New elec­tion com­mis­sion will soon be put to test

Kyiv Post - - National - BY OLEG SUKHOV [email protected]

After drag­ging their feet since the ten­ure of the Cen­tral Elec­tion Com­mis­sion’s com­po­si­tion ex­pired in 2014, Ukrainian au­thor­i­ties have fi­nally ap­pointed new com­mis­sion mem­bers in Septem­ber.

But the ques­tion re­mains as to whether the com­mis­sion’s cur­rent com­po­si­tion is go­ing to be more in­de­pen­dent and more trust­wor­thy than the pre­vi­ous one.

Pres­i­dent Petro Poroshenko’s crit­ics ar­gue that he has the com­mis­sion un­der his con­trol, which will al­low him to in­flu­ence the 2019 pres­i­den­tial and par­lia­men­tary elec­tions.

The Pres­i­den­tial Ad­min­is­tra­tion did not re­spond to a re­quest for com­ment, while Cen­tral Elec­tion Com­mis­sion spokesman Kostyan­tyn Khivrenko said he could not com­ment on the is­sue.

The com­mis­sion said its head, Te­tiana Sli­pachuk, is not avail­able to be in­ter­viewed.

An­other prob­lem, ac­cord­ing to some ob­servers, is the Verkhovna Rada’s ap­par­ent fail­ure to in­tro­duce a fairer elec­tion law in the run-up to the 2019 elec­tions.

Civil so­ci­ety groups have de­manded the scrap­ping of sin­gle-man­date dis­tricts, which are seen as a ve­hi­cle of po­lit­i­cal cor­rup­tion.

The Cen­tral Elec­tion Com­mis­sion trig­gered con­tro­versy on Oct. 5 by ban­ning jour­nal­ists from a meet­ing in which it se­lected Sli­pachuk as its chair­woman.

The Opora elec­tion watch­dog lam­basted the de­ci­sion.

“Opora is at­tract­ing the new Cen­tral Elec­tion Com­mis­sion’s at­ten­tion to the un­law­ful­ness of its re­stric­tions on me­dia at all of its meet­ings and its vi­o­la­tion of pub­lic­ity and trans­parency prin­ci­ples,” the watch­dog said.

Khivrenko, from the Cen­tral Elec­tion Com­mis­sion, ar­gued that the ban on jour­nal­ists did not con­tra­dict the law.

Dis­cred­ited group

The pre­vi­ous mem­bers of the com­mis­sion had been dis­cred­ited be­cause the pow­ers of most of them ex­pired in 2014, and the Verkhovna Rada passed a law ex­tend­ing their au­thor­ity. Some lawyers, in­clud­ing Yu­lia Kyrychenko from the Rean­i­ma­tion Pack­age of Re­forms, ar­gued that the au­thor­i­ties’ fail­ure to re­place them for years was il­le­gal.

The pre­vi­ous com­mis­sion was also dom­i­nated by rep­re­sen­ta­tives of ex-Pres­i­dent Vik­tor Yanukovych’s now de­funct Party of Re­gions.

Sli­pachuk’s pre­de­ces­sor as head of the com­mis­sion, Mykhailo Okhen­dovsky, was charged by the Na­tional Anti-Cor­rup­tion Bureau of Ukraine in 2016 with re­ceiv­ing bribes worth $100,000 in 2010 and $61,000 in 2012 from the Party of Re­gions.

In June 2017, the Anti-Cor­rup­tion Pros­e­cu­tor’s Of­fice sus­pended the case, claim­ing it was wait­ing for doc­u­ments from abroad. Mean­while, the NABU ac­cused anti-cor­rup­tion pros­e­cu­tors of sab­o­tag­ing the case.

Dif­fi­cult talks

Ne­go­ti­a­tions to re­place the Cen­tral Elec­tion Com­mis­sion had been go­ing on for four years but were de­railed and blocked un­til Septem­ber.

Poroshenko's crit­ics had ac­cused him of ob­struct­ing the process by try­ing to nom­i­nate a ma­jor­ity that he com­pletely con­trols, which was re­jected by the Rada. Poroshenko's sup­port­ers, in turn, ac­cused op­po­si­tion fac­tions in the Rada of sab­o­tag­ing the process.

The prob­lem was re­solved in Septem­ber when par­lia­ment in­creased the num­ber of com­mis­sion mem­bers from 15 to 17.

“Poroshenko has been ob­sessed with the idea that he must keep con­trol over the Cen­tral Elec­tion Com­mis­sion and that’s why he wanted to in­crease the num­ber of mem­bers,” law­maker Sergii Leshchenko told the

Kyiv Post. “The law was tai­lor-made for one per­son — Poroshenko.”

Pres­i­den­tial al­lies

The new com­mis­sion in­cludes six rep­re­sen­ta­tives from the Poroshenko Bloc which, with 135 mem­bers in par­lia­ment, is the dom­i­nant fac­tion.

Oleh Di­denko was del­e­gated in 2014 by the UDAR party, which has merged into the Poroshenko Bloc, and is seen as loyal to the Pres­i­den­tial Ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Sli­pachuk was del­e­gated by the Peo­ple's Will fac­tion, which has of­ten voted in the in­ter­ests of the Pres­i­den­tial Ad­min­is­tra­tion. In 2016 Sli­pachuk was del­e­gated by Poroshenko to the com­mis­sion for se­lect­ing the lead­er­ship of the State In­ves­ti­ga­tion Bureau.

Mean­while, Sli­pachuk and Olek­siy Fi­la­tov, who is cur­rently a deputy chief of staff for Poroshenko, used to be part­ners at law firm Va­syl Ky­syl and Part­ners.

Sli­pachuk has also been ac­cused of ties to Poroshenko Bloc law­maker Olek­sandr Hra­novsky, who has de­nied pro­mot­ing the can­di­dacy for the com­mis­sion’s head. In 2015 she praised Hra­novsky in a com­ment un­der a Face­book post.

Alla Basalayeva from the Vidrodzhen­nya fac­tion, an ex-judge at Kyiv's Dar­nitsa Dis­trict Court, and Kateryna Makhnit­ska, the wife of ex-Pros­e­cu­tor Gen­eral Oleh Makhnit­sky del­e­gated by the Svo­boda na­tional party, have also been ac­cused of links to the Pres­i­den­tial Ad­min­is­tra­tion. Olga Ai­va­zovska from the Opora watch­dog dis­puted those claims.

Based on dif­fer­ent as­sess­ments, Poroshenko has a ma­jor­ity in the Cen­tral Elec­tion Com­mis­sion rang­ing from eight to 10 mem­bers.

Other fac­tions

Along with three rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the Peo­ple’s Front party, the rul­ing coali­tion has an ab­so­lute ma­jor­ity on the com­mis­sion.

Ai­va­zovska ar­gued, how­ever, that Poroshenko would not be able to com­pletely con­trol the com­mis­sion.

“The com­pe­ti­tion be­tween the Poroshenko Bloc and the Peo­ple’s Front will en­sure a bal­ance be­tween dif­fer­ent in­ter­est groups,” she said.

One of the Peo­ple’s Front rep­re­sen­ta­tives is ex-Deputy Jus­tice Min­is­ter Natalia Ber­natska (nee Sevos­tianova), who be­came the Cen­tral Elec­tion Com­mis­sion’s sec­re­tary. She was the sec­re­tary of the con­tro­ver­sial com­mis­sion that se­lected top of­fi­cials of the State In­ves­ti­ga­tion Bureau and was ac­cused by anti-cor­rup­tion ac­tivists of rig­ging the se­lec­tion, although it de­nied the ac­cu­sa­tions.

Ber­natska was also the chair­woman of the com­mis­sion that chose the lead­er­ship of the Na­tional Agency for Pre­vent­ing Cor­rup­tion, which has been ac­cused of large-scale cor­rup­tion by whistle­blow­ers within the agency and has so far failed to pun­ish any top of­fi­cials. The agency de­nies the ac­cu­sa­tions.

Ber­natska has also trig­gered con­tro­ver­sies by declar­ing $358,000 in dif­fer­ent cur­ren­cies in cash and two cars worth about $77,000, as well as by help­ing a top tax of­fi­cial es­cape the 2014 lus­tra­tion law on the dis­missal of of­fi­cials who served Yanukovych.

Ber­natska has de­nied the ac­cu­sa­tions of wrong­do­ing.

The op­po­si­tion is rep­re­sented by Yevhen Rad­chenko from Samopomich and Te­tiana Yuzkova from pop­ulist Oleh Lyashko’s Rad­i­cal Party.

One seat on the com­mis­sion is still va­cant and is re­served for the Op­po­si­tion Bloc fac­tion, an off­shoot of Yanukovych’s Party of Re­gions. The Op­po­si­tion Bloc has in­sisted, how­ever, that it is en­ti­tled to two mem­bers based on its num­ber of Verkhovna Rada mem­bers — 43 out of 423.

Due to con­flict­ing groups within the Op­po­si­tion Bloc, it is un­likely to del­e­gate its rep­re­sen­ta­tive be­fore the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, Ai­va­zovska said.

In­flu­ence on elec­tions

Whether the new com­mis­sion is bet­ter and more in­de­pen­dent than the pre­vi­ous one has yet to be seen.

Po­ten­tially, the Cen­tral Elec­tion Com­mis­sion can ma­nip­u­late elec­tions through var­i­ous meth­ods.

For ex­am­ple, the com­mis­sion can refuse to reg­is­ter can­di­dates due to dif­fer­ent le­gal in­ter­pre­ta­tions of the 10-year res­i­dence re­quire­ment for pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates, Ai­va­zovska said.

The com­mis­sion can also in­flu­ence elec­tions through ap­point­ments to dis­trict elec­tion com­mis­sions, con­sid­er­ing or fail­ing to con­sider com­plaints and re­act­ing or fail­ing to re­act to vi­o­la­tions of cam­paign rules, she added. And fi­nally, the com­mis­sion has a lot of power over the in­tegrity of the vot­ing and vote count.

Elec­tion law

Mean­while, the new Cen­tral Elec­tion Com­mis­sion is likely to work un­der the old elec­tion law.

In Novem­ber 2017 the Verkhovna Rada passed in first read­ing a bill to scrap sin­gle-man­date elec­tion dis­tricts and leave only party-list pro­por­tional rep­re­sen­ta­tion. Geo­graphic con­stituen­cies are prone to cor­rup­tion, with wealthy can­di­dates buy­ing votes and controlling ac­cess to me­dia.

The bill also seeks to in­tro­duce “open party lists,” which means that cit­i­zens will vote not only for par­ties them­selves, but also for spe­cific can­di­dates nom­i­nated by the par­ties. The can­di­dates who get more votes will move closer to the top of party lists, and be more likely to be elected. Un­der the cur­rent sys­tem, party lead­ers can ar­bi­trar­ily choose the or­der in which can­di­dates ap­pear on party lists, thus de­ter­min­ing the or­der of those elected.

Since last year, the Verkhovna Rada has failed to con­sider the bill in the sec­ond read­ing. Par­lia­ment’s le­gal com­mit­tee has con­sid­ered about 60 per­cent of draft amend­ments to the bill.

“Poroshenko won’t (adopt this law),” Leshchenko said. “Maybe this will hap­pen un­der a new pres­i­dent.”

New lead­er­ship of the Cen­tral Elec­tion Com­mis­sion, from left: deputy head of the com­mis­sion Oleg Konopol­skiy, head of the com­mis­sion Te­tiana Sli­pachuk, deputy head of the com­mis­sion Yevhen Rad­chenko, and the com­mis­sion's sec­re­tary Natalia Ber­natska give their first press con­fer­ence on Nov. 13 after hav­ing been ap­pointed in Oc­to­ber. (UNIAN)

Pro­test­ers stand by a ban­ner show­ing a col­lage of Pres­i­dent Petro Poroshenko and ex-Pres­i­dent Vik­tor Yanukovych dur­ing the rally de­mand­ing the new elec­tion leg­is­la­tion near the par­lia­ment build­ing in Kyiv, on Sept. 6, 2018. (Volodymyr Petrov)

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Ukraine

© PressReader. All rights reserved.