Without developed parties with their democratic character, it is impossible to hope that the power will be democratically formed, implemented and transferred. This axiom has been experienced by the post-Soviet world in its own way, but it is justified for every country.
After the 2014 Revolution of Dignity, Ukraine’s party practice has remained rather weakly expressed, and, oriented to a large extent to the private interests of resource providers. Consequently, in Ukraine, there is a lack of systematic interaction between public communities, public networks, and political parties. All of them periodically break out and fade away, not finding an opportunity for their expression and not caring about maintaining a dialogue.
Within the past three years, we have witnessed a rapid change in the country’s political landscape. New parties established several years ago (Oleg Lyashko’s Radical Party, Vitaliy Klitschko’s UDAR, and Self-Help) or just a couple of days ahead of the early parliamentary elections of 2014 (Petro Poroshenko Bloc, People’s Front, and the Opposition Bloc) have won them. The party composition of councils has also been renewed in the local elections of 2015.
At the same time, party restructuring, including among parliamentary factions, continues. The Opposition Bloc, which was transformed from the Party of Regions and is used by various political groups to preserve its activity in big politics, is gradually diffusing. It has served as a basis for the creation of the For Life party (the former Center) by Vadim Rabinovich and Yevhen Murayev in 2016, which in any case will give the power of the Opposition Blok. Nadezhda Savchenko, a number one member of Fatherland, has also announced the creation of her own political project – the Civil Platform of Nadezhda Savchenko. In 2017, a new initiative, Basis, has been set up by an independent lawmaker Serhiy Taruta as a “conservative” party in the interests of the “middle class.” All these parties go to the “political market” and will conduct their game, being engaged in political education among citizens and entering the electoral competitions. Yet, there is no answer to the main question: are all these parties ready to become open professional public political communities?
Now, in the context of the current Ukrainian situation, it is possible to discuss the two factors that stimulate the development of a democratic and open nature of political parties – permanent public funding that balances private support*, and elections as a mechanism for delegating authorities and accountability of those vested with power.
Although the focus of many independent and state-controlled monitoring agencies, e.g. the National Anti-Corruption Bureau, addresses the adequacy of party financial reporting, the exposure of money-laundering schemes through parties, another important aspect of government funding is to reduce the critical dependence of parties on private deposits. They can become more stable and, finally, strengthen their ability to produce policies.
The total amount of expenditures from the budget to finance six political parties since the second half of 2016 amounted to UAH 141 million (or about EUR 5.4 million**). In 2017, for these purposes, funds have been provided in the amount of more than UAH 442 million (or approximately EUR 15.6 million***). Parties used these funds in different ways, but in general, for paying office rent, holding events, communications, publishing, and services. Although the funding is still far from being transparent, the parties, except for the Fatherland, have shown meager private receipts. Nevertheless, the establishment of ties between the parties with the public through public funds has led to unprecedented openness of the parties, since the provision of funds is due to the disclosure of a very large number of data on the financial and property status of parties, their organizational structure, bank accounts, and expenditures. Now, it is important that effective use of funds provided by the society is a good reason for reducing the predominantly lobbying nature of party activities in the interests of non-public customers, strengthening the parties’ ability to make policies to gain support and constant communication with wider public circles.
The best integration of parties with public interests has chances to take place not only through public funding of party activities, but also because of a more open model of elections. It is impossible to build stable ties and cooperation under the circumstances, when the voter “communicates” with a massive television advertisement. The demand for open-list voting in the parliamentary elections has been voiced during the change of power in 2014 as part of a new social contract and has been taken over by most political forces of that period as one of the most serious obligations before the public.
By enabling the voter to support a candidate from the list and facilitate election, open electoral lists, unlike closed ones, create a number of conditions for building mutual responsibility between parties and the society. Ideally, they increase the chances of party activists at the regional level to become deputies of the national parliament; reduce the practical grounds for intra-party corruption in the allocation of seats according to party lists; and encourage candidates and voters to communicate, stimulate communication between deputies of the national parliament and the voter, which is especially important in the context of decentralization of power. The practical tactics of political parties during the elections will depend on the model of the organization of voting.
Will any of the open-list models be introduced? The answer to this key issue of the electoral system reform for parliamentary elections could be found this year. At least, three new bills on elections are included into the work plan of the Verkhovna Rada for 2017.
Let’s see how the voting models in these projects could correspond to the idea of “open lists” in principle, without touching on procedural aspects of elections.
The first bill “On Elections of People’s Deputies of Ukraine” No. 1068 has been submitted by Yuriy Myroshnychenko on 27 November 2014. The document provides that the voter casts vote for the party (bloc), which nominates from 18 to 450 candidates in a general "closed" list in a single district. 450 mandates of the parliament will be distributed proportionally between parties and blocs of parties under the barrier, which in any case is less than the current 5%****. Seats are distributed between candidates in one party (block) nationwide list of in the number of mandates In the order received by the party in the order proposed by the party. Therefore, it is a question of the actual return to the electoral system approved in 2006 and 2007 with closed lists and the only nationwide district.
The alternative bill has been submitted on 2 December 2014 by Fatherland’s leader Yulia Tymoshenko under the No. 1068-1 450 electoral districts are proposed to be established for the distribution of 450 seats, which simultaneously act as nominees: the party “fixes” its candidate in each of these districts. Although the bill declares open-list voting, it actually proposes to vote for the party, without the expressing of will towards the candidate, especially since there may not be a “fixed” candidate in some districts. But rather unusual is the fact that the Central Election Commission (CEC) determines, which parties receive mandates and in what quantity, and then the party itself submits to the CEC a so-called “renewed list of candidates” with a change in their location. Therefore, the first ten candidates on the national list, which in principle are not nominated in the districts, acquire mandates unconditionally, if only the party passes through the barrier. In other words, the Fatherland project offers parties to determine not only the list of candidates, but also a list of deputies. It can be assumed that this “specified list” (in fact, the list of party deputies) will be based on the results of voting for the party in the districts, and the candidates will receive a mandate on the rating of votes. The bill contains the thesis that such changes in the sequence of candidates should occur only on the basis of the results of the protocol on "preliminary election results", but does not oblige the party to do so. In any case, such an approach, transferring the authority to make decisions on the “final election results” from an independent election administration in a party fighting for power, sufficiently “revolutionizes” the electoral management system and can hardly be acceptable.
Another alternative bill No. 1068-2 has been submitted on 11 December 2014 by a group of deputies from the Bloc Petro Poroshenko and the People’s Front (Natalya Agafonova, Viktor Chumak, Natalya Novak, Pavlo Rizanenko, and Leonid Yemets). This model is based on the creation of 27 regional electoral districts, in each of which the party nominates at least 5 candidates, for this the lists should be gender balanced. The voter in the bulletin can specify the serial number of the party and the serial number of the candidate from the party supported. In the event that the number of the candidate is not indicated, the voter's vote is counted as a vote for the party without a personalized vote on candidates in the regional list. Mandates between parties are distributed on the basis of the number of valid votes of the voters at a national barrier of 3%. Each party as a whole receives seats in proportion to the number of votes throughout the country. The number of mandates that a party receives in the district is defined as the proportion of the number of votes received by the party in each district to the votes needed to obtain one mandate throughout the country. This means that the parties will have to work to mobilize voters in each region. Within each list, mandates are distributed depending on the number of votes collected by the candidate within the quota, and the balance of votes over the quota is redistributed among the candidates in the national party list, not mandated in the regional district.
Planning of parliamentary elections for 2019 inevitably leads to the need to set their rules. 2017-2018 is the time for an active dialogue and the search for a compromise option for a more open electoral system for the voter and opportunities for parties to pursue their own personnel policy. In addition, the need for significant changes in a number of public spheres and legislation over the last three years regarding the public financing of political parties, the register of voters, anti-corruption policy, judicial appeal, access to information, income and asset declaration by public persons, election management system with regard to non-government controlled areas, etc. Therefore, in any case, it is recommended to discuss electoral needs that should be met, including the issue of reelection of the CEC members, most of whom should have been reelected through parliamentary procedures three years ago).
If there is no such discussion, it will mean the tacit agreement of the majority of the political environment to hold the next election in 2019 according to the current system: 50% of seats in single-seat constituencies on the basis of a simple majority, whereas it is impossible to establish such districts in some Ukrainian regions, and another 50% of seats will be proportionally distributed between parties that have “closed” lists of candidates and provide neither adequate information about their candidates nor the opportunity to support the desired ones. The reason for this is simple and well known – it is this configuration of the electoral system that allows top managers from politics to control elections as much as possible, starting from the nomination of candidates and ending with the influence on the format of the parliamentary majority. Therefore, the parliamentary majority, being at the start of the election campaign and the parliamentary cadence "collected" under the strongest player, ceases to be loyal to him, as soon as he is no longer able to provide the interests of its participants with resources.
At present, the strongest parties will be those who will undertake the task of systematically creating an adequate situation in the country regarding the legal rules of open and fair elections for the country.
Research Update, No. 14 (756)
By Svitlana Kononchuk and Daryna Stepaniuk, UCIPR
15 May 2017
*Since 2016, Ukrainian parties have been able to claim the funding of their statutory activities from the state budget This innovation applies only to those parties that went to parliament with a 5% barrier, but after the next election in 2019, those parties that received less than 2 % Of votes of all votes cast for party lists. The latter, of course, will take place in the event that there will be no political changes and the transitional provision of the legislation to which this is assumed will remain in force.
**According to the rate of the National Bank of Ukraine as of 1 January 2016, UAH 2,622 = EUR 100.
***According to the rate of the National Bank of Ukraine as of 1 January 2017, UAH 2,842 = EUR 100.
****It should be noted that a different electoral threshold is indicated in different articles of the bill: Article 1 – 3%, Article 96 – 1%.