Is electoral security possible on the uncontrolled territories of Ukraine?

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The concept of electoral security as one of the prerequisites of post-conflict  transformations is becoming widespread in operational documents of international organizations (UN) and some national agencies (USAID), expressing the responsibility to promote peace-building activities in a fragile political environment. In the context of human rights based approach, this concept assumes a special meaning for democratic transformations and reforms. It is strongly connected with such concepts as electoral conflict, electoral justice, electoral integrity, and transitional justice. The broad international experience of electoral security implementation enables the search of strategies for a consistent electoral reform in Ukraine and capacity building for elections at the uncontrolled districts of Donetsk and Luhansk regions after the end of the conflict.

Iulia Serbina for UA: Ukraine Analytica

Electoral security for Ukraine: dimensions of constitutional reform and strengthening electoral institutions

Strengthening electoral institutions, implementing good practices in electionrelated issues, and a comprehensive constitutional reform may serve as a tool for conflict prevention and transformation of existing potential tensions especially in transitional countries. Leaving behind the discussions towards the type and nature of Ukrainian democracy (either it is electoral democracy or it is on the  way to participatory democracy), it is obvious that sustainable development of political institutions needs reforms and harmonization. In this regard, the electoral reform, which has been broadly discussed for almost a decade in Ukraine, can be a part of conflict prevention and conflict resolution measures. Meantime, military conflict in uncontrolled districts of Donetsk and Luhansk regions, the annexation of the Crimea by the Russian Federation have their implications for other regions of Ukraine, which, in their turn, need special approaches to promote electoral security. Some elements of international assistance as a tool for electoral security implementation are practiced in Ukraine. Among them, there are electoral monitoring and electoral assistance. In the light of existing electoral conflicts, the most essential risks for electoral security inherited by each electoral cycle in Ukraine are as following:

• Specifics of “institutional memory”. Electoral system of Ukraine functions in the context of “institutional heritage” and institutional memory where the order of performing certain functions is replaced by personal, regional, intergroups relations.

• Electoral legislation in Ukraine remains non-harmonized. Elections to the bodies of different levels and different institutions are conducted under different laws. Each new law, in spite of permanent recommendations of international organizations and recommendations of the Code of Good Electoral Practice (Venice Commission Code) is always adopted in less than one year before elections take place.

• Constituency delimitation changes each electoral cycle. Very often borders and the number of voters are the matter of the compromise between leading political forces drafting a law. This increases the lack of trust in elections transparency and leads to public disappointment in transparency of elections.

• While the majority of Ukrainian media belongs to the leaders of financial groups, they represent mainly the positions of their owners in electoral process. It is very often that public outreach campaigns for Ukrainian journalists, provided by domestic civil society organizations and international donors, are focused on technical aspects of newly adopted electoral legislation and its’ implementation. Meantime, the broader perception of elections as one of the core civil and political rights is left behind. •

Campaign and political parties financing for a long time remain in a shadow that creates a large field for money laundering. It should be noted that the Law of Ukraine on Fighting against Political Corruption (State financing of Political Parties) adopted in 2015, creates certain conditions for combating political corruption and, in its turn, strengthening electoral security. Meantime, the continuing process of the National Anti-corruption mechanisms creation is a serious obstacle for the comprehensive implementation of this measure.

• The ambiguous system of electoral disputes resolution, which allows implementing bodies (election management bodies, courts of different levels) to adopt completely different decisions in similar cases of electoral irregularities. This issue creates concerns for elections to the bodies of different levels and is inherited in each new law on national or local elections.

• Avoidance of responsibility for electoral law violations, which, on one hand, is caused by the level of electoral culture,  but, on the other hand, leads to the growth of mistrust in elections as a tool of elites’ rotation. These challenges, without sufficient attention and consistent tackling through formal and informal rules, create the threat of “soft” electoral security in a transforming society breaking its trajectory on the path of reforms. Meantime, obvious obstacles for “hard” electoral security may exist in conflict-affected areas.