The Cen­tral Elec­toral Com­mis­sion co­nun­drum:

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Will it be launched with a new team any­time soon?

Ro­man Malko The sham­bolic ren­o­va­tion of the Cen­tral Elec­toral Com­mis­sion, which has been in progress for sev­eral years now, looks about to be fi­nally con­cluded. On Feb. 5, the Pres­i­dent sub­mit­ted a list of can­di­dates to the Verkhovna Rada and this sug­gests that the process is fi­nally be­ing un­blocked. Ukraini­ans can now hope that by the end of the month the il­le­git­i­mate CEC will be­come le­git­i­mate.

Still, it’s too soon to cel­e­brate. A sim­i­lar event took place in June 2016, yet the process of restor­ing the CEC then ended in noth­ing. At that time, the pres­i­dent was blamed for sup­pos­edly in­sist­ing on pre­serv­ing the Okhen­dovskiy com­mis­sion for rea­sons of loy­alty, in or­der to take ad­van­tage of it dur­ing next year’s pres­i­den­tial vote. There was prob­a­bly some truth to this. But the real rea­son for the block­age lay else­where.

Poroshenko’s list of can­di­dates by some miracle had in­di­vid­u­als un­der the Nar­o­d­niy Front quota that were ap­par­ently not pro­posed by the fac­tion. It’s hard to say whether this was a de­lib­er­ate provo­ca­tion or the fac­tion sim­ply was ig­no­rant about some agree­ments among their higher-ups. But the search for a com­pro­mise took more than a year and all this time the chief sus­pect in all the de­lays con­tin­ued to be the pres­i­dent. Nor has the cloud been lifted from him to this day—even after he sub­mit­ted a re­vised list that re­flects the re­quests of all VR fac­tions ex­cept the Op­po­si­tion Bloc. Op­poBloc still hasn’t sub­mit­ted its nom­i­nee and that name will be added to the list once they do.

Need­less to say, a great deal re­ally does de­pend on who is sit­ting in the new CEC. The most im­por­tant ques­tion is whether vot­ers will trust it, be­cause these peo­ple will con­trol all elec­tions for the next seven years. And elec­tions are some­thing the en­tire coun­try pays at­ten­tion to. This means that pro­por­tional rep­re­sen­ta­tion of all the po­lit­i­cal par­ties in the Rada, which civic ac­tivists have been in­sist­ing on, is very im­por­tant. The qual­ity of the nom­i­nees and the trans­parency of their ap­point­ments are also crit­i­cal and this is where any clashes are likely to take place.

Over­all, the pro­fes­sional qual­ity of most of the nom­i­nees does not raise any red flags. As ex­perts have noted, for a start, things are a lot better than in the cur­rent CEC. Olha Zhel­tova (BPP), deputy chief-of-staff of the VR Rights Pol­icy and Jus­tice Com­mit­tee, has co-au­thored a num­ber of elec­toral bills. Oleh Konopol­skiy is a lawyer who worked at the NF head­quar­ters and was Arseniy Yat­se­niuk’s right-hand man dur­ing the 2010 pres­i­den­tial race. Svit­lana Kus­tova (BPP) worked on the team of lawyers in Vik­tor Yushchenko’s suit against Vik­tor Yanukovych in the Supreme Court in 2004, when the re­sults of the sec­ond round of the elec­tion were de­clared null and void; in the 2014 pres­i­den­tial race, she rep­re­sented Poroshenko in the CEC. Vi­taliy Plukar (BPP), a one-time aide to Va­leriy Karpuntsov, head of UDAR’s le­gal depart­ment, cur­rently works in the Pres­i­den­tial Ad­min­is­tra­tion. Yevhen Rad­chenko (Samopomich), a civic ex­pert, was one of the founders of the Com­mit­tee of Vot­ers of Ukraine, took part in many elec­tion cam­paigns and co­or­di­nated many elec­tion plat­forms. Leon­tiy Shep­ilov (NF), a lec­turer at the Depart­ment of In­ter­na­tional Law and Spe­cial Le­gal Stud­ies at the Kyiv-Mo­hyla Academy, also has a dis­tin­guished back­ground in elec­toral mat­ters. Mykhailo Ver­ben­skiy (BPP) is a po­lice gen­eral. Te­tiana Sli­pachuk (Vo­lia Nar­odu) is a lawyer. Te­tiana Yuzkova (Rad­i­cal Party of Oleh Li­ashko) is a lawyer and cur­rent MP. An­driy Yevsti­h­nieyev (Batkivshchyna), a lawyer, is a lec­turer in the Depart­ment of En­vi­ron­men­tal Law at Shevchenko Na­tional Univer­sity in Kyiv.

Some can­di­dates on the list raise ques­tions. Olha Lotiuk (BPP) is a no­tary and pro­fes­sor at the Taras Shevchenko Univer­sity. Her fa­ther is Stepan Lotiuk, an ex-prose­cu­tor in­volved in a case about prop­erty raids at Ukraine’s Armed Forces. The ques­tion is why would a suc­cess­ful no­tary want to work at CEC? There is lit­tle in­for­ma­tion about the steep ca­reer of Natalia Ber­natska (NF) and her as­sets – she could not have pos­si­bly made them as a civil ser­vant. She had been a lawyer in Odesa and a lec­turer at the Law Academy be­fore ar­riv­ing in Kyiv in 2014 to be­come Gov­ern­ment en­voy to the Euro­pean Court of Hu­man Rights, then on to First Deputy Min­is­ter of Jus­tice with no po­lit­i­cal back­ground. Iryna Ye­fre­mova is an­other in­ter­est­ing NF can­di­date. She is an MP, head of the party’s Kharkiv branch and Arsen Avakov’s per­son. Her place on the list is in­ter­est­ing in terms of the pos­si­ble plans of her pa­tron rather than her own skele­tons in the closet.

When the pres­i­dent’s site first posted the list of nom­i­nees to the CEC on Jan­uary 23, there were as many as there were va­can­cies: 13. The fol­low­ing morn­ing there were sud­denly 14 when Konopol­skiy’s name was added. When the list was fi­nally sub­mit­ted to the VR two weeks later, it was changed, again. This time Yevsti­h­nieyev’s name was added. Hope­fully when the Op­poBloc fi­nally de­cides on its nom­i­nee, all the fac­tions will be rep­re­sented. At that point, all the ac­cu­sa­tions that the pres­i­dent is be­ing very se­lec­tive should end: he did meet all the tech­ni­cal re­quire­ments fully. The only catch is that there are still only 13 va­can­cies but 15 nom­i­nees, so two of them will not make it to the CEC, no mat­ter how you slice it. Who these sac­ri­fi­cial lambs will be is not just a guess­ing game, it’s a se­ri­ous prob­lem. But it’s the Rada’s prob­lem.

Ac­cord­ing to the pro­ce­dure laid out in the CEC reg­u­la­tions, first the Rada votes to dis­miss the en­tire cur­rent CEC, then it votes on each in­di­vid­ual can­di­date nom­i­nated to the new CEC. If the list is pre­sented al­pha­bet­i­cally, then 14 and 15 will be out of luck: the vote may not even get to them. There have been cases in the past when some nom­i­nees sim­ply weren’t voted on. Ac­cord­ing to the rules, if one nom­i­nee is not ap­proved, the pres­i­dent can nom­i­nate some­one else, but the same can­di­date can­not be sub­mit­ted a sec­ond time. Given the level of mu­tual mis­trust in the Rada—it took three whole years to come up with a com­pro­mise so­lu­tion—, the pos­si­bil­ity of be­trayal is not to be dis­missed. For in­stance, the Vidrodzhen­nia fac­tion could, after vot­ing for their can­di­date, Basalayeva, who is first on the list, sim­ply refuse to vote on any others. They got what they wanted and that’s that. What if Batkivshchyna gets Yevsti­h­nieyev and stops vot­ing for other can­di­dates? Noth­ing hap­pens. The most at risk is the Rad­i­cal Party’s Yuzkova, be­ing last on the list.

There are other pos­si­bil­i­ties that al­low nom­i­nees to pro­tect them­selves against be­ing ditched. This idea be­longs to MP Ihor Popov (RPL), the for­mer head of the Com­mit­tee of Vot­ers of Ukraine and known for his elec­toral smarts. In the VR Reg­u­la­tions, Art. 50 pro­vides for an ad hoc pro­ce­dure whereby it is per­mis­si­ble to de­vi­ate from the rules once and this, says Popov, is the sav­ing straw. “Vote for all the nom­i­nees and then ap­point the 13 with the high­est rat­ing as a group,” he says. “That’s how fren­e­mies in­sure them­selves from be­ing dumped. And who­ever is in­con­ve­nient sim­ply won’t make it into the CEC.”

The last ques­tion is the CEC chair. Prior to the nom­i­na­tion of Ber­natska, ex­perts were bet­ting on Kus­tova, but Ber­natska is far stronger ad­min­is­tra­tively. What­ever hap­pens, these two will be in the man­age­ment group, but the chair could eas­ily go to some­one out­side the list. There’s an in­ter­est­ing sup­po­si­tion go­ing round that this some­one could be Olek­sandr Ch­er­nenko (BPP), a one-time CVU chair. Ru­mor has it that he’s try­ing to fin­ish his law de­gree at high speed. Maybe this is all just gos­sip, but why not? If Ch­er­nenko’s name is ever sub­mit­ted, the ques­tion of who will chair the CEC will au­to­mat­i­cally be de­cided.

OVER­ALL, THE PRO­FES­SIONAL QUAL­ITY OF MOST OF THE NOM­I­NEES DOES NOT RAISE ANY RED FLAGS.

AS EX­PERTS HAVE NOTED, FOR A START,

THINGS ARE A LOT BETTER THAN IN THE CUR­RENT CEC

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