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Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty
Henry M. Robert

“Everyone is supposedly for it, but is unable to carry it out”

Expert: “Open party lists, lowering the electoral threshold to 3 percent, and new elections before the year ends”
17 June, 2014 - 11:53
Sketch by Anatolii KAZANSKY from The Day’s archives, 1998

“Exiting the coalition and starting countdown to the snap parliamentary elections is not a demand put forward by just the president and coalition partners – the whole country needs it. They must make this step, as the coalition consists of three factions and a few party-switchers. Everyone is supposedly for it, but is unable to carry it out,” president of the Politics analytical center Ihor Popov said when addressing Oleksandr Myrny, a Svoboda MP, during a recent broadcast of the “Freedom of Speech” talk show on ICTV channel.

The Euromaidan’s aspiration to restart the government and the whole state system in Ukraine needs the next step to be made in the shape of the snap parliamentary elections. The public demands it. Are our politicians ready? The newly elected president has repeatedly stated the need to renew the Verkhovna Rada’s membership. However, most elected representatives are not going to part with their mandates despite the fact that the parliament has been deserted by almost half of them (MPs have just stopped attending it), and the average number of MPs present does not even reach 300, the figure needed to amend the constitution. They understand that the country has changed after the Euromaidan, destroying their chances to ever enter the parliament again.

This is especially true regarding representatives of the parties who are now in opposition, that is, the Communists and the Party of Regions. Changes in the political situation and, in fact, the loss of a large part of their core electorate because of the annexation of Crimea, have deprived representatives of these two factions of chances to play even a minor role, and the Communists are even at risk of a total fiasco and failing to reach the threshold, not to mention the plans to ban the party which are now circulating.

Some MPs elected in single-member constituencies are also negative on the snap parliamentary elections. While the result of the last parliamentary elections, in most cases, came as a synergy of the party label’s importance and financial resources, used for bribing voters directly and indirectly, and the government relied also on administrative leverage, this time such MPs can find themselves outside a party boat that will enter the coveted harbor of the Rada.

Mechanism for the Rada renewal is highly important, too. MPs have already received a proposal to establish a system based on open party lists. The long experience of experiments and failures with elections held according to majoritarian and proportional systems as well as a mixture of the two has led Ukrainian experts and representatives of international organizations to a clear conclusion that Ukraine needs open-party-lists elections. This model has been discussed for a long time, but Orange politicians, to say nothing about the former authoritarian government, were not interested in its implementation. New impetus for the use of open lists has come with the Revolution of Dignity.

Interestingly, the author of the new draft law on parliamentary elections is controversial politician Mykola Rudkovsky. Having entering the assembly via a single-member district, he joined the faction of the Party of Regions and left it following the Euromaidan events. “Despite the fact that this draft has been introduced by Rudkovsky, it is the result of long work, debates and discussions involving public experts, and it reflects their views. That is, it was not written overnight,” chairman of the Committee of Voters of Ukraine (CVU) Oleksandr Chernenko told The Day.

Under the proposal, parties would have to nominate both nationwide and regional lists. This is to ensure competition between regional leaders. Parties would nominate several candidates for every constituency, and the votes of the voters would influence not the number of MPs, but precisely who would represent their interests in the domed abode of the Verkhovna Rada. The voter would be able to vote not just for a given party as a monolithic entity, but to vary the list’s content as well. The number of votes cast for a particular nominee would indeed make them rise in the rankings and promote them up the party list. Thus, the principle of “every party is in fact limited to its leader” should go away in time.

Sketch by Anatolii KAZANSKY from The Day’s archives, 1998

“Certainly, the initiative to change the electoral system and make transition to the open lists system is a positive. Out of dozens of versions of this voting system, they have chosen one that is quite suitable for a transitional period which we are now experiencing. Conservative voters would be able to vote for a party the way they used to. Others would be able to select specific representatives, too. This way, the electoral process would not be too revolutionary and new to the Ukrainians,” Chernenko believes.

The voting process would have to change too, according to the draft’s authors. Each voting booth would have to feature party lists and their numbers. An electorally active citizen would have to write in the list number and, optionally, the name of the candidate with their own hand. Lawmakers say that choosing the latter is not mandatory. After the elections, every party that reached the threshold of 3 percent wins overall nationwide rating, which determines the number of its seats. Then, the seats obtained are distributed in accordance with personal ratings of the candidates in the regions and the statutory quota. The quota is to determine how many seats the party should get in a given region. The balance of votes is to be added to the nationwide list’s rating.

The percent threshold has traditionally caused a heated political debate. According to experts, fluctuations within the 3 to 5 percent range are acceptable for Ukraine. The candidate deposit amount is being debated now as well. An expert called it “moderate enough” as set in the draft.

A complicated system of vote counting has caused a lot of criticism because it requires thorough training of election commissioners, who get more complicated protocols to fill in and a harder-to-use, from the mathematical perspective, system of calculation and distribution of votes. “When the commissioners try to do as they see best instead of acting in accordance with the recommendations, calculation problems arise even when simpler systems are used,” chairman of the CVU said. “Sooner or later, we still would have come to such a system. It is used by the Baltic states, Poland, Slovenia and so on. If they do, then why cannot we do that? You may not say that the country is not ready for such elections, as it is in fact an inevitable development.”

The draft law authors note that when developing it, they took into account recommendations of the Venice Commission. It should be noted that one of the chief requirements which the West included in the roadmap for the European integration of Ukraine was establishing electoral rules through drafting of an Electoral Code. According to Chernenko, the draft law was developed in accordance with this request. “This act is based on the draft Electoral Code,” he stated.

In addition, the expert noted that the draft law provided an opportunity to vote for residents of the temporarily occupied Crimea, which was amalgamated with Kherson region as a sole electoral district, and the currently unstable Donbas. The only unanswered question is whether MPs will press the “yes” button to approve the draft law that would change not only the electoral system, but the party one as well, and, in fact, whether they have enough political will to call the snap parliamentary elections itself.

By Anna CHEREVKO, Yulia LUCHYK, The Day