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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

The Crimea wants to protect majority principle

7 October, 2003 - 00:00

It has become known of late that the opposition intends to submit yet another constitutional amendments bill (it would be the fifth such bill over the past year), aimed at strengthening local government authorities. Among other things, the bill proposes elections to local councils on a proportional representation basis. Meanwhile, this principle is regarded warily outside the capital and is opposed rather than supported in the Crimean parliament.

Hearings took place at the Supreme Council of the autonomous republic to discuss the bills on elections until the next parliament. In addition to the two proportional representation bills already registered with Verkhovna Rada (the Crimean people’s deputies consider the proportional principle unacceptable in the peninsula), the third has been prepared, relying on the winner-take-all principle, and will be soon submitted to Kyiv.

This is the second hearing of the Crimean parliamentary election bill. During the first on October 9, 2002, Crimean lawmakers debated electoral systems and almost unanimously voted for the majority one. A task force was formed and bill drawn up, relying on this principle. The document, however, remained shelved because the Crimean parliament has no right of legislative initiative. Simultaneously, Ukrainian People’s Deputies Leonid Hrach and Zarema Katusheva, on the one hand, and Volodymyr Voyush on the other, counter to the Crimean Parliament’s stand (Simferopol now believes that they had no right to do so), submitted two new bills and had them duly registered in Kyiv. Both rely on proportional representation. Now these bills are being actively pushed, especially by Hrach and Katusheva, who are making every effort to have the Crimean parliament’s bill disregarded.

While the Crimean parliament agrees with the party proportional system being applied in elections to the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, it insists that this system cannot be accepted in the elections of regional authorities. The Crimean deputies believe that the proportional system at the regional level would help elect weak and irresponsible deputies using party rosters, individuals incapable of openly competing with strong rivals within constituencies. They further maintain that the proportional system does not allow the voters to prevent certain people entered in party rosters under certain numbers being elected, so that among those elected there could be many so-called leaders who talk much and do nothing for the electorate but take advantage of a given party’s prestige.

Crimean Vice Speaker Vasyl Kyseliov convincingly criticized both bills registered with the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, saying that their very ideology does not fully conform to the current stage of social progress and the actual needs of the Crimea. Both bills have the main shortcoming inherent in the proportional system, namely that the candidates are nominated only by political parties and their organizations, with all the other political entities, including unaffiliated electors, isolated from the process. Moreover, the bill submitted by Hrach and Katusheva betray apparent discrepancies between their provisos and the realities. First, the elections are to be organized by the Central Election Committee. There is none in the Crimea. Second, election committees are to be set up by political parties “that collected at least 4% votes during the previous elections,” and considering that no elections on a purely proportional basis have been held in the Crimea, there are no such parties there. The bill does not set an election committee membership ceiling, and this could well paralyze it. In sum, Mr. Kyseliov stresses, this bill vests the parties with too much power, placing them above the electorate and election committees. It actually revives the old communist principle of democratic centralism in the future councils’ performance, a principle which we know from the past seventy years to have constituted the basis of the Communist Party dictatorship. He further says that such bills, if enacted in regional elections, will “provide all the conditions for placing power in the hands of the party functionaries who draw up party rosters..., remove rank- and-file party members from politics, and alienate the interests of party leaders from those of lower-level organizations.” The greatest shortcoming, however, is that the proportional system depersonalizes the deputies, so that electors living in towns and villages do not know which deputy represents them in a given elected body. People do not know who they should turn to with their grievances. Perhaps this system has certain advantages at the national level, where the parliament is a legislative and political body, in that it can facilitate the political structuring of society, forming a responsible government and constructive opposition. Yet at the regional level, even more so in the Crimea, tired as it is of everything and everybody becoming political, the deputies want to be as goal-oriented as possible. In addition, the Constitution reads that the Crimean parliament is not a legislative but a representative authority, and that representatives of the regions must be elected there. Crimean deputies believe that those campaigning for the proportional system on the peninsula are simply trying to avoid responsibility for specifically representing certain people and want to be entered on party lists away from the rank-and-file electorate. Also, a number of experts believe that introducing the proportional system in this country is premature, especially at the regional level, because the party system of Ukraine is still unstable with party structures and most political parties still to take shape; as it is, dozens of political structures the voters know nothing about will find their way to party rosters, and this will violate the people’s right to an informed choice .

Simultaneously, the majority system proposed by the bill submitted by the Crimean parliament’s task force (says Kyseliov) accommodates the need for both majority representation and an opportunity for the parties to implement their policies in the regions. It provides everybody, even private citizens, with a broad range of opportunities to nominate candidates and themselves, establishing just procedures for forming all election committees and means of monitoring the legality of elections. This system provides that Crimean deputies can be elected by citizens of Ukraine that have resided in Ukraine for at least five years and who have lived in, and been officially registered as residents of, the Crimea for at least a year. Otherwise, to quote from noted political analyst Oleksandr Formanchuk, “some five million hryvnias would be paid to elect the Crimean parliament from among people that are not Crimean residents.” This would be absurd. But we all remember what happened during the previous elections when candidates from far outside the Crimea bribed electors on a broad scale, trying to become Crimean deputies.

The thing is that the peninsula has accumulated both positive and negative parliamentary electoral experience over the past twelve years. Of course, both the proportional and winner-take-all systems, as well as their 50/50 combination, have their advantages and shortcomings. But there is a paradox. An analysis of the Crimean parliament shows that everything bad in the Crimea has to do with the shortcomings of the proportional system, when incompetent and short- sighted politicians got seats in the parliament. These characters are even now afraid to appear before their electors. At the same time, all the positive aspects are connected with the advantages of the majority system, when the electorate can clearly see a dozen candidates and can vote for whomever they prefer.

The majority electoral system also makes it possible to solve the key problem of securing the representation of all ethnic groups in the parliament. Previous elections show that the ethnic factor does not play the main role: Russians, Ukrainians, Crimean Tatars, Armenians, Bulgarians, and people of other ethnic groups stand an actual chance to win election, provided they nominate decent, purposeful, and dedicated candidates. But even if the titular nation puts forward a nincompoop he will surely lose the campaign. Thus, the Crimean deputies believe that the proportional system is meant to elect kings for a day, those particular parties agree to enter in their rosters, regardless of those candidates’ merits before the electorate. In contrast, the majority system at the regional level is geared to both elect deputies and demand from them practical results. Those present at the hearing applauded colleagues who took the floor to tell about how biased party rosters had been drawn up during previous elections, how names were entered there, belonging to individuals that had nothing to do with the party ideology but who had simply bought such places with campaign donations. No one wants this practice to repeat itself in the Crimea, just as no one is afraid of the deputies’ personal representation in the regions. Perhaps they have a point there? This is for the Ukrainian parliament to decide.

By Mykyta KASIANENKO, Simferopol