Masteroni at Electoral Observation Mission

On the 25th of October 2015, a few Masteroni took part in an electoral observation mission (EOM) at local elections in Ukraine. The situation, as stated below in the preliminary findings and conclusions by OSCE/ODIHR made it especially interesting to be part of this EOM:

“The elections took place in challenging political, economic, humanitarian and security environment, and against the backdrop of a constitutional reform process aiming at decentralization. The context was characterized by the illegal annexation of the Crimean peninsula by the Russian Federation and the temporary control of parts of the territory of the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts by illegal armed groups. This made it impossible for over 5 million voters in these areas to vote. The Central Election Commission (CEC) made resolute efforts to organize elections throughout the country, but they could not be held in parts of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts and on the Crimean peninsula.”

The mission was organised by AEGEE (Association des États Généraux des Étudiants de l’Europe), the European Students’ Forum and E.MA Alumni Karin Zilliacus was coordinating around 25 volunteers from all over the world. Before hand, every participant was requested to complete the OSCE/ODIHR Short-Term Observer E-learning course and do research in groups about various topics such as internally displaced people, youth activism within the civil society or youth in politics.

In Ukraine, participants were divided into small groups for the observation in five different cities: Kiev, Dnepropetrovsk, Kharkov, L’viv and Odessa. The volunteer experience included a one-day briefing and meetings in Kiev about the role of the mission, how the observation should be carried out and additional practical information. After the pre-election briefing the volunteers travelled to their electoral destinations and conducted their observation on the Election Day. The observation activities covered the opening process of a polling station, the voting procedure in around six stations and the closing and counting activity. Observers’ role meant to evaluate the display of the polling stations and e.g. to check if all the necessary material was present, if the polling stations opened in time or if the ballot boxes were sealed properly. They also had to assess the commissions and the voters’ behaviour without interfering in the process. For this purpose, they had to fill in some forms and ask some questions to the heads of the commissions and their members. At the end of the Election Day, they all went back to Kiev for the de-briefing meeting and a final exchange about their experience.

Here are some impressions from the Masteroni who participated in the experience:

“In Kharkov for example, some tensions and protests were expected since the city is located very close to the Russian border and it is a conflict zone, but in general the situation has been very quiet. Some minor breaches of the electoral law have occurred and of course there is still room for improvement, but generally the election process was carried out quite smoothly and there was a general impression of transparency. Voters seemed well informed, there was a high presence of domestic observers (both from political parties and local organisations). Our role as international observers was valued and locals confirmed that European presence is respected and that Ukrainian government wants to look good in the eye of Europe.

The experience has been very useful and extremely interesting. I got the chance to peek into a very fascinating field of expertise and to visit a charming but controversial country. Moreover I have enjoyed a lot the chance to see again with some Masteroni and to meet new stimulating people. I would like to repeat the experience in another country and to gain more knowledge about electoral observation.”

“I had the chance to observe the election day in Odessa which is a major seaport and transportation hub hosting numerous ethnic and national groups in addition to Ukrainians, namely Russians, Bulgarians, Jews, Moldovans and Armenians among others. On the day of the election we noticed a low turnout which has characterised the Odessa Oblast since Ukraine established itself as an independent state. We had the chance to understand in greater depth the reasons of such a discontent and passiveness. All in all participating in an election observation mission has been a valuable experience that has allowed us to understand how democratic principles and standards are applied in reality and in the case of Ukraine it is particularly interesting given the recent developments. I therefore recommend this experience to all E.Ma. colleagues.”

Written by Marta Malucello, Rocio Alamillos, Philip Hamedl and Karin Zilliacus.