Archive for July 8th, 2013


Holding the CEC accountable – Ukraine

July 8, 2013

Central Election Commissions have an important role in democracy.  That much is obvious.  They are supposed to insure fair play and a fairly level playing field for all participants in any election.  In short their role is to act as independent referee to provide society with not only free and fair elections, but also a bona fide confirmation of election results.

It has come to pass that in Ukraine, a gentleman named Volodymyr Shapoval, upon reaching the mandatory retirement age of 65, has vacated his seat as Chairman of the Ukrainian CEC.

Protocol dictates that he should submit a letter of resignation that is accepted by the President.  The law dictates that at 65, he is necessarily retired.  Thus, regardless of the formalities of resignation letters, retired he must be if the law is to be adhered to.

The opposition have been fighting his removal as chair through an apparent lack of resignation letter.

Why, you may wonder, given the outcry from the opposition over many recent election results, have they been fighting to keep Shapoval in office – even if via a weak technical nicety, despite the statutory retirement age?

The answer is that despite many recent electoral debacles, Shapoval was seen by the opposition as fairly objective – particularly when it came to vote tallies and assessing electoral conditions.  Opposition faith when it comes to tallies is a very important issue when considering a presidential election occurs in 2015.

It should also be noted that the CEC in and of itself is not really the problem when it comes to Ukrainian elections – other than its lack of powers in a legal sense to fine etc for breaking the rules.  It is the local district ad hoc commissions that ignore or encourage fraud, are organised badly, bought off or rigged by political parties during the period of electioneering where the most serious issues lay.

Actual voting is not the problem.  The problems occur in the weeks and months prior to voting and the level playing field, and thereafter in the vote counting and tampering – much of which is supposed to be supervised, monitored and done by the district election commissions.

The 15 people who comprise the CEC – 14 now there is a vacancy since Shapoval’s mandatory retirement – simply cannot be everywhere and do everything in a nation as large as Ukraine.  Thus delegation to often corrupt – or subsequently corrupted – district election commissions is a necessity.

The CEC is comprised of nominations from all political parties within Ukraine – and the new Chairman is Mykhailo Okhendovsky – a Party of Regions nomination and CEC member since 2004.  Okhendovsky is a laywer, who graduated from Taras Shevchenko University in 1997 with a degree in International Law.

It goes without saying that being a Party of Regions nominee, he will have a bias, how great or small will become apparent in due course, towards the current majority and president.  A worrisome development quite possibly – particularly with a revamp of the election laws due to go before the RADA in September and thus their interpretation yet to have precedent.

The first opportunity for any precedent to be set under any new legislation would appear to be the presidential elections of 2015 – perhaps not the best time to be testing the new legislature or subjecting any CEC decisions to the Supreme Court of Ukraine Court for verdict on their legality.  The Supreme Court of Ukraine being the only place to challenge CEC decisions.

And so it comes to pass that whilst the opposition are fighting the wrong fight over a protocol technicality that in no way challenges the law relating to mandatory retirement – and Shapoval’s required retirement – resignation letter or not – Party of Regions, via the secret vote of the CEC, now have their man as chairman.

In case you are wondering, the secret ballot of the CEC relating to Okhendovsky’s installation as new CEC chairman was as follows:  Of the 14 CEC members, 11 voted for him, 1 was on holiday and didn’t vote, 2 votes were deliberately spoiled – And yes, the only candidate for the position in the secret ballot was Okhendovsky.  Very difficult to lose a ballot if you are the only name on the list!

So with decreased opposition trust in the CEC, and energy being misspent on a procedural technicality that in no way makes Shapoval any less than 65 years old, it will fall to civil society to begin to make plans immediately to cover almost every voting station in Ukraine for the 2015 elections.

It will be an enormous effort to garner a parallel vote count from each and every voting station.  That will involve a level of coordination and trust between pro-democracy civil society actors I have never witnessed in Ukraine.  The simple fact is that there is very little trust between any civil society actors in Ukraine – whether their areas of interest converge or not.  Hence I would suggest planning and partnerships begin now.

It would perhaps be wise for external actors with significant interest in the processes (if not the necessarily outcome per winners and losers) of the Ukrainian presidential election – namely the EU – to employ some of the Euro hundreds of thousands it throws to a very splintered Ukrainian civil society, to set about some form of planning now, to insure the cooperation of all those pro-democracy/transparency NGOs and civil society actors it pays for/sponsors.

If not the cracks in the pavement will be so large, an entire election could fall through them without proper scrutiny  from the domestic democratic horizontal.

Now is a critical time for the EU to take some form of leadership over how its investment in pro-democracy civil society functions in Ukraine.  It would be quite possible to coordinate and insure pro-democracy civil society actors work together to monitor the presidential elections if threatened with decreased or loss of funding by refusing to work together in a strategic plan.

A plan to challenge the CEC outcomes with regard to swift appeals to the Supreme Court of Ukraine would not be a bad idea either – regardless of the lack of faith in the courts.

Not that I will hold my breath for any of this to happen by way of EU forward thinking – and neither will I hold my breath for pro-democracy/transparency Ukrainian civil society actors to work together unless forced to do so.

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