In this post I would like to turn back to the question of the reform of electoral law in Ukraine. There are a lot of talks about how to change the way Ukrainians are electing the Parliament (I’ll stay away from the analysis of re-distribution of powers) or local Councils, but the very idea of reform is completely distorted. Instead of having a serious talk about the very details of a new electoral system that will fit to Ukrainian realities in a best way, most politicians are trying to switch the public attention to active, but non-effective discussions around one point – a need to move from the closed-party-lists to open-party-lists scheme, in frames of the current proportional voting system. I think it’s not enough at all.
Since the Orange revolution of 2004, all the elections in Ukraine were recognized as free and fair. But as a result of these free and fair elections, we, Ukrainians are receiving – again and again – the Parliament full of come-and-go people. The majority of Members of Parliament of Ukraine doesn’t make any serious decisions, but only thoughtlessly presses the “yes” or “no” buttons, in accordance with order of faction leaders. It has to be changed.
According to the current electoral law, Ukraine elects its Parliament on a base of proportional representation system with closed party lists. The system stipulates that Ukrainian citizens vote not for individuals, but for parties, which are receiving seats in Parliament proportionally to the amount of votes they had won. Every party draws up a list of its candidates for the seats in Parliament, but it must make public only the names of five first persons from the list. A couple of hundreds of other candidates may be hidden until the end of the vote – it’s a provision of the closed-party-lists type of proportional voting system.
As a result, according to the closed-party lists scheme, Ukrainians are voting not for all members of Parliament, but are only choosing between “groups of five”. Even if a party makes public the entire list, the electoral campaign has been centred on a little group of party leaders. And after the elections Ukrainian voters may realise that the party they voted for has in its list, for example, a personal massager of the party chief, or the secretary of a party sponsor. A very big problem of the current electoral system is also the fact that the Members of Parliament has almost no officially established connection with the regions of a country. People simply don’t feel they have a real representative in Parliament: there is no one to be called “my MP”.
It is naive to think that the problem will be cured, if all the party lists were open in its literal meaning – becoming public before the elections. Ukrainian parties are mostly based not on the ideology, but on their leaders who are associated with all the party. And the majority of Ukrainians will keep voting for the personalities they like, not taking care about any lists. (And even if an old woman from the village has an opportunity to read all the lists of all the parties, she will surely not be able to analyse them properly, and to estimate how much people from the list she may see in Parliament after the elections. To make the outcome of the parliamentary election more democratic, there is a need to change the voting system as a whole.
As to my point of view, the best thing for Ukraine is to come back to the majoritarian (plurality) system of vote: the person, not a party should win support of voters, and should represent Ukrainian people in Parliament. Ukraine still doesn’t have a developed party system. Imagine, only about 3% of the citizens of Ukraine are members of any party. That means that 97% of Ukrainians doesn’t feel close to any political party at all. Proportional system was established, among other issues, in order to build up the party system in Ukraine. This idea failed: new-formed Ukrainian democratic political parties in reality are something between the oligarchic lobby groups and fan clubs of charismatic leaders.
In frames of the current proportional, party-based system of vote, the easiest way for Ukraine would be to switch to one of the models of open party lists, when a voter receives a right not only to vote for a party, but also to express his or her preference for a particular candidate(s) in frames of the party list. That means that voter indicates not only a name of the party he or she favours, but also names the favourite candidates from this party, or even indicates the order of preference. Such a model is widely used in the countries of Western and Central Europe. I would propose also to move forward from a single constituency scheme Ukraine currently has. In this case the parties will have to draw up several regional lists of candidates, giving a chance for regional leaders to be elected, and also establishing a stronger link between regions and Parliament.
There are other things which I think have to be done to make the parliamentary election in Ukraine closer to the best democratic standards:
1. To adopt an Electoral Code, a single document, which would incorporate all the rules (including technical) concerning holding parliamentary, presidential and local elections.
2. To form the Registry of voters (at long last) to avoid fraud.
3. To change the provisions of electoral law, re-establishing the so-called “absence certificates” for people who are not at home at a day of election (for ex., they are in the other region of Ukraine or abroad) to have a possibility to realize their Constitutional right to vote.