Tag Archives: Electoral Commission

Erik Herron – Ukraine: Presidential Appointments and the Central Electoral Commission

This is a guest post by Erik Herron, the Eberly Family Professor of Political Science at West Virginia University

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How important are presidential appointments to the exercise of presidential power in transitional societies? This blog entry presents a brief discussion of the implications for presidential influence over non-cabinet posts, using an example from a single country still struggling with democratic consolidation: Ukraine.

As Doyle and Elgie (2016) have noted, efforts to gauge presidential power vary substantially. Some studies emphasize subsets of presidential decision-making authority rather than a full range of powers, others focus on statutory or constitutional authority rather than practical manifestations of power [1]. Canonical measures of presidential power, like Shugart and Carey (1992), note the importance of presidential authority over cabinet appointments [2]. While decisions on cabinet posts can be critical for stable and successful governance, appointments outside the cabinet can have a significant impact on a president’s ability to lead.

In Ukraine, appointments to the Central Electoral Commission (CEC) – the body overseeing election administration – have exerted an extraordinarily important role on the outcomes of presidential, parliamentary, and local elections. As this blog post is being composed, Ukrainian politicians are engaged in an intense debate over who will occupy seats on the CEC and the president’s team is playing a large role.

Ukraine’s CEC is regulated by the Law on the Central Electoral Commission. The commission is composed of fifteen members who are approved by the parliament upon recommendation by the president. Appointments are associated with partisan affiliations; the president is supposed to take the proposals of political parties into account during the appointment process [3]. The CEC has extensive powers over the electoral process, including the responsibility for interpreting and implementing legal provisions, forming electoral districts, managing the voter registry, and certifying the results. The CEC, and its subordinate District Electoral Commissions (DECs) and Precinct Electoral Commissions (PECs), are at the center of battles to influence election outcomes.

The importance of these administrative units became especially clear in 2004. Ukraine’s semi-authoritarian president, Leonid Kuchma, was restrained by term-limits from seeking the presidency for a third consecutive time. Instead of altering the rules, Kuchma abided by them but selected a preferred successor: Viktor Yanukovych. A growing opposition to the Kuchma regime rallied behind the strongest challenger: Viktor Yushchenko. The election campaign featured strong allegations of fraud and intimidation, including the poisoning of Yushchenko with dioxin. Yanukovych and Yushchenko were the strongest first-round competitors and faced off in the second round on November 21, 2004 [4].

Evidence of widespread fraud tarnished the second round, with accusations of ballot box stuffing and intimidation in PECs, alteration of records in DECs, and the improper announcement of falsified results by the CEC. Millions of Ukrainian citizens protested and thousands set up camp in the center of the capital city. After negotiations and a decision by the Supreme Court invalidating the second round, a re-vote was held and Yushchenko was declared the winner.

While many accounts of the “Orange Revolution” rightly emphasize the role of citizen mobilization and protests in challenging the regime, the events leading up to it also show the critical role that election administration can play in determining outcomes, especially in societies where the rule of law and democratic principles are not firmly embedded.

Research that I have conducted with colleagues about election administration underscores the importance of these bureaucratic posts in Ukraine (e.g., Boyko, Herron, and Sverdan 2014; Boyko and Herron 2015; Herron, Boyko and Thunberg Forthcoming) [5]. Figure 1 compiles the outcomes from several of our studies and shows how control of local commissions – PECs – is associated with election results. The figure displays the coefficients and standard errors showing how control of officers on a commission is associated with variation in the results. All of the models treat the performance of party/candidate i in polling station j as the dependent variable (i.e., the proportion of the vote received), but the independent variables vary. In many cases, parties or candidates have an associated “bonus” in precincts where they control commissions.

Figure 1. Comparison of Commission Officer Effects, 2010-2014

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The figure shows that major competitors in 2012 and 2014 benefited from having their co-partisans present in officer positions; these candidates or parties performed better, on average, where their allies held officer posts. However, in the 2010 presidential election, the “benefit” was generally absent. The rules regarding the composition of commissions differed in 2010 and required a balance of forces: Viktor Yanukovych and Yuliya Tymoshenko, the main rivals for the presidential post, had equal numbers of commissioners and officers on each commission in the second round. While the findings on this table are preliminary and should be interpreted with caution, they generate two important possibilities for understanding the value of appointments. First, the results suggest that for some parties, controlling commissions can generate electoral benefits. This finding illustrates the value to presidents in controlling appointments, even for ancillary posts. Second, the findings suggest that when partisan appointees are balanced, the effects of controlling commissions dissipate.

The current struggle over appointments to Ukraine’s CEC takes place in a context where the ostensibly independent CEC and its subordinate units have been politicized. The current president, Petro Poroshenko, has maintained a hard negotiating stance over CEC appointments. The simultaneous end of all members’ terms provides the president with an opportunity to populate the commission with allies, potentially to his co-partisans’ benefit in future elections. The CEC’s power over election administration extends the influence of its decisions down to the front-lines. In close elections, this control could prove to be decisive and a powerful weapon in a president’s partisan arsenal. While non-cabinet appointments are not primary indicators of presidential power, they can be valuable tools to shore up presidential authority.

Notes

[1] Doyle, David and Robert Elgie. 2016 “Maximizing the Reliability of Cross-National Measures of Presidential Power.” British Journal of Political Science. 46(4): 731-741.

[2] Shugart, Matthew Soberg and John Carey. 1992. Presidents and Assemblies. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

[3] Brian Mefford’s detailed blog post (http://www.brianmefford.net/ukraine-update-920-cec-reform-recommendations/) reviews current and proposed members of the CEC and proposes reforms to the CEC law. Mefford notes that vague language in the law permits the president to adopt a hard stance in terms of negotiations. He also notes that past CEC membership has represented the parties in parliament

[4] I served as an international election observer during the second round and witnessed efforts to manipulate results in favor of Yanukovych by local electoral commissions.

[5] Boyko, Nazar and Erik S. Herron. 2015. “The Effects of Technical Parties and Partisan Election Management Bodies on Voting Outcomes.” Electoral Studies. 40 (December): 23-33; Boyko, Nazar, Erik S. Herron, and Roman Sverdan. 2014. “Administration and Management of Ukraine’s 2014 Presidential Election: A Systematic and Spatial Analysis.” Eurasian Geography and Economics. 55 (3): 286-306; Herron, Erik S., Nazar Boyko, and Michael Thunberg. Forthcoming. “Serving Two Masters: Professionalization Vs. Corruption in Ukraine’s Election Administration.” Governance.

Kenya – President Kenyatta and the battle over the electoral commission

President Uhuru Kenyatta is not a leader inclined to sacrifice his allies in return for an easy life. Indeed, personal loyalty has been one of the trademarks of his time in office. When faced with calls to replace the Cabinet Secretaries (Ministers) responsible for national security following the government’s poor response to the Westgate terrorist attack, he held firm despite widespread domestic and international criticism. He has also remained loyal to Deputy President William Ruto, despite the fact that many people from Kenyatta’s Kikuyu community would like to see his Kalenjin running mate sidelined now that the threat of prosecution at the International Criminal Court – which is what initially brought the two men together – has ended.

What is not clear, however, is whether this is a commendable trait born of a deep personal commitment to friends and colleagues, or a stubbornness that means that he fails to respond effectively to institutional and individual weaknesses. There are certainly a number of instances in which President Kenyatta’s refusal to compromise appear to have had more to do with what is politically expedient than friendship. Take the example of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC). Despite failing to effectively manage the 2013 election and having presided over a body that has been found to have suffered from widespread corruption (procurement scams were rife in the interim IEBC that preceded the current Commission), Chairman Ahmed Issack Hassan is still in place.

In May, with the next general elections 16 months away, the lack of reform of the IEBC became a target for mass opposition protests organized by the Coalition for Reform and Democracy (CORD). These weekly events led to considerable unrest in downtown Nairobi and also in Kisumu and Siaya. The response of the state was brutal: in Nairobi police have been recorded beating and stamping on isolated protestors who were lying face down at the time. In Kisumu and Siaya, the police used live rounds, resulting in the deaths of at least three people. In turn, the violent repression of the protests – in contravention of the Bill of Rights in the 2010 constitution – has led to a further polarization of the political debate.

In defending his position, President Kenyatta has fallen back – as he often does – on the need to follow and protect the rule of law. On this account, the opposition protests are unruly and a threat to national unity: they therefore do not constitute a legitimate way in which to force a change in the composition of the electoral commission, and merit a hardline response.

However, despite this stance Kenyatta and other leaders within the Jubilee Alliance agreed to open negotiations with CORD leader Raila Odinga towards the end of May. This move appears to have been driven by two developments. First, the opposition announced that it would postpone its protests for two weeks to make space for national dialogue. Second, CORD’s tactics appear to have significantly increased the pressure on the government – from donors, local businessmen, and civil society – to find an inclusive solution to the problem of the IEBC.

So far, the talks – and a parallel process running in parliament through the Justice and Legal Affairs Committee – have yielded some progress. There is now an agreement that the next set of Commissioners will be appointed by a committee that will feature two representatives selected by the government, two by the opposition, and a further three who will be appointed by the Public Service Committee. At the same time, the deadline for election petitions to be submitted has been increased from 14 to 30 days. This is important, because it makes it more likely that the opposition will be able to put together a viable case, and hence more likely that they will pursue their complaints through the courts rather than on the streets.

However, so far there has been no agreement on the most important issue: whether the Chair and other figures who presided over the 2013 debacle will be replaced ahead of the 2017 elections. This is the critical issue in terms of rebuilding the trust of the opposition in the electoral process. If President Kenyatta’s reputation is anything to go by, this is likely to be a compromise that he will resist as long as he can. Which means that further opposition protests and urban unrest cannot be ruled out.