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Ukraine Election: High Turnout and Run-off Election Attest to Strong Democratic Process

April 1, 2019

Kyiv, Ukraine–In general, Ukraine’s March 31 presidential elections were well-administered allowing the Ukrainian electorate to vote in a secure and orderly manner. While there were a few instances of minor procedural violations, the International Republican Institute’s (IRI) election observation mission noted a transparent and smooth voting process with Ukraine’s citizens demonstrating a strong commitment to democracy. (Read the mission's full preliminary statement here). 

Because none of the record number 39 candidates secured a majority of the vote, Ukrainians will return to the polls on April 21, to vote in a presidential run-off.

Overall, voter participation in the polling stations observed by the IRI mission was high and the process was well managed and calm, although there were some reported problems with late poll opening procedures and ballot box quality.

The Election Day environment was observed to be calm despite some crowding in urban environments, particularly in late morning and early afternoon. At a few locations, observers saw a delayed start of poll opening procedures, unauthorized persons present at the polling station and minor issues with the quality of ballot boxes and ballot design.

“The people of Ukraine should be proud of their young democracy,” said Cindy McCain, the co-leader of IRI’s election observation delegation. “At this point, it is not clear who will be the next President, and that’s a victory for Ukraine’s democracy.”

However, several challenges remain after an otherwise successful election process.

Ukraine was unable to administer elections throughout the country due to the illegal annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation as well as ongoing hostilities in the eastern regions of the Donbas.

“Kremlin aggression is effectively disenfranchising 16 percent of Ukraine’s electorate—the 12 percent who live in Ukrainian territory forcibly occupied by Russia and the 4 percent who are internally displaced because of the conflict,” said Dr. Daniel Twining, President of IRI. “This disenfranchisement of voters does not negate the legitimacy of the election as Ukraine’s democracy should not be held hostage to illegal occupation.” 

There were many reports of Kremlin-backed disinformation and fake news in the pre-election environment. The risk of cyberattacks, which Ukraine is better prepared for now than in 2014, is high in these elections, whether on CEC infrastructure, the State Voter Registry, or exit polling.

While the pre-election media and campaign environment was robust, candidates did not regularly engage in frank, unscripted debate on their policy platforms, thus depriving Ukrainian citizens of an opportunity to fully vet the candidates.

In the spirit of supporting Ukraine’s democracy, IRI has offered recommendations to further strengthen the credibility of electoral processes and safeguard Ukraine’s democratic gains since its independence.

 

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About the Delegation

IRI announced the arrival of the international election observation delegation to observe Ukraine’s presidential election on March 26. Cindy McCain, Chair of the Board of Trustees for the McCain Institute for International Leadership and Dr. Daniel Twining, President of IRI, are leading the delegation. The delegation consisted of 30 observers from eight countries including current members of parliament, former U.S. Congressmen, and senior IRI leadership. IRI will deploy another delegation to observe the April 21 run-off election.

About IRI

IRI has worked in Ukraine since 1994 and has observed 12 elections in-country, including the 1994, 1998, 2002, 2006, 2007, 2012 and 2014 parliamentary elections and the 1999, 2004, 2010, 2012 and 2014 presidential elections. IRI has helped to develop effective, citizen-responsive government, trained tens of thousands of political party members and civil society activists, and supported the participation of underrepresented groups such as women and youth in the political process. IRI has been recognized for its international survey research through its regular public opinion surveys which includes dozens of national, municipal and oblast-level surveys of the political and public policy landscape in Ukraine.