The 2007 early parliamentary elections: a general assessment

It has already become commonly accepted that the 2007 elections were democratic, transparent, honest and fair. There was no wide-scale and systematic vote-rigging, the political factions managed to avoid confrontation and scandal, and those incidents which did occur were unable to influence the final result. While in general agreeing with this assessment, we would like to point out the shortcomings in these elections which were the result of a flawed law and which were therefore difficult to avert both in 2006 and in these early elections.

This applies firstly to discriminatory norms for voting solely according to where a person is registered. In order to avoid vote-rigging with absentee ballot papers, the legislators seriously restricted these in 2006 and in 2007 totally prohibited their use. This means that a large number of people who do not live and work where they’re registered could only vote by travelling to the relevant city or village. In terms of numbers, just in Kyiv various estimates put this figure at between four hundred to eight hundred thousand voters. Obviously the vast majority of these people simply did not vote.

Secondly, those who have been forced to go abroad to earn a living because they can’t find a job at home, and who are not registered at a consulate, i.e. illegal labour migrants lost their right to vote. One can not expect that any of them would specially travel home in order to take part in the elections. According to figures published by the Ministry of Internal Affairs, from 2003 to the middle of September 2007 approximately 3.3 million Ukrainian nationals have left the country.

Thirdly, a fair number of people couldn’t vote if they went abroad after 1 August this year. According to Article 102-3 § 9 of the Law “On the elections”, the State Border Guard Service “submit information three days before the elections to district electoral commissions about people registered within the relevant administrative-territorial unit, … who have indeed crossed over the State border of Ukraine and at the moment that this information is being submitted are not known to have returned to Ukraine.”  Yet what do those who returned after 26 September do?  The law did not take care of their needs and effectively deprived them of their voting rights. The district commissions removed these people from the lists, and there was effectively no chance of being reinstated.  There were quite a lot of such people – according to observers in the Lviv region – up to 50 thousand, in the Luhansk and Kharkiv regions – as many as 40 thousand.  In some border districts, there were up to half of these, for example, in Berehovo in the Transcarpathian region. A lot of people didn’t find their names of the lists although they returned in August or the first half of September. Furthermore, border guards, in breach of this law, sent the information more than three days before the elections. for example, information was sent about 4,842 voters to the district commission of electoral district No. 173 on 23 September. A couple returned to Kharkiv from their holidays on 24 September. They checked on 26 September to see that they were on the list, and yet on 30 September their names were not there. At that polling station 19 people were removed from the list following information received from border guards, and 10 of them met up at the Dzherzhynsky District Court in Kharkiv. The court however refused to reinstate them. We could give many such examples. There were frequent cases where voters’ names were not on the lists although they had returned to Ukraine in the middle of September or in August.  In some areas the district electoral commissions drew up supplementary lists to give those removed from the basic lists on information from border guards the chance to vote. For example, the district commission of electoral district №109 (Severodonetsk) on 30 September allowed 6 thousand voters who had been excluded from the lists for this reason to vote if they came themselves to the polling station. However the Luhansk District Administrative Court declared this decision unlawful, admittedly, already after the elections.

Fourthly, the quality of the lists was extremely low and much worse than in 2006. The Committee of Voters of Ukraine estimates that due to shortcomings in the voter lists around 1.5 million citizens (including those removed because of information from the Border Service) may have been deprived of their right to vote. This was linked with the fact that working groups for drawing up registers, creating within bodies of local self-government and district administrations used as their basis old lists from 2006 or even 2004.  This resulted in the lists containing many “dead souls”, people who had in fact died, or others who had moved, etc.  Young people who had only recently turned 18 were also not added. There were also a lot of problems with lists over the use of unchecked software to try to make a kind of electronic database of voters, as well as with the insufficient training of staff. This software often identified one and the same person as two different people which resulted in a large number of doubles. 44 thousand such look-alikes (around 4 %) were found in the Kharkiv region and around 5 thousand in Sevastopol (approximately 3%).  In 2006 these mistakes were ironed out in the Central Election Commission [CEC ] and in regional commissions, however at the 2007 elections this thankless task was placed on the shoulders of district and local commissions. .  And then it all depended on the will and effort of members of these commissions. A large number of the most obvious mistakes were corrected, however a lot still remained. There were anecdotal consequences of inexpert work with the lists: in Kharkiv more than 2 thousand voters were found, supposedly over the age of 107, since in the absence of the relevant information, the computer had put down their birth date as 1 January 1900.

As a result, on voting day a very large number of people were not able to vote. If one compares data from the CEC on voting at the elections in 2006 and 2007, it transpires that the number who took part fell by 1,775 million (the figures at the end of voting were compared). In our view, a major part of this reduction can be attributed to systemic failings in the Law on the elections.

Just as in 2006 the elections demonstrated a large number of technical mistakes made by members of the electoral commissions who were on the whole not able to cope with all the details of the electoral law. This resulted in very tense relations between commission members representing different political parties, mutual suspicion and accusations of vote-rigging and even fights.

We can thus conclude that attempts by the legislators to provide adequate legal guarantees of protection against vote-rigging and ensure transparency led to excessive complications in the Law on the elections, with details regulating of electoral procedures, complicated structure with poll protocols, etc. the Law was designed for experienced bureaucrats and not volunteers from political parties who for a number of objective and subjective reasons were not able to fully cope with the complicated procedural aspects. Both in 2006 and now this led to confusion in filling out protocols, provoked unwarranted suspicions of corruption among commission members and led to the results of the elections at many polling stations being appealed in the courts.  On an overall scale, the attempts to avert vote-rigging led to millions of voters losing their vote. We must acknowledge that the electoral system as a whole is based on mutual distrust among its participants, and this trend towards complicating the legislation leads only to further losses and an increase in such distrust. In our view, the paradigm behind electoral legislation needs to be changed with the main features becoming safeguards of freedom, democracy and trust. Only in that way will it become possible to unite different individuals in a political community. The guarantees against abuse must ensure a high-quality electoral register and well-developed procedure for checking it.

Yevhen Zakharov

Co-Chair of the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group and

Head of the Board of the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union

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