Good article on election reform in Ukraine by Michael Getto. Link to original story – https://www.kyivpost.com/article/opinion/op-ed/michael-getto-starts-reforming-elections-ukraine.html
It is agreed that Ukraine is a country in need of profound reform: Economic, agricultural, legal, and pension reform among others. But let us not forget a fundamental aspect of the reform program – electoral reform.
History demonstrates that fair, honest, well-administered elections adhering to international standards of electoral democracy will produce decision-makers from different political parties with something very important in common – doing the priority business of voters, the Ukrainian public which, according to all sociology, is supportive of reforms that improve and stabilize its politics.
Yes, Ukraine has been through all sorts of electoral reform through the years. Back and forth between closed proportional and mixed systems with the mostly laudable objective of finding a system that ensures accountability to voters, minimizes wasted votes, and allows for practical governing coalitions to develop.
The current is a mixed parliamentary one with half of the Rada – 225 members – elected off of closed political party lists and the other half representing districts – single mandate districts in first-past-the-post elections. Citizens vote for both a political party and an individual representing their district in the current system.
There are some who believe this system benefits well-heeled political parties who can essentially buy elections in the district where only a plurality is necessary to win. Others believe a mixed system works because citizens know who represents them and their neighbors in the Rada and, if there is a problem in their district, they know exactly who to call to address and fix the problem.
In a mixed system, there is power in incumbency, and sometimes votes are wasted with an unsuccessful candidate– but there are advantages, such as accountability to voters and exclusion of extremist political parties in a parliament, who can emerge in a proportional election system. There are disadvantages and advantages to every electoral system.
Calls for a parliamentary “open-list” proportional system have long been demanded by Ukraine’s civil society community, and some in the international community. This system allows citizens to vote for specific individuals as they select a political party in the voting booth. “Open List” electoral systems were even demanded by populist politicians in demonstrations outside Parliament in October.
Many European countries use the “open list system” where a voter chooses both a political party and a candidate off the party list. This is different from a closed list system currently employed in Ukraine, where political party bosses decide the candidates on a list and the citizen votes for that list as presented.
Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Greece, Iceland, Latvia, Poland, Sweden, and many other European states employ the open-list system in electing at least one house of their parliaments. Lithuania uses a mixed member proportional system with both district representation and open party lists. There is not one-size-fits all parliamentary electoral system.
But, if Ukraine makes changes to its parliamentary electoral system, then now is the time to make the changes, well in advance of the 2019 elections. This allows a new system to be implemented and tested so that it educates and prepares Ukrainian citizens for their participation in a new electoral process. Waiting until the figurative last minute – as has been the case in the past in Ukraine – only confuses voters and election administrators.
An open, transparent parliamentary working group facilitating conversation about different parliamentary electoral systems would be useful in hashing out what works in Ukraine and what won’t work. Part of that discussion should be focused on creating a harmonized electoral code covering parliamentary, presidential and local elections. One code simplifies the electoral process for citizens and encourages them to actively participate in Ukraine’s elections at all levels.
There are plenty of other elements of Ukraine’s electoral process that need priority attention from the Rada, the Government and the Presidential Administration.
First, 13 seats on the current Central Election Commission must be filled. The CEC members who sit in those seats had their appointments expire in July 2015 and in February. Their presence on the CEC casts doubt on their legitimacy to administer Ukraine’s elections and their replacements and/or reappointment is necessary to reinforce the commission’s legitimacy. Predictably, politics plays a disproportionate role in this appointment process which has the potential to negatively affect basic election administration in Ukraine in advance of the 2019 elections.
Second, political finance laws need to be toughened and enforced. Effective electronic political and campaign finance monitoring shows the public where the money originates that pays for Ukrainian elections and that informs enlightened voting. Simultaneously, all legislation in the Rada that attempts to block transparent financial reporting by political parties and candidates should be defeated.
Third, Ukraine criminal, procedural and administrative codes need to be amended to ensure proportionate and dissuasive penalties against those who violates Ukraine’s election laws. Electoral fraud has a grand tradition in Ukraine; calls for violators of election laws to be sent to prison are loud and clear after every election; and, yet, few have ever been effectively punished and sanctioned for breaking electoral law. Ukrainians see this scenario where law breakers are not held to account and, understandably, lose faith in the electoral process which often takes the form of not voting and a general sense of apathy.
Fourth, legislation – in the form of draft law #6240 – should be quickly considered and approved. It supports the electoral rights of almost two million internally displaced persons (IDPs) and millions of economic migrants. It allows them to vote from where they currently live as opposed to where they were registered – cities and towns that are essentially uninhabitable and war-torn. These are people who escaped Russian-sponsored annexation of Crimea and the war in the Donbas and are rebuilding their lives in other parts of Ukraine. Electoral rights for them should be priority legislation.
Reform begins with electoral reform. Elections with a weak legal framework and poorly-administered have been shown to be an obstacle to prosperous democracy. For Ukrainian lawmakers, upgrading the electoral system should be near the top of its priority list.
Michael Getto is a political and business affairs professional based in Aliso Viejo, California, who lived and worked in Eastern Europe and Eurasia for more than 16 years.