Thursday, March 19, 2009

Open Lists. Ukraine has learned how to hold free and fair elections, but it’s not enough to be called a true democracy.

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.


elmer said...

You know, I've always liked the idea of voting districts. There would be 450 voting districts, for 450 seats in the Ukrainian Parliament.

In each voting district, residents of that district could put forth their candidacy for Parliament. In each voting district, the people would elect one person to go to Parliament to represent that district, by majority vote.

Seems to me that such a system is much simpler.

It also promotes direct representation of the people.

Why wouldn't that work in Ukraine?

Blair Sheridan said...

I fully support the idea of electoral districts or ridings, too. However, I'm not overly optimistic as to the chances of such a system being implemented in Ukraine.

For one thing, surely party discipline (dependent now upon a leader's and his or her backers' largesse to favoured members) would suffer, meaning that the these leaders and backers - the wealthiest and most influential people of Ukraine - will fight it tooth and nail. If members are responsible to a constituency, they're be less beholden to their leaders and could, conceivably run as independents, were they to have the leader's favour withdrawn.

Secondly, I can't picture the current members of ANY party in the Rada actually taking upon themselves the real, represetative responsibilities for a district. I fear they'd say, "Why? Democracy pays a lot less than what we've got now and I want MY share!"

Surely the entire Rada would have to go.

elmer said...

You are right, Blair.

Except that I really wouldn't use the term "political party" in Ukraine.

As Anders Aslund pointed out, there are virtually no political parties in Ukraine.

It's just plain old machine politics run by oligarchs and their proxies.

Democracy allows development.

Machine politics allows yachts, mansions, jets and offshore accounts - for oligarchs.

They throw a few crumbs at the people.

Not even Dante could have dreamed up the circle of hell called "government" in Ukraine.

UkrToday said...

Ukraine should consider as an alternative the creation of local multi-member electorates. With each electorate electing nine members of parliament(50 x 9) by a system of preferential proportional representation on a 10% quota.

Voters cast their ballots by voting directly for a candidates by indicating in order of preference (1 2 3 etc) the candidates of their choice (Such a system is widely used in Ireland and Australia)

With the introduction of preferential voting voters who support minor candidates/parties will have the right to determine who should represent them.

A single house parliament base on nine member local electorates would reflect the diversity of the state whilst providing stable and effective representation.

The single member electorate system would not reflect or represent the diversity of the electorate

The proposal outline above is a fair and effective compromise

Parliament versus PresidentThe most important issue and reform is the need for Urkaine to adopt a full parliamentary system of governance in line with other European states.

In 2007 The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE)in its report titled "Functioning of democratic institutions in Ukraine" recommended that

"It would be better for the country to switch to a full parliamentary system with proper checks and balances and guarantees of parliamentary opposition and competition."The soviet presidential "rule by decree" system has failed UkraineUkraine has struggled since its independence to implement a European Parliamentary "rule of law" system of government.

If Ukraine wants to be a part of Europe then it should adopt European models and European standards.

UkrToday said...

1. To adopt an Electoral Code, a single document, which would incorporate all the rules (including technical) concerning holding parliamentary, presidential and local elections.- Agree

2. To form the Registry of voters (at long last) to avoid fraud.- yes of course but... If you want to limit fraud then Preferential voting certainly adds to the tools and armory available. Certified rolls in only one part.

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. - Absentee voting is a right that should be protected. It is a question of proper administration and management. If Ukraine adopts a system of local electorates absentee voting can be more easily administered and managed.It its not difficult.

Emler's suggestion of 450 single member electorates should be rejected outright and has no merit or justification in a modern democracy. It would be a backward step away from democratic values. Single system as it puts it are for people with simple minds. he should of much more reading and analysis before he proposes a solution he has not properly considered.

Yes local electorate have an advantage of direct representation BUT they are best implemented with multi-member constituencies elected by a system of preferential proportional representation.

elmer said...

Tetyana, you have already probably seen this article in Ukrainian Pravda, but in case you haven't:

Michael Ratushny, twice a member of Parliament, points out the problems you noted, and advocates elimination of the party list system, along with some other reforms.

What surprises me is the comments under the article - expressing a sort of hopelessness, except for one guy advocating that Ratushny ought to support the "only pro-Ukrainian and pro-democracy person" - Yushchenko.

Ratushny also notes that the subject of the suggested reforms is falling on deaf ears in the Ukrainian Parliament.

No surprise there, he notes, because they were the ones who invented the system.

And it amounts to a system of self-preservation of the "political elite", but not representation of the people, not a truly representative democracy.

He notes the absolute distrust of government by the people.

I think Ukraine is seriously in need of the reforms which he - and you - mention.

I also think that, for some reason, Ukrainians simply don't know how, or are unwilling, to do what it takes to implement the reforms.

I'd be interested in your take on his article.


UkrToday said...

The first step is to apply proper democratic values and design a system that represents Ukraine/ A single member, first past the post system as advocated by Yushchenko and Elmer, would only just divide Ukraine,

The abolition of a party list system does not necciate the abolition of multi-member electorates and election by proportional representation.

You do not throw the baby out with the bath water because Th water begins to stink.

Yushchenko's proposals are even worst. They seek to divide Ukraine and in the process introduce a undemocratic distortion in the value of the vote by introducing regional electorates where the number of constituents vary between each each electorate and the highest polling party elects all three members of Parliament to represent the regional electorate.

Yushchenko and Elmers proposal is not democratic and certainly not worthy of support.