By Orest Deychakiwsky
CSCE Staff Advisor
United States Helsinki Commission staff observed the March 31, 2002 parliamentary elections in Ukraine as part of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly contingent of the OSCE-led International Election Observation Mission (IEOM). Half of the deputies to the 450-member parliament were elected from party lists and the other half from single-mandate districts. Six parties passed the 4 percent threshold necessary to be seated in the party list vote, with reformist former Prime Minister Viktor Yushchenko’s Our Ukraine bloc winning the most votes. In the single-mandate district voting, the pro-presidential For United Ukraine bloc obtained the largest number of seats.
Both the OSCE and the U.S. State Department concluded that the March 31 elections indicated progress over the 1998 elections, but “important flaws persist.” In its April 1 press conference in Kyiv, the IEOM declined to prepare a final analysis before post-election procedures are concluded, and promised to return to Ukraine within a month to follow up, after watching how election authorities and the judiciary perform while tabulating and publishing results and adjudicating disputes.
Positive elements cited included a new Election Law that took into account OSCE/ODIHR recommendations from previous elections; improvements in the mechanism to address election disputes, with clearer complaint and appeals procedures; multi-party commissions; the engagement of civil society in the electoral process; and greater access by candidates and parties to the media through TV debates, free air time and paid advertising.
On the negative side, media coverage was biased and state-funded television gave disproportionate coverage to pro-presidential candidates. Other problem areas included abuses of state resources in the election campaign, interference by local authorities, and a campaign sullied by the murders of two candidates, and other isolated instances of violence, including one just a few days before the elections.
Compared to previous elections, the level of pressure by government officials and workers to campaign in support of the main pro-presidential party, including direct pressure on individuals to vote for specific candidates, had significantly increased. The abuse of state resources created an uneven playing field and the main beneficiary of such violations was the pro-presidential bloc For a United Ukraine.
Despite these advantages, pro-presidential parties did not do all that well in the party-list vote, and several did not even surpass the four percent threshold required for inclusion in the Verkhovna Rada (parliament). Furthermore, the two opposition parties garnered more votes than expected, securing for themselves seats in the new parliament.
According to the IEOM, there were also shortcomings in the implementation of the legal framework, including uneven enforcement of provisions on violations of electoral rights, the lack of deadlines, and clear definitions regarding candidate de-registration and campaigning. According to the OSCE experts, these weaknesses derived from the inability of the Rada and the President to agree on amendments to the Administrative Code, so, in effect some of the positive provisions of the Election Law could not be enforced.
Another problem was the lack of reliable voter lists – outdated information, including voters who had moved to other districts, left the country, or are deceased – and the widespread practice of issuing absentee ballots to voters unrelated to their place of residence. Voter lists may be amended up until election day; however, voters cannot be included in the registers of their place of residence on election day without a judicial decision. Voters were added to registers and allowed to vote – without the required court order– in about one third of polling stations visited by international observers.
During the polling on voting day, the most serious problems were violations of the secrecy of the vote and voters added to registers in apparent contravention of the law.
OSCE staff observed the elections in Lviv oblast in western Ukraine. Most polling stations visited by Commission staff were run efficiently, in a calm atmosphere, and commission members seemed hard-working and dedicated. Furthermore, there were numerous party, candidate and domestic observers.
In a minority of polling stations staff witnessed incompetence, chaos, overcrowding, inadequate facilities – usually premises that were much too small and had an inadequate number of voting booths. Overcrowding was responsible for the violation most frequently observed – voting outside of booths – but there appeared to be no element of intimidation here. Instead, voters simply did not feel like waiting in long lines. According to the non-partisan domestic observer group Committee of Voters of Ukraine (CVU), 15 % of voters were unable to vote due to overcrowding or poor facilities. Also, CVU estimated that one third of precincts were not able to conduct the elections in an organized manner.
Despite the uneven playing field and violations with respect to the vote tabulations in a number of single-mandate constituencies, generally, the elections reflected the will of the voters. The actual results did not differ significantly from the results of several exit polls.
Results and What Next
The results indicate a country divided into three broad political orientations. Our Ukraine, the center-right, pro-reform, pro-Western coalition headed by Yushchenko, took the most seats in the party-list vote.
The Communists garnered 20 percent of the party-list vote, clearly indicating their continued downward trend with each passing election. For the first time since Ukraine became independent in 1991, they will not constitute the largest political grouping in the Rada. In third place in the party-list vote was the pro-presidential For a United Ukraine, which had benefitted the most from the authorities’ abuses of state resources in the campaign. This bloc, however, had a strong showing in the single-mandate district voting, and will almost certainly end up with the largest number of overall deputies, especially as their numbers will be expanded with those who ran as “independents.”
No one political grouping will have a viable majority in parliament; hence, will need to make concessions with other groupings to act. The pro-presidential For a United Ukraine may be compelled to team up with Yushchenko’s Our Ukraine to form a government and pass pro-reform legislative initiatives. With this kind of political configuration, shifting alliances may be more likely than any kind of solid coalition. As a result, cautious moves towards economic and political reform rather than sweeping changes are more likely. Nevertheless, judging by the results, the Ukrainian people are increasingly endorsing a pro-European, pro-market, pro-democratic orientation.
The United States Helsinki Commission, an independent federal agency, by law monitors and encourages progress in implementing provisions of the Helsinki Accords. The Commission, created in 1976, is composed of nine Senators, nine Representatives and one official each from the Departments of State, Defense and Commerce.