Kyiv, Ukraine – Ukraine’s 2019 presidential election was historic. In the second round on April 21, Ukrainians reaffirmed a deep commitment to democracy alongside a strong desire for change. Both rounds of the election were genuinely competitive (download the full statement in English and Ukrainian). Voters turned out in large numbers. Election administrators performed professionally. The process met key international standards and the outcome reflected the will of voters. As the results became clear, the incumbent president offered a unifying message by congratulating the winner, conceding with dignity, and pledging to move into constructive opposition.
“Yesterday was about choices and differences; we hope today will be about uniting the nation for a stronger Ukraine,” said former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine William Taylor, who co-led the NDI delegation. “With two credible elections inside a month, Ukrainians have reaffirmed their path toward a European future. This election was a remarkable accomplishment in a region where peaceful change at the ballot box is rare. Ukrainians changed leadership in 2004, 2014 and yesterday in 2019. In the first two, Ukrainians went to the public squares around the country; yesterday they went to the ballot boxes.”
“Elections brought this country to a crossroads and the people of Ukraine clearly chose the path of democratic change and membership in EU and NATO. Judicial reform and the elimination of corruption are still urgently needed,” said Audrey Glover, chair of the Foreign Policy Centre and former director of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OSCE/ODIHR). Audrey Glover called for immediate steps to address remaining electoral vulnerabilities before the parliamentary elections this fall, noting that “Kremlin interference is expected to intensify in the autumn.”
Although Ukraine’s electoral systems stood the test of the presidential campaign, the process highlighted numerous vulnerabilities, including shortcomings in the electoral framework, abuses of resources and power, oligarchic domination of the media and campaign finance, failures to promote equality between men and women and inclusion of marginalized groups, and disinformation in the media. Many of the challenges identified in the presidential electoral process will have increased relevance. Addressing these challenges, many of which have ready available solutions, should become a top priority.
The delegation offers a number of recommendations for improvements that could be implemented before the parliamentary elections:
- In consultation with political parties, civil society, and election administrators, the parliament should harmonize the legal framework for presidential, parliamentary, and local elections.
- Parliament should deliberate and vote on draft law #8270, which would increase penalties for electoral violations, including vote-buying. Effective enforcement mechanisms should be developed to address such violations.
- Parliament should initiate inclusive discussion among electoral stakeholders -- regarding possible revisions to the definition of campaigning; access to paid and free political airtime; and revisions to campaign finance regulations related to hidden financing and small donations -- to ensure equitable conditions for candidates.
- The parliament should adopt draft law #6240 to facilitate voting by IDPs, internal migrants, and citizens registered in non-government-controlled areas. In addition, the parliament should pursue legislation to establish online mechanisms for registering a change in one’s place of voting. The CEC should expand its voter education efforts to ensure that these groups better understand their voting rights and how to change their place of voting.
- Parliament should adopt measures to ensure greater political participation of women, including an enforceable gender quota for parliamentary and local elections. Political parties and civil society organizations should also implement their own parallel steps to reduce barriers to women’s participation.
- The parliament should provide the public broadcaster with a budget sufficient for it to serve as a viable alternative to oligarch-owned media.
- Social media companies should also invest more in Ukrainian language capacity and representation in country so they can be more effective, in partnership with those on the ground, in countering disinformation and protecting the integrity of Ukrainian democracy.
The 31-member delegation met with party and campaign representatives, government and election officials, as well as representatives of civil society, the media and the international community. On election day, they observed opening, voting, counting, and tabulation processes in Kyiv and eleven other regions across the country. The delegation was also led by Laura Jewett, NDI’s regional director for Eurasia; and Mary O’Hagan, global associate and NDI senior resident director in Ukraine.
NDI has organized international observation missions or assessments in more than 65 countries for more than 135 elections, including eleven assessments in Ukraine since it began working in the country in 1992. The NDI observer missions conduct activities in a nonpartisan and professional manner in accordance with Ukrainian law and the Declaration of Principles for International Election Observation. The delegation built on NDI’s preliminary statement on the March 31 first round of the presidential election the work of NDI’s pre-election assessment mission conducted in November, the findings of long-term analysts who have been in Ukraine since January, and the work of local partner organizations. The work of this mission is made possible with the support of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).
NDI is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization working to support and strengthen democratic institutions worldwide through citizen participation, openness and accountability in government. For more information about NDI and its programs, please visit www.ndi.org.