November 24, 2011
On November, 17 Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine adopted a law “About Elections of Members of the Parliament”. Lawmakers didn’t include recommendations of the Venice Commission (VC) in this new law. And the Commission was mostly concerned by three key innovations: 1) introducing a mixed electoral system instead of the current proportional system; 2) lifting the election threshold from 3% to 5%; 3) removing blocs of political parties from the elections.
I would like to share some of my thoughts with you in this connection.
Conclusions of the Venice Commission were based on a good understanding of a political situation in Ukraine which representatives of this respectable organization have. By recommending the Ukrainian authorities to keep the proportional system, VC experts proceeded from the assumption that this system would restrain an administrative resource application. This, in turn, would leave oppositional parties a chance to compete for seats in the parliament and in such a way not allow one political force to definitively fix its dictatorship in Ukraine.
Firstly, I’d like to mention that the experience of conducting elections in Ukraine proves that in our country the administrative resource can be applied “successfully” enough with any type of the electoral system. If the administrative resource is insufficient somewhere, electoral fraud can be used in its place.
Secondly, I would like to draw to attention to the results of voting for the mentioned-above law. New electoral rules were supported by 366 out of 450 MPs, including 62 MPs from the Bloc of Juliya Tymoshenko and 36 MPs from Our Ukraine – People’s Self-Defense from opposition.
Such behavior of the opposition becomes clear if we analyze what current Ukrainian parties are like. Over the period from the time when Ukraine gained its independence, Ukrainian politicians haven’t demonstrated abilities and desire to provide progressive development of the country on the basis of the observance of democratic principles of equality of everyone before the law, responsibility and power accountability. By and large, none of numerous Ukrainian political parties (and there are more than 190 of them now in Ukraine!) could manage to formulate and inform citizens of a distinct offer on carrying out democratic transformations and market reforms in the interests of all society. It became one of the principal reasons of social apathy and generated a situation with an extremely low level of trust citizens have in political parties. According to last sociological data (April 2011), only 2,2 % of Ukrainians completely trusted political parties, 13,5 % – rather trusted, 48,5 % – rather didn’t trust, 28,6 % – completely didn’t trust, 7,2 % were undecided.
In Ukraine elections already a long time ago ceased to be a competitive contest on the best program of the state development. They transformed into a parade of fantastic promises and a competition of money bags of party sponsors. Stakes in this struggle constantly grow. During election campaign periods parties are compelled to spend enormous budgets on a banal purchasing of electorate’s adherence. They simply have no ideas which would help them to capture the attention of voters.
In Ukraine politics became a business of the rich, and political parties actually transformed into closed corporations which compete for the right to use the state resources in their own interests with impunity and without control. According to mass-media, today the price of becoming a shareholder of such corporation (purchasing a valid seat in a party list (the one which will for sure get into the parliament) is from $5 to $10 million.
Those who “invest” into politics (into a membership in the parliament) need to develop corruption so that this “investment” gets paid off. Besides, it is necessary to put by the same sum for the following term in office, as only a parliamentary immunity will rescue from punishment for bribery. The circle gets closed, and competition runs up to physical confrontations and threats. Demand for gangsterism grows. Gangsters get money or seats in party lists for their services and become MPs. They rewrite the electoral law “for themselves”, head the country and rob it.
This is not the end. They prepare a strategy of investment into the European politics…
Today, the only glance at programs of Ukrainian political parties with the highest ratings convinces us that their ideologies are rather blurry. There are few fundamental ideological disagreements between the leading parties (except for, perhaps, the Communist Party and the nationalist “Svoboda”). They mainly touch upon issues having marginal importance for voters (opinions about history, an issue of the Russian language use, etc.). These distinctions are used generally during election campaigns for the segmentation of an electorate. Besides, the specified distinctions do not prevent parties from forming alliances with their political opponents depending on conjuncture; they can be either informal (between Tymoshenko’s Block and the Party of Regions in 2008) or formal (for example, between the Party of Regions and Communists in 2006 and 2010). Consequently, talking about modern Ukrainian parties, it is impossible to say that they are exponents of interests of certain social groups.
Even to a lesser extent MPs elected by party lists can be considered exponents of interests of territorial communities. After the introduction of proportional system, the representation of regions in Verkhovna Rada sharply diminished. Thus, about 60 % of current members of the parliament constantly live in the capital and this is when the Western Ukraine is represented by less than 10 % of MPs out of their total number.
Based on the stated above the essence of a synchronous voting of the ruling party and opposition forces for the new electoral law becomes clear. Parliamentary parties with the highest ratings have actually agreed on the distribution of quotas in a new convocation of Verkhovna Rada. The Party of Regions which now is promptly losing its popularity among the population, expects to win the majority at the majority districts by means of the administrative resource. “Batkivschyna” party [All-Ukrainian Union “Fatherland”], as a legal successor of Juliya Tymoshenko’s Block, and “Front for Change” party, which now admits former members of “Our Ukraine” party, intend to get good party lists results. The high election threshold leaves minimal chances for other political parties to get into the new parliament. Therefore, financial sponsors of opposition have nothing to particularly worry about – they will for sure get their indulgence for the next 5 years.
So, a modern political system which is dominated by political parties as spokesmen of narrow corporate interests of their financial sponsors, extremely lacks reforming. We believe that the future of Ukraine belongs to the system which will organically combine elements of direct and representative democracy.
A top-priority way of solving issues which touch upon interests of the majority of population of the country / region / populated area should be a referendum of a corresponding level. The state functioning on a daily basis should be provided by representative bodies formed on the majority basis. In addition, self-nominated candidates are to struggle for MP mandates, and their right to be a candidate shouldn’t be limited to their membership in a certain party or non-membership.
Assignment of an MP to a specific territory (constituency) provides his/her most tight connection with citizens and raises the level of private responsibility before voters. Besides, we consider that the highest quality of the state decisions is provided only when each time they are worked out in debates and are adopted by a situational majority of individuals, instead of being a subject of political auctions and backstage compromises between parties-corporations.
Mr. T.Markert, VC secretary, is correct when saying that the electoral system needs to be changed on the basis of a wide consensus. But, in our opinion, it shouldn’t be a consensus of parties which have been out of touch with society for a long time. It should be a consensus of citizens. By the way, last sociological researches show that today the majority of citizens of Ukraine (44 %) prefer exactly a majority system (24 % – a mixed system and only 10 % – a proportional system).
We would like to add also that for the reform of electoral legislation to be overall and effective, it should be conducted as a single set with solving such questions, as:
– cancelling MPs’ immunity and privileges;
– assuring a real submission to control and accountability of an MP before voters (up to a legislatively fixed possibility to terminate powers of an MP ahead of time on voters’ demand);
– redistributing powers between Verkhovna Rada and local councils in favor of the latter with observance of subsidiarity principle.
Author : Viktor Tkachuk