OPORA: civic monitoring of the elections

While candidates attempt to intimidate the electorate, hundreds of thousands of voters could be deprived of their right to vote.
These are some of the findings of the Civic Network OPORA’s second report (for December) on the results of a nationwide campaign of public observing of the Presidential Elections in 2010. The information, presented at a press conference on 23 December, was collected by 74 independent OPORA long-term observers, following the course of the electoral process in 225 districts.

According to the Coordinator of the Network, Yury Lisovsky, the formation of polling stations has been accompanied by infringements of electoral legislation, in the main due to improper implementation of its duties by bodies of local self-government. According to OPORA observers, almost 10% of bodies of local self-government have made submissions to district electoral commissions in the last days.  It is worth stressing that there were often mistakes or discrepancies, particularly where determining the boundaries between polling stations, the number of voters at each, etc.  Cases have been recorded when submissions have been made after the legally stipulated period.

OPORA observers say that the district electoral commissions [DEC] are following the plan for preparation of the elections as stipulated by the Central Election Commission [CEC] and current legislation. However Mr Lisovsky highlighted a number of issues impeding their efficient work:

–  insufficient material and technical provisions;

–  the low level of legal education and motivation;

–  passivity of members of the DEC when discussing and making decisions;

–  the formal nature of the selection of staff by campaign teams.

On a scale of 1 to 5, OPORA rates the work of the bodies responsible for the State Voter List at 3. This, they say, is influenced in the first instance by the lack of knowledge by DEC staff of current legislation regarding the rights of journalists and members of the public to information. Staff sometimes refuse to provide information regarding the number of citizens’ appeals which they believe to be divulging personal data. Despite this, OPORA notes positive initiatives in the work of DEC. For example, in Chernivtsi, given the huge workload in rectifying inaccuracies in the Register, and insufficient material and technical provisions, the DEC has extended its hours for receiving members of the public to 24.00.

While considering the campaign free and competitive since all candidates have equal unimpeded access to the media, OPORA representative Olha Aivazovska noted that the campaign during the reporting period had “crossed the line from positive advertising style, key reports aimed at presenting their candidate in the best light, to negative exposing mode, directed at lowering the rating of their opponents”.  OPORA observers had found cases where billboards for Yushchenko and Tymoshenko had been destroyed in the East of the country; commissioned articles of an offensive nature and other campaigning material denigrating particular candidates.

The observers continue finding attempts to influence or intimidate voters. As well as infringements of the rights of work collectives, already reported, they are now seeing more cases where students are forced into attending mass events for particular candidates. During a visit by Yanukovych to Kherson naval cadets were released from lectures and sent to a rally, being told that if they didn’t turn up there, they need not come to the exam. Students from the Kherson State University were also brought to that rally.

In addition, candidates during the month actively gave out presents, goods and services, organized vending places with things at lower prices where the sale was accompanied by calls to vote for this or that candidate. According to current legislation, such actions can be deemed bribing voters.

During the press conference, attention was given also to the work of the Central Election Commission [CEC] and the likelihood of problems arising with financing of the elections. As of 18 December, of the sum of just over 50 million UAH envisaged for the work of the CEC in 2009, only 0.6% had been provided. The situation is exacerbated by the fact that on 31 December, with the completion of the budgetary year, this year’s budget outgoings will become void. OPORA is also concerned that the issue of Ukrainian nationals voting abroad if they are not on the consulate’s records has still not been resolved. OPORA has approached the CEC, recommending that clear procedure for voting at foreign polling stations be set out, since otherwise hundreds of thousands of voters could be deprived of their constitutional right to vote.

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