KYIV, UKRAINE — MAY 25: People vote inside a row of polling booths on May 25, 2014 in Kyiv, Ukraine. The Ukrainian Presidential election is taking place today. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images) | Dan Kitwood via Getty Images

2014 Ukraine Parliamentary Elections, Explained

by Chris Dunnett, Hromadske International, International Foundation for Electoral Systems

What you need to know:

✓ Ukraine’s parliamentary elections are on Sunday, October 26

✓ Pro-European parties are expected to win a solid majority of seats

✓There is disagreement whether a new parliament will be able to make lasting changes

✓ The hashtag for the 2014 Ukraine Elections is #UkraineVotes

✓There are 36,514,491 registered voters in Ukraine, 4,6 mln (7,9%) will not be able to vote because of the war and Russian invasion.

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Why Are Parliamentary Elections Happening Now?

The current Parliament, or Verkhovna Rada, was elected in October 2012 and the next regularly scheduled election would not have taken place until 2017. However, in August, a number of parties withdrew from the governing coalition, which led to President Petro Poroshenko’s decision to dissolve Parliament and call for early elections.

To put it bluntly, voters are furious. Trust in parliament as an institution is even lower than for Ukraine’s notoriously corrupt police forces. Only 19% of Ukrainians say that they have any trust in the parliament, according to the International Foundation for Electoral Systems’ (IFES) latest public opinion survey in Ukraine. That’s the lowest level of confidence of all the institutions asked about in the survey.

Only 19% of respondents said they had any trust in parliament. (IFES 2014 survey, Sept. 5–13)

The fact that the current parliament is staffed by many former supporters of President Yanukovych, and the Rada’s inability to pass substantive reforms, have damaged the institutions credibility. In addition, the deteriorating economic situation and unstable situation in the east has dampened public perceptions.

73% of respondents believe that the situation in Ukraine is worsening. (IFES 2014 survey)

Early parliamentary elections also were, and remain, a key
demand of the Euromaidan revolution and a campaign promise of President Poroshenko.

Why Are These Elections So Important?

The parliamentary elections are the first since 2012, which were won by former President Yanukovych’s supporters and tainted by allegations of fraud and manipulation. With the success of the Euromaidan revolution, the annexation of Crimea, and continued occupation of a large part of the Donbass by Russian-backed rebels and Russian forces, a big shake-up is expected. Pro-European parties are widely expected to grab a solid majority of seats.

Ukraine’s parliament. The parliament is known as the Verkhovna Rada in Ukraine. (Ukrainian for Supreme Council)

Election Format

The parliamentary elections will work in a 50–50 format. By this method, half of parliament’s seats are proportionally allotted by the share of votes garnered by each political party. For example, if a political party gets 10% of the national vote, it will receive 5% of seats in the parliament. The other half of seats in parliament are apportioned to single-mandate voting districts with roughly equal populations. The candidate that receives the most votes in each district wins the seat.

Ukraine’s single-mandate voting districts color-coded by Ukrainian region (oblast). Cherivtsi oblast has the least number of single-mandate districts (4), while Donetsk oblast has the most (21).

Following the EuroMaidan revolution, there was talk of converting Ukraine’s election method from 50–50 to a purely proportional system. The 50–50 system is often criticized of encouraging oligarchic control and backroom deals, as independent candidates elected to the districts can be enticed to join certain coalitions or do the bidding of powerful businessmen. An advisory committee to the Council of Europe, the Venice Commission, criticized the Ukrainian government for instating the mixed 50–50 system in 2012.

“‘Dnipropetrovsk Oblast is a tasty morsel,’ said Serhiy Fedko, coordinator of Opora election watchdog in the region. “It is important for oligarchs to have their own representatives in Verkhovna Rada from the Oblast because a lot of industrial objects which bring in high revenues and enormous profits are concentrated here…

A front-runner in Zhovtneviy region of Dnipropetrovsk city, the 27th district, is Borys Filatov, a deputy governor of Dnipropetrovsk Oblast. Filatov is believed to be the man of Ihor Kolomoyskiy, governor of Dnipropetrovsk Oblast…”

Many former Party of Regions members are also running for election in the single-mandate districts, including those who voted for the infamous “dictatorship laws” in January.

How The War and Russian Invasion Affects The Voting

With many electoral districts of Donetsk and Luhansk regions under rebel control, the elections there will be delayed indefinitely. Because of the war and the Crimea annexation, over 4 million Ukrainians will have no opportunity to cast their ballot.

The Civil Network “OPORA” is a non-governmental, non-political and financially independent nationwide network of public activists.

All those parliamentary seats left empty because of the war and the Crimean annexation will be filled with MPs from other Ukrainian provinces.

Many residents of the conflict-torn Eastern Ukraine are also have little enthusiasm about voting in 2014 Parliamentary Elections:

The real reason why Eastern Ukraine isn’t excited about upcoming #UkraineVotes elections
Screenshots from the Hromadske documentary ‘Slovyansk: Before Elections’

What Are The Most Important Issues In This Election?

Elections in Ukraine have historically been less about issues or ideology and more centered on the personal popularity of political leaders. While party leadership continues to be an important factor in political loyalties, this election, more than any other in Ukraine’s recent history, is about issues.
While economic issues and corruption have historically been the primary concerns for Ukrainians, irrespective of political leadership, foreign policy and security issues are an important factor for this year’s election.

The IFES September 2014 survey in Ukraine shows that the majority of Ukrainians outside Donbas are primarily concerned with the possibility of war with Russia. Related to this issue, the conduct and effectiveness of the Anti-Terrorist Operation (ATO) in Donbas is also an issue that is of high concern to the public in Ukraine outside Donbas. Relations with Europe and the future foreign policy orientation of the country are also issues of significant concern for Ukrainians. As mentioned above, corruption and economic issues remain among the key issues of concern to Ukrainians.

Maxim Eristavi, Hromadske International co-founder

Who’s Running?

The full field of the Ukrainian political spectrum. On the nationalist far-right there are the parties represented by Svoboda and Right Sector. Yet according to the polls they have little chances to qualify for the parliament. On the radical pro-Russian side, the Communist Party of Ukraine is running for seats. Many Yanukovych loyalists are running for seats with the Opposition Bloc and Strong Ukraine. Strong Ukraine is led by businessman and former Yanukovych ally, Serhiy Tihipko, while other former Party of Regions stalwarts are running in the Opposition Bloc. Party of Regions is not participating.

Analyst @CASE_Ukraine, Editor @BelarusDigest. Political and economic risk consultant.

Pro-European parties are represented by the president’s Poroshenko Bloc, Yulia Tymoshenko’s Fatherland Party, Civic Position, Samopomich, and the People’s Front led by Prime Minister Yatsenyuk.

Oleh Lyashko’s populist and nationalist Radical Party is also registered to run and is widely expected to perform well in rural areas. Lyashko is also rumored to have close connections to the head of former President Yanukovych’s administration.

Lyashko is best known for his controversial PR stunts. In this photo, Lyashko personally detains and interrogates a suspected pro-Russian sympathizer. His tactics have been criticized by human rights organizations such as Amnesty International.

More on the runners for the 2014 Ukraine Parliamentary Elections read in our explainer ‘Ukraine’s Parliamentary Shake-Up’:

And don’t forget that Darth Vader is also running for the Ukrainian Parliament:

What Institutions Will Administer This Election?

The elections will be administered by a three-level election management system consisting of the Central Election Commission (CEC), 213 District Election Commissions (DECs) and more than 32,000 Precinct Election Commissions (PECs).

Central Election Commission

The CEC has overall authority for planning, regulating and overseeing the election. It is composed of 15 members, who were appointed at different times based on nominations of leading political parties.

District Election Commissions

DECs are responsible for organizing elections in their districts, including by creating PECs, registering official observers, distributing the ballots to the PECs, responding to complaints about violations of the electoral rules and tabulating the results from the PECs in their district. DECs are comprised of between 12 and 18 members based on the nominations of parties whose factions are registered in the legislature and parties whose candidate lists were registered in the previous (i.e., 2012) parliamentary
elections. Each party may nominate one member of each DEC.

Precinct Election Commissions

PECs are created no later than 15 days prior to the election (i.e., October 10, 2014 for this election). They are responsible for establishing and running polling places on Election Day. They carry out voting and then
count ballots and send results protocols to the DECs. The number of PEC members depends on the number of voters assigned to the election precinct. At small precincts (less than 500 voters), PECs are comprised
of between 10–14 members, while at large precincts (1,500–2,500 voters) PECs include 14–18 commissioners. The right to suggest names for the role of PEC commissioners is granted to the parties whose factions are registered in the Parliament, the parties whose candidates are registered in the nationwide district and single-mandate district candidates. Each party or candidate may nominate one member on each PEC.

Activists from the Internet Party of Ukraine, dressed as Star Wars characters, hold a rally in front of the Ukrainian Central Elections Commission in Kyiv. Reuters

Who Will Observe the Parliamentary Elections?

Ukrainian law allows for observation of elections by both domestic civil society organizations (CSOs) and international organizations.

The Ukrainian CSO OPORA will lead a large mission consisting of roughly 2,000 short-term observers. OPORA has a strong record of impartial and professional observation. The well-known Ukrainian CSO Committee of Voters of Ukraine (CVU) will also be carrying out a nationwide election observation effort.

The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OSCE/ODIHR) will lead an international observation mission, which was officially invited to observe
by the government in September 2014. The OSCE/ODIHR mission will include 90 long-term observers, and closer to the election, expects to deploy roughly 600 short-term observers, making this one of the larger
observation missions of its kind.

In addition to the OSCE/ODIHR mission, a number of other international groups will be sending election observation missions, including the European Network of Election Monitoring Organizations (ENEMO),
and the Canadian Election Observation Mission, an election monitoring mission funded by the Canadian government.

Many international observers think that the 2014 Ukraine Parliamentary Elections are the most important in the country’s history. As OSCE’s Kent Harstedt OSCE puts it:

Imagine trying to hold an election at the most critical juncture in your country’s modern history — a vote that is vital for your nation’s security and place in the world. Imagine trying to hold the election amid threats from within and without, a teetering economy, an atmosphere of tense uncertainty, and under the watchful eye of the world. Now imagine trying to do it cleanly. Twice. Imagine Ukraine.

Kent Harstedt is OSCE Special Co-ordinator and leader the short-term OSCE observer mission for Ukraine’s parliamentary elections.

Who Is Eligible To Vote?

The Constitution provides for universal, equal, direct suffrage by secret ballot to all individuals 18 years of age or older. Citizens do not need to register to vote but are automatically included in the State Register of Voters. Under the Parliamentary Election Law, voting is voluntary, and no influence can be exerted upon citizens to have them participate or not participate in the election.

Voters who have applied for the temporary right to vote outside their home district will only have the opportunity to vote in the PR contest, not for the single-member districts. To address the problem of internally
displaced persons (IDPs) from the war-effected regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, along with Crimea, IDPs will not need to show documentation proving their need to vote outside their home district, per a special
decision from the Central Election Commission in October.

The law also stipulates that Ukrainian citizens living outside of the country maintain their right to vote in the PR contest, but not in the single-member
district elections.

Who Can Be A Candidate?

Any citizen 21 years of age or older who has permanently resided within Ukraine for the five years preceding the election can run for office, except, according to the Constitution, those who are “recognized by court as legally unfit, as well as citizens who have criminal records, unless the record has been cleared or settled.”

Persons holding a public office who stand as candidates are not required to resign their office, but they are prohibited from using their position to campaign. Candidates can be nominated by political parties that are entitled to take part in elections, or can self-nominate.

According to current law, a candidate or party that nominates candidate(s) in the nationwide or single-mandate district(s) must submit a comprehensive set of registration documents and forms, together with a document certifying that the election deposit has been paid. For candidates nominatedin the single-mandate districts, the amount of deposit to be paid is 10 minimum monthly salaries (roughly
$1,000), while the parties must pay a deposit as high as 1,000 minimum monthly salaries ($100,000) to have their candidate lists registered in the nationwide election district. Controversially, those deposits are only returned to candidates and parties that actually win seats.

Ukrainian politicians fight during a session in Parliament in Kyiv, July 2014. Reuters

What Are The Rules For The Election Campaign?

Under the Parliamentary Election Law, any citizen who has reached the age of 18 is entitled to participate in election campaign activities, including organizing and taking part in demonstrations, marches and rallies. Parties and candidates are free to organize such events, as long as they provide reasonable advance notice to local authorities to allow them to make necessary preparations.

The Parliamentary Election Law contains provisions aimed at ensuring equal campaign opportunities for all contestants, including access to campaign premises and designated places for political advertising.

Officially, a candidate may not start campaigning until the day after he or she has been registered, while the party may start campaigning the day after its candidates have been registered by the Central Election Commission. In practice, however, campaigning often starts as soon as an election is called.

The campaign ends at midnight on the Friday before Election Day (October 24, for this election). Campaigning is prohibited during the 24 hours preceding Election Day.

What Are The Rules For Campaign Finance?

The Parliamentary Election Law requires each party to maintain two designated campaign bank accounts: an election fund account and an election expenditures account.

A single-mandate district candidate only opens an election expenditures account. All contributions to the party campaign must be deposited into the electoral fund account and all expenditures must be made by bank transfer from the expense account.

A political party is allowed to spend 90,000 minimum monthly salaries ($8,300,000) on its campaign and a candidate is allowed to spend 4,000 minimum monthly salaries ($370,000) for her campaign.

An election campaign can be financed from:

✓ The candidates’ private funds (an unlimited amount within the limit described above);

✓ Individual donations from physical persons (limited only by the spending limit for party or candidate, i.e. by 90,000 minimum monthly salaries for parties and 4,000 minimum monthly salaries for candidates);

✓Funds from the party that nominated the candidates in the nationwide election district (unlimited).

Will It Be a Free and Fair Election?

The May election of President Poroshenko was widely perceived by the international community as free and fair. More than 2000 international election observers are coming to Ukraine this weekend to monitor the parliamentary elections.

“The total number of observers stands at 2,321, including 304 representing 21 foreign states and 2,017 from 20 international organizations, the commission press service reported on Oct. 21.”

Based on perceptions of the May presidential elections, most Ukrainians seem to think that the vote will be conducted more or less honestly.

63 percent of Ukrainians thought that the May 2014 presidential election was mostly free and fair. (International Republican Institute)

Even so, there have been several worrying developments that undermine perceptions of a fully free and fair election. Various attempts have been made to ban the Communist Party of Ukraine for their alleged support of separatism in eastern Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea.

On September 28, Ukrainian protesters toppled the Vladimir Lenin statue in central Kharkiv.

Various politicians, especially former Yanukovych stalwarts, have also been subject to vigilante political violence. Some radical activists have taken to dumping allegedly corrupt politicians into trash receptacles, a practice dubbed the #trashbucketchallenge on social media networks.

“Far-rights beat the hell out of an MP.”

Several pro-Western politicians have also suffered attacks and assassination attempts in recent days.

“The candidate, Mark Gres, was beaten and stabbed in what party officials called an assassination attempt.

Oleksandr Gorin, a candidate from the People’s Front Party, led by the prime minister, was savagely beaten the same night after being ambushed in the foyer of his apartment building in Ukraine’s southern Odessa region.

And on Monday, another People’s Front candidate, Volodymyr Borysenko, survived an attempt on his life that included gunfire and a homemade explosive.”

Will There Be Lasting Effects?

Some pro-democracy activists hope that the election, and expected pro-European landslide, will hasten the reform process in Ukraine. Many others are much less sanguine, and believe that the same corrupt political class will ultimately dominate the next parliament, stymieing real reform.

“‘All the people who were on Maidan know that we went to Maidan with certain goals, and everyone sees that that goal is not achieved yet,’ said Zhukovska. The country is heading in the wrong direction, especially with the conflict in the east. Even the parliamentary elections this week do not bring Zhukovska much hope about the future. ‘They will re-elect the parliament, but I don’t see anything good happening,’ she stated.”

Other observers point out that the elections might alienate constituencies in southeastern Ukraine. With the collapse of the Communist Party and Party of Regions following Maidan, the two political forces that once represented broad swaths of the region will almost be entirely absent from Kyiv.

“A more productive move would have been a serious commitment to decentralization throughout Ukraine, demonstrating that Kiev is in charge of the state design. This process would also help regenerate Ukraine’s party-political landscape.

While the October 26 parliamentary election is necessary to rebuild democratic legitimacy from within, the vote’s immediate effect will be the opposite: to deepen existing divisions and anchor them in Ukraine’s political system. Kiev’s hesitation on the issue of decentralization has made matters worse.”

Recent polls show that voters in largely Russian-speaking eastern and southern regions are less likely to believe that the current Ukrainian government represents all of Ukraine. These perceptions may worsen following the expected pro-Western landslide.

39% of respondents in eastern regions (excluding Donetsk) and 45% of respondents in southern regions do not think that the governments represents all the regions of Ukraine. (IFES 2014 Ukraine survey)

P.S. This piece would not be possible without help of terrific election wonks from The International Foundation for Electoral Systems. Check their website:

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