not serve these purposes, but as I noted above, it could financially benefit powerful Russian elites as they accumulate Ukrainian resources. Europe has a rhetorical interest in supporting Ukraine, but does not have a short-term objective of fully including Ukraine in the fold. Russia will always prioritize its interests in Ukraine; Europe and the US occasionally pay attention. Unless Europe's orientation to Ukraine changes quickly and dramatically, and it offers more valuable carrots and more potent sticks, its interests will not advance.

Regardless of the outcome, the regime's actions continue to reveal that a large segment of Ukraine's population considers it to be illegitimate. Jackman concludes his book with the following observation: "Legitimacy... is the quantity that needs to be maximized in the short term for new states. Since decisions to employ repressive tactics are primarily in the hands of regime, maximizing legitimacy means that those regimes should avoid the use of physical coercion..." In other words, strong and legitimate regimes do not need to use force to gain the consent of the governed. Ukraine is a long way from enjoying the benefits of a legitimate regime.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Counterpunch to Ukraine's #EuroMaidan

Ukraine's party-of-power, along with the Communist Party, delivered a counterpunch to the political opposition by adopting several provisions in the January 16 plenary session of the Verkhovna Rada via a show of hands. Some newly passed rules include the prohibition of auto convoys greater than five cars in size (designed to undermine the AutoMaidan effort), requirements for organizations receiving non-Ukrainian financial support to be registered as "foreign agents,"* limits to parliamentary deputy immunity, and modifications to punishments for various activities that could be applied to EuroMaidan protesters and their supporters.

Many (especially on Twitter and in the blogosphere) have raised questions about the validity of these votes both in terms of formal procedures and also general practices in democratic societies. As a caveat, I am not a legal professional, and the interpretation of laws and procedures is generally undertaken in the judicial branch. But, I have studied Ukraine's parliament as a political scientist, and have familiarized myself with aspects of legislative procedures in the past.

Article 37 of the Regulations of the Verkhovna Rada describes two methods of voting.** The primary form of casting a vote on matters being considered by the Rada is via the electronic voting system. The Reglament notes:

2. Відкрите голосування здійснюється:
1) кожним народним депутатом особисто за допомогою електронної системи в такий спосіб, що унеможливлює голосування замість народного депутата іншою особою [Each People's Deputy personally uses the electronic system so that voting in place of another People's Deputy is not possible]. Результати голосування фіксуються поіменно, в тому числі з можливим роздрукуванням результатів голосування кожного народного депутата. На вимогу народних депутатів результати голосування можуть висвітлюватися на інформаційному табло електронної системи в залі засідань по депутатських фракціях (депутатських групах);

2) шляхом підняття руки (у разі відсутності технічної можливості голосування за допомогою електронної системи).

However, point 2 also notes that "in the case that voting by the electronic system is not technically possible" voting by show of hands is permissible. What is meant by "technically possible"? It would seem that this circumstance refers to conditions in which the electronic system does not function properly. The transcript of the plenary session below indicates that the reason that the Rada voted by show of hands today, rather than by the electronic system, was that physical impediments did not permit access to the electronic voting system.

Рішення не прийнято.
Шановні народні депутати! Я бачу, що зараз перешкоджають голосуванню шляхом і за допомогою електронної системи, тому вношу пропозицію про повернення до голосування. [I see that voting through the electronic system is impeded, so I propose that we return to vote] Якщо ця пропозиція не пройде, тоді будемо приймати рішення відповідно до статті 37 Регламенту Верховної Ради і голосування будемо проводити за допомогою підняття рук [If the proposal does not pass through, in accordance with Article 37 of the Reglament of the Verkhovna Rada, we will move to a vote by the show of hands]. Вношу пропозицію про повернення до голосування. Прошу народних депутатів голосувати.

A minute later, the speaker notes that bills cannot be considered in "a normal manner" (see text below). Further, because the dais is blocked and members are prevented from using the electronic voting system, votes will proceed with a show of hands.


ГОЛОВУЮЧИЙ. Позабирали карточки в народних депутатів.
Шановні народні депутати! Оскільки ми не маємо можливості розглядати зазначені законопроекти в нормальному режимі, депутати перешкоджають розгляду питання, блокують трибуну, перешкоджають роботі головуючого на  пленарному засіданні, а також голосуванню інших народних депутатів за допомогою електронної система "Рада", що є грубими порушенням вимог частини четвертої статті 47 та статей 51, 52, 53 Закону України "Про Регламент Верховної Ради України", ми будемо приймати рішення щодо цих законопроектів без обговорення. Хочу  зауважити, що всі ці законопроекти, які ми зараз будемо включати до  порядку денного сьогоднішнього засідання, розглянуті комітетами Верховної Ради у відповідності з вимогами статті 93 Регламенту Верховної Ради України. Прошу голову Лічильної комісії підготуватися до обрахунку голосів народних депутатів при голосування за допомогою  підняття рук.

The "technical reasons" noted in Article 37 were interpreted to encompass physical access to the electronic voting system. Two critical questions emerge from the procedural decisions on the floor:

1) Is this a proper and legal interpretation of the regulations?
2) Is this the process by which democratic legislatures should make decisions?

The dais has been blocked before, and I am unaware of any effort to invoke protests in the hall as a technical impediment to electronic voting, requiring a show of hands to register votes. In other words, this would be a new interpretation of the regulations. If the courts were impartial, one could look toward the judicial branch for adjudication.

Absent a formal, legal interpretation, we can think about the ways in which democratic parliaments resolve disputes. Physically blocking the dais and access to the voting system is not a tactic taken in the spirit of compromise. But, the opposition would argue that it is the last line of defense against the "tyranny of the majority," especially a tyranny that they would argue is transforming Ukraine into an authoritarian society. While Americans often complain about the problems of filibuster and minority protections in Congress (especially the Senate) stifling action, Ukraine's parliament might benefit from these kinds of provisions. Instead, bare majorities are crafting laws with significant and negative implications for democracy and the rule of law. [As a side note, the quick publication of the roll call voting results without the use of the electronic voting system is suspicious - how did the Rada record individual member's votes?]

The procedural issues also raise a third question:
3) Are the provisions themselves consistent with a democratic system?

The decisions are designed to give the authorities leverage to shut down opposition protests and parties, and also target non-partisan organizations dedicated to rule of law. Party of Regions advocates note - rightly - that Viktor Yanukovych's 2010 election victory was democratic. Indeed, it was a rare case when observer organizations from the CIS, Europe, and the United States agreed that the process was credible, free, and fair. However, the victory did not absolve his administration of accountability for its actions and choices, nor did it give him a mandate to stifle the democratic processes that helped elevate him to the presidency. Hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian citizens mobilized to express their dissatisfaction with the decision to not sign the EU Association Agreement, and their elected deputies are representing that view in the Rada.

President Yanukovych has the option of veto, which the OSCE recommends. [UPDATE: Just as I posted this entry, Ukrainska Pravda reported that President Yanukovych signed the bills passed today into law. SECOND UPDATE: Apparently, the bills are not yet signed. THIRD UPDATE: Now (1/17/14) they have been signed.] Criminalizing peaceful protest and free expression using questionable procedures would further escalate the regime's actions undermining the crumbling foundations of Ukraine's nascent democracy.

* If enacted, it will be interesting to see how Russian support is addressed, since it too would render an organization a "foreign agent."

** Point 5 in the same article provides an ambiguous way out, noting that the Rada may adopt different procedures if "the type and method of voting is not set by law and the Reglament." 5. Верховна Рада може прийняти процедурне рішення щодо визначення виду і способу голосування з питання, що розглядається, якщо вид і спосіб голосування не встановлені законом і цим Регламентом.