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Kiev faces ´mountain of problems´ on electoral law ahead of EU/Ukraine summit

Mr Kochetkov, a frequent participant in conferences in the European Parliament, said, "One of the points of Mr Fule’s document clearly and unambiguously requires the Ukrainian authorities to remedy the deficiencies of the parliamentary elections, including those connected with the failure to calculate the election results in five single-mandate constituencies.”A senior member of an international team of election monitors says they have faced "unprecedented pressure" since calling for "profound" reform of Ukraine´s electoral system.

Alexey Kochetkov accused the both Ukraine government and opposition of "doing everything possible" to "rudely ignore" international demands for a radical shakeup of the country´s electoral law. 

Mr Kochetkov, who is one of the authors of a major report on Ukraine electoral law, said the failure to address the issue has effectively "buried" the hopes of Ukraine citizens for "fair and transparent" elections. 

His comments come with Ukraine hoping to sign a free trade and Association Agreement with the European Union at a summit in Lithuania on November 28-29. 

EU leaders have frequently said in the past that they will only sign the potentially lucrative trade and economic deal as long as Kiev meets its remaining conditions. 

These include addressing concerns about the rule of law and corruption among the political elite in Ukraine and the release of former Ukraine prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko from prison. 

Another long-running issue is what many see as the country´s seriously continued flawed electoral system, which has come under intense scrutiny in recent months by CIS-EMO (Commonwealth of the Independent States - Election Monitoring Organisation), a leading election monitoring organisation. 

The report partly drafted by Mr Kochetkov, a Russian-born political analyst, underlines the view of most in the international community, including the EU, that Ukraine is not yet ready to sign an Association Agreement while such serious problems, not least about election legislation, persist. 

The 18-page analysis produced by the CIS-EMO is likely to command widespread respect, not least because it specifically focuses on Ukraine´s electoral law, in particular last year´s parliamentary elections. 

"It was seen," he says, "not only by the expert community but the entire Ukrainian and international community that the 2012 elections clearly indicated a mountain of problems connected with Ukraine´s electoral legislation." 

Mr Kochetkov says the organisation came under "unprecedented pressure" from the state media in Ukraine after it expressed concern about the way the 28 October elections were organised. 

The 42-year-old says this was designed to "discredit" CIS-EMO and to "force election observers to leave the country and cease activities." 

This, he says, was most acute during the summer in Sevastopol constituency when his organisation was subjected to the "most massive campaign" against its independence. 

December 15 is the date recently set for a re-run of the election in five so-called “problem constituencies” but Mr Kochetko voiced doubts that these will take place in full compliance with international democratic election standards. 

He said, "The touching solidarity of government and opposition has re-appeared in apparent reluctance to modernize the Ukrainian electoral system." 

Evidence of this, he said, came in a parliamentary vote on 5 September when parliamentarians unanimously voted for the law on the re-election of deputies in single-member constituencies. 

"On this day, the voters of Ukraine ultimately lost an opportunity to have transparent and democratic elections in the foreseeable future." 

CIS-EMO was established in 2003 as an international NGO which has monitored hundreds of election campaigns in the CIS countries and EU. In Ukraine, it monitored the presidential elections of 2004 and 2010, local elections of 2010 and parliamentary elections of 2006 and last year. 

It is the only organisation that has maintained a ´standing commission´ after last autumn´s elections. 

The CIS-EMO report which Mr Kochetko contributed to says that an "oligarchic consensus” of government and opposition in the Ukrainian parliament wants to postpone major reform of the Ukrainian electoral law “for a rainy day".

"In the meantime," he writes, "not only the world and Ukrainian expert opinion is ignored but also the direct recommendations of the EU." 

He says that, on the one hand, both government and parliamentary opposition are "vying to swear loyalty to the European choice" and have expressed a "sincere desire" to sign the EU/Ukraine Association Agreement on November 28 in Vilnius. 

"On the other hand," he adds, "they are doing everything possible to rudely ignore the EU and OSCE recommendations regarding the necessity of a profound reform of Ukrainian electoral legislation." 

Since last October´s poll,the organization has highlighted "shortcomings" of the election preparation process and repeatedly stated the "necessity" to reform Ukrainian electoral legislation. 

But the Warsaw-based Kochetkov, who has written other reports on electoral processes, says this continues to be hindered by an inter-party struggle of various financial and industrial groups of Ukrainian oligarchy for "access to the levers of state power." 

With the Vilnius summit now just days away, he reminds the EU that, in February this year, the EU enlargement commissioner Stefan Fule presented Kiev with a list of 19 conditions Ukraine needed to meet in order to sign the Association Agreement. 

Mr Kochetkov, a frequent participant in conferences in the European Parliament, said, "One of the points of Mr Fule’s document clearly and unambiguously requires the Ukrainian authorities to remedy the deficiencies of the parliamentary elections, including those connected with the failure to calculate the election results in five single-mandate constituencies.” 

He said Fule also "made it clear" that the Ukrainian authorities should “really start a profound reform of the electoral legislation." 

This, said the Swedish official in December, should be on the basis of a "broad consensus with actual participation of parliamentary opposition opinion, relevant NGOs, the Venice Commission, the Council of Europe and the OSCE." 

Kochetkov, who is a former director of the CIS-EMO, said that addressing specific concerns about last year´s elections would serve as an "important indicator" of how Ukraine is improving its electoral practice. 

The report, however, states that Ukraine has clearly failed to satisfy the EU demands and, on that basis, the Association Agreement should not be signed in Vilnius. 

He cautioned, "The existing legislation on local elections is the most problematic in Ukraine. It allows the widespread use of administrative resources and does not guarantee equality of the electoral process subjects during the campaign." 

These shortcomings, he says, were "once again" evident during the local elections in a number of localities on 2 June. 

Among the recommendations made by Mr Kochetkov, former head of a St Petersburg communications agency, and his colleagues at Russia-based CIS-EMO is that Ukraine raises the voting threshold for party lists. 

This means that the distribution of parliamentary seats extends only to those parties that gain more than 5 per cent of the vote in an election. Earlier, this barrier amounted only to 3 per cent. 

It also recommends changes to the financial deposits which are required from candidates for standing in an election.The CIS-EMO report says the current system favours a small political clique. 

It means, it states, that only those parties that are sufficiently related to the major oligarchic groups manage to find the necessary financial resources required for registering in an election. 

"Could this be the underlying reason of the current ´oligarchic consensus´ of the government and parliamentary opposition?" it asks. 

Mr Kochetkov´s report also deplores the "deprivation" of the right to form political blocs which it says has prevented more than 100 political parties from registering. 

The creation of "draconian" property qualifications for parties has "thrown them into the arms of governmental authorities and oligarchic groups which would rather use political parties solely in their own self-interest." 

The exhaustive CIS-EMO document concludes by saying that implementation of various reform measures would enable a radical transformation of Ukraine´s electoral legislation towards its "qualitative modernization and democratization." 

With the Vilnius summit fast approaching, it adds, "The Ukrainian authorities must finally face the international community and comply with the recommendations of observation missions. 

"The European vector of Ukraine development, especially on the threshold of the Vilnius summit, cannot be imagined without major modernization and democratization of its current electoral legislation."

by Martin Banks

European Business Review

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