The Ukrainian Parliament (Verkhovna Rada) has scheduled regular elections of deputies to local councils and village, town and city mayors for Sunday, 25 October 2020. Due to the temporary occupation of some Ukrainian territories, these elections will not take place in Crimea and in the territory of the so-called LNR and DNR. Instead, elections will be held in the territory of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts controlled by Ukraine. This is a matter of principle because there are two key aspects that indicate their need. First, the process of decentralisation is ongoing and all communities, including those in the so-called “gray zone,” must elect their representatives to positions in local governments. Secondly, since the beginning of the conflict in the territories on the demarcation line, local elections have not been held and de jure representatives of non-existent parties and even the now banned CPU have not left their seats there.
However, optimism was premature. On 8 August this year, the CEC Resolution № 161 “On the impossibility of holding the first elections of deputies of a certain village, town, city councils of Donetsk and Luhansk regions and the respective village, town, city mayors on 25 October 2020” appeared, which needs some clarification.
Why the first elections? Because this region, suffering from military aggression, underwent serious changes. Towns were left without administrative centres. They were united into territorial communities (OTC), joined to existing territorial communities, and so on. Thus, for many OTCs, this election was to be the first opportunity to elect a local government.
Now for the “individual.” The Resolution states that it is impossible to hold local elections in 18 OTCs. 10 of them in the Donetsk region are:
- Svitlodarsk and Torets city territorial communities of Bakhmut district;
- Myrne and Olhyn town and Volnovakha and Vuhledar city territorial communities of Volnovakha district;
- Sartan town territorial community of Mariupol district;
- Ocheretyn town and Avdiivka and Mariinsk city territorial communities of Pokrovsky district.
Another eight OTCs will not be able to vote in the Luhansk region. Among them, there are Hirske, Lysychansk, Popasna, and Severodonetsk urban territorial communities of Severodonetsk district.
Why? The CEC substantiates this position with the conclusions of state administrations and military-civil administrations of the above-mentioned oblasts. The Resolution states that holding elections in these territories poses a danger to the local population, and the possibility of shooting, terrorist acts, and the activities of sabotage and intelligence groups is not ruled out. Under such conditions, the regional state administration and, accordingly, the CEC considers it impossible to prepare and hold elections.
What Does the Ruling Violate?
Such a decision of the CEC could not go unnoticed by the community and human rights activists. Because it contradicts a number of legal acts of Ukrainian legislation, namely:
- norms of the Constitution of Ukraine (Article 38), which enshrine the right of everyone to vote and to be elected, in particular, at the local level. Moreover, a logical question arises: why in the parliamentary and presidential elections the issue of voter safety and the impossibility of organizing the electoral process in these towns and communities was not raised. As if then, the socio-political situation was not much better;
- norms of the Electoral Code of Ukraine (Article 7), which also provide the right to participate in local elections. In this case, we are talking about all possible elections, which are held on a legal basis. This includes the right to participate in the election process, as well as the right to be elected. That is, we are talking about systemic restrictions provided by CEC Resolution №161;
- norms of the “Law of Ukraine on Local Self-Government in Ukraine” (Article 12), which regulate that a village, settlement, city mayor is elected by the relevant territorial community on the basis of universal, equal, direct suffrage by secret ballot in the manner prescribed by law and their powers on a permanent basis;
- the norms of the “Law of Ukraine On Voluntary Association of Territorial Communities” (Article 7), which provides the electoral basis for the formation of territorial communities and their representative bodies.
- Thus, it is said that this decision of the CEC contradicts the tendencies of decentralization of power in Ukraine. It also violates several clauses of the Convention on the Standards of Democratic Elections, Voting Rights and Freedoms in the Commonwealth of Independent States (07.10.2002), and Article 3 of the Protocol to the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (17.07.1997).
What are the Prospects?
As the body responsible for organising and conducting elections in the country, the CEC has a decisive say in this matter and no decisions and resolutions of the Verkhovna Rada have been issued to it. It is written in the Resolution that there will be no elections – so there will be none.
Although talks have about the possibility of repealing the Resolution have already appeared (if the situation at the front changes and appropriate reports are received from the regional state administration and the civil-military administration) or postponing the election, the prospect that everything will remain unchanged is huge.
What is in Frontline Settlements Now?
Currently, there is an interesting situation in frontline settlements, which carry risks and needs to be resolved. The last time local authorities were elected was 10 years ago (previous regular elections in 2015 were, for objective reasons, really impossible in many areas).
The lists of local councils still include nominees from long-forgotten parties on the “big land” – the CPU, the PR, the Socialist Party of Ukraine, and others. Things are very different from the responsibilities they take on. Somewhere they are still trying to gather for meetings and support at least some activity, somewhere they have been tired of the people’s deputies, and someone in general openly supported the occupiers and is now forced to hide.
Civil-military administrations help prevent disorder. They are appointed temporarily, consist of specialists required in these conditions, and have a strict hierarchical structure. The subordinate territory is, in fact, ruled by the head of the respective civil-military administration, without much concern for the issues that would concern him if this position was elective.
According to experts, local elections not held in the above-mentioned territories entail a number of risks.
First, the deputies and heads of territorial communities elected 10 years ago will remain in place and will continue to pursue their own policies. Secondly, the heads of the civil-military administration risk becoming local dictators and, in the absence of democratic mechanisms of deterrence in the form of popularly elected councils, to establish autocracy in the entrusted territories. Third, citizens living in restricted settlements can complain to Ukrainian courts, and possibly to the European Court of Human Rights, about violations of their constitutional rights. This will not benefit either the consolidation of the population, or the reputation of Ukraine, or the stabilisation of the situation in Donbas.
At the same time, the prospect of holding OTC elections close to the line of demarcation should also be considered in terms of security. Despite the fact that the Parliament and the President could be elected there without excesses, the preparation and conduct of elections can be completely safe only after the end of hostilities and after the withdrawal of enemy troops. In addition, any state action could upset the aggressor’s troops and thus endanger the local population.
What Do the Locals Say?
Volodymyr Yelets, a public activist from the city of Torets, said, “I consider elections in our region inexpedient at the moment, as in all frontline cities. In these regions, the liberation from openly hostile elements was very selective. There are also a lot of people who betrayed Ukraine and are open supporters of the aggressor and still have a strong influence on the life of settlements and have leverage over the electoral system and the counting of votes.”
Krasnohorivka resident Liudmyla says, “We need elections because we hope that the people who come to power will be more interested in our lives and will help us solve our problems. And this is life, and roads, and heating. That’s why my community and I have set up a table in the centre of the city and are collecting signatures for the elections. I hope this is a small initiative, but it will affect our destiny and we will be noticed in Kyiv,”
Volodymyr Veselkin, the Head of the civil-military administration in Zaitsevo, said, “I believe that elections in frontline cities should have been canceled five years ago. Here, Russia is run by militants who do not allow us to rebuild infrastructure. And then he commands the pro-Russian six to criticise the government for not being able to solve painful issues for the community. Even if a pro-Ukrainian person wins, the majority in the local council will be from the Opposition Platform – For Life. They will constantly work to disrupt anything, even the adoption of the budget. They will work on the principle: the worse, the better.”
Viktor Filatov, Analyst of the “SICH” Human Rights Group