What Electoral System for Ukraine’s Parliamentary Elections?
Following the Russian annexation of Crimea in March of this year and early presidential election in May, Ukraine plans to hold parliamentary elections this autumn (most likely in October). During the previous election, half of the members of parliament were elected in districts (similar to an American congressional district) and the other half by party lists for those parties which received at least five percent of the vote nationwide. There is now a debate on which system is best for Ukraine to use and if the system should be changed to the 2004 Constitution. This Constitutional change switched Ukraine to a closed party list system which was used in 2006 and 2007. Parliament voted in February to return to the 2004 Constitution with a majority – but not overwhelning – vote. Currently there is a political debate in Parliament over which system to use for the autumn elections. This debate centers primarily around three ideas: closed party list system, open party list system or the status quo (50/50 system). It is also possible that the Constitutional Court may yet weigh in on this decision. Given that President Poroshenko has called for autumn elections, time is short and consensus decisions must be made quickly.
Closed Party List System
Under this model, voters are given a ballot with the list of parties competing in the election and the voter simply marks his/her preference. Any party that receives more than the current 5% barrier receives seats in the next parliament according to the list of candidates which is decided by the party bosses. In fact, Ukraine used this system in the 2006 parliamentary election (albeit with a 3% barrier instead of five) making it the world’s largest closed party list election. The system was even applied to the local elections. Given the reality that in Crimea and Sevastopol there are twelve districts in which voters can no longer vote (they must come to mainland Ukraine to do so) and the fact that during the presidential election (and likely the parliamentary election) most districts in Donetsk and Luhansk were not operating due to terrorist threats, some at Ukraine’s Central Election Commission see party list elections as a way around the difficulties.
The problem with the Closed Party List system was how it was implemented last time (in 2006). Corrupt party bosses decided who was placed where on the list and the voters had virtually no input into the process. Businessmen seeking protection for their businesses could simply bribe the party leader to get into the “passing part” of the list. This also led to a disproportionately high number of members of parliament from Kyiv rather than the regions. For example, following the 2006 election, 256 of 450 members of parliament listed their residency as in Kyiv (57%). However after the 2012 election conducted under the 50/50 system (half party list and half districts), the number of members of parliament from Kyiv was 142 (32%). Insult was added to injury when the new parliament elected in 2006 quickly moved to enforce the “imperative mandate” which allowed the faction to expel a member if he/she voted against the official party position on a vote. For example, if a member from an agriculture rich area voted for a law helping the voters in his/her region but the party boss was against the law, the member could be expelled. Plus, expulsion from the faction led to the member having to give up their mandate as a parliamentarian and being replaced with the next crony on the list. Unfortunately Yuliya Tymoshenko was the worst culprit of the medieval practice and expelled almost 30 deputies for daring to think for themselves. Hardly a textbook model of representative democracy…
Open Party List System
Given Ukraine’s experience with the unpopular closed party list system in 2006, many deputies want an “Open Party List” system similar to many European countries. President Poroshenko endorsed the proposal in a speech on June 22nd. There are numerous variations of the system but basically it gives voters input into to which candidates on a party list are ranked where. In other words, the party may rank a candidate tenth on a list but the voters have the ability (if the candidate receives adequate votes) to improve the candidates position on the list (to a higher position like fifth) and thereby increase the likelihood of that candidate being in the ‘passing party’ of the list. In a pure open list system such as in Finland, it is the equivalent of a party preferential primary and general election on the same day as Finland has a unique unordered list of candidates for each party. In neighboring Slovakia, voters may select a party and then four subsequent party candidates whom they prefer. Assuming the party passes the barrier, then any candidate who receives 3% of the vote is elected and only after are the candidates on the official, ordered list used. Other countries use a regional list to reflect the diversity of political and regional choices of their countries.
All of these models are preferable to the closed party list system from 2006. The practical question is how to get a majority consensus from parliament to approve one of them? Since half of the current parliamentarians are elected from districts, none of them will be particularly keen on delegating powers to a party boss as they currently enjoy a degree of independence. There has been some talk of lowering the barrier from 5% to 3% to allow upstart political parties to get elected and to persuade the members elected from districts. However the current parliamentary political parties will not likely be open to lowering the barrier to dilute their influence. One of the key reasons this parliament is being disbanded and new elections are being called is that it is highly difficult to reach a majority consensus on any matter. Thus, while open party lists might be a part of Ukraine’s revised election system in the future, many are skeptical that a compromise will be reached this summer before the campaign begins.
The Status Quo 50/50 System
Ukraine’s current Parliament was elected with half of the members of parliament from single mandate districts and the other half by party list (for those parties who receive more than 5% of the vote) has been used in 1998, 2002 and 2012. Critics complain that by electing half of the members from individual districts, this allows wealthy businessmen to “buy” up the votes in the region to get elected. Conversely, advocates point out that in a closed party list system, only the party bosses benefit from the cash spent on the campaign (in the form of bribes for being placed on the “passing part” of the list). Thus, at least in district elections the voters themselves benefit from the money being spent rather than the party bosses.
Despite talk about changing Ukraine’s system to an open party list system similar to European models, the need to compromise to reach consensus will likely thwart it. This is because two key factions in the current pro-government coalition (Economic Development and Sovereign Ukraine) consist primarily of elected officials from districts that previously had joined the Party of Regions factions. It was this independence from the Party of Regions (and de facto Victor Yanukovych) that gave them the courage as well as the impetus (read: pressure) from constituents to break away and vote to prevent martial law on February 20 (and subsequently force Yanukovych to flee the country). Since these two factions and many independents that support the government have no political party they can join or create in the next four months before the election, they will argue the most strongly for maintaining the current electoral status quo (see Table 1 below). Given that most of these 124 deputies (out of 450) are part of the governing coalition, their input will be critical to reaching a compromise.
Table 1: Members Elected from Single Mandate Districts in 3 Key Factions
|Faction||Members||Elected from Districts|
Currently the planned mechanism for parliament’s disbandment is for the pro-government factions to collapse the coalition next month. Under the Constitution, if parliament doesn’t have a majority for 30 days, then the President has the right to disband and call new elections. Thus, expect parliament to collapse the coalition right before summer vacation to allow President Poroshenko to disband it officially during his Independence Day speech on August 24. The election would then take place on approximately October 26, 2014.
Some will argue that electing members from districts helps to elect more pro-government legislators and there is some evidence of this (see table 2 below) when one looks solely at the number of members elected from parties of power versus the opposition. Please note that “government” for 2002 includes: United Ukraine Bloc, SDPU(o), Democratic Union, Party of National Economic Revitalization of Ukraine, the Ukrainian Sea Party and Unity; for 2012 “government” includes: Party of Regions, Communists and People’s Party; “Opposition” parties for 2002 include: Our Ukraine Bloc, Socialists and Communists; “opposition” for 2012 includes: Motherland Bloc, Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reforms, “Freedom” (Svoboda), the Radical Party and United Center.
Table 2: Results from Single Mandate Elections in 2002 & 2012
However there are two important factors to consider: 1) in many cases the independents members join the opposition once parliament convenes. For example, President Poroshenko was elected as an independent member in 2012 and sided with the opposition throughout the parliamentary session. 2) More specifically, Table 3 below demonstrates that in oblasts that have traditionally voted “pro-Russian” (i.e. for Yanukovych in 2004 and 2010); the increase in the number of pro-power seats in parliament comes entirely from seats formerly held by independents. With the Party of Regions now out of power and in sharp decline, the next parliamentary election is likely to produce a large number of independent members from those eastern and southern regions. Please note that five disputed districts which the opposition initially won in 2012 before the elections were canceled and rescheduled are counted as opposition seats in this case. The number of seats won by the opposition in 2012 is up by 47% from 2002 in oblasts that vote pro-European (i.e. for Yushchenko in 2004 and Tymoshenko in 2012). This is indicative of a trend towards the traditional “opposition” parties (now in government) becoming more competitive and effective in campaigning. Thus, while elections from individual districts can sometimes favor candidates with money (who tend to be those close to power/government) this is far from a steadfast rule. The 23% decline in the number of pro-power/government candidates elected in “pro-European” oblasts between 2002 and 2012 demonstrates this.
Table 3: Numbers of Districts Won by pro-power, opposition & independents in the 2002 & 2012 elections divided by pro-Russian & pro-European oblasts.
Finally, another obstacle which Ukraine must deal with sooner rather than later is conducting a census. The last census (and only one in Ukraine’s history) was conducted in 2001. Thus, that data is increasingly less useful. While there is not adequate time to conduct a census prior to the autumn parliamentary election, it should be a priority of the government for next year when peace will hopefully be reestablished in the eastern regions.
What to do about Crimea?
One key issue to resolve with regard to the election system is what to do with the ten parliamentary districts based in Crimea and the two based in Sevastopol. One possibility is to use Georgia’s original model with Abkhazia. In this case, members elected to the Georgian Parliament from Abkhazia in 1992 retained their seats in the election of 1995 since it was outside Georgia’s control. Eventually though, Georgia eliminated this system as Georgians had largely moved out of the occupied Abkhazia into undisputed Georgian territory. In addition, the members of the Ukrainian Parliament from Crimea and Sevastopol are all from the Party of Regions (i.e. Yanukovych, except for Lev Mirminsky who is from the Union Party favoring union with Russia). Redistribution of these dozen seats to other regions would be an extra nail in the Party of Regions coffin. In addition, there is no physical way to conduct Ukrainian elections in Crimea other than to have Crimean voters travel to mainland Ukraine to first register (at a physical address) and then to return on Election Day to vote. This mechanism was put in place for the May 25 Presidential Election and 117,000 Crimean voters made the journey to exercise their rights (the bulk of which were Crimean Tatars).
Thus, given this obstacle, as well as the possibility that terrorists may prevent voting in some districts in Donetsk and Luhansk (just as they did in the presidential election) some favor Ukraine using a party list ballot exclusively and eliminating single mandate districts. In this case, parties might include on their list some well known Crimean residents such as Tatar Medzhlis Chairman Mustafa Dzhemilyev in hopes of attracting some of the quarter million Tatars votes across the border on Election Day, but other than that, don’t expect much in the way of Crimean representation in the new parliament. Should Ukraine indefinitely postpone elections in Crimea (and perhaps some in the Donbass depending on the security situation) then it would merely reduce the number of parliamentary members from 450 to 438 (or less). In addition, the advantage of this approach is it does not cede Crimea in a symbolic and legal sense. By simply not holding the elections but having the seats vacate, it is a signal that Ukraine one day intends for Crimea to return. However, based on past experience in the region though with Georgia, Azerbaijan and Moldova, it is not practically likely. However, next to deciding what election system to use for the Parliamentary election, the next most important question to resolve is what to do about the Crimean districts. This decision is likely to require a legal opinion from the courts to resolve the matter.
Another possibility for Ukraine is to accept that there will be no elections in Crimea and to reapportion those 12 seats to other oblasts until Crimea again is under Ukrainian control. Normally, before each election involving single mandate districts, the Central Election Commission (CEC) adjusts the number of districts per oblast. For example, from 2002 till 2012, the CEC reduced the number of districts in pro-Russian oblasts by three and shifted them to pro-European oblasts (see Table 3 above). In the case of reapportioning the twelve former Crimean districts to other oblasts, the following regions would be set to benefit:
Table 4: Oblasts Likely to Gain Districts Based on the Elimination of Crimea Districts
|Region||Population||# Districts||New # Districts||Net Gain|
If the seats are classified based on historical pro-European versus pro-Russian oblast patterns, this shift in district representation shows a net increase of four seats for the pro-European electorate (gains of eight versus four). Given that all twelve of the current members of Parliament from Crimea were elected by a pro-Russian electorate, this is significant gain for the pro-European electorate in Ukraine.
How Would the Creation of Minority-Majority Districts Affect Ukraine?
As part of a court on the Voting Rights Act in 1982, the states were required to create “minority-majority” congressional districts to ensure the empowerment of different ethnic groups in the United States. No longer would geography be the sole decision in drawing congressional districts, but instead efforts to draw districts to encompass ethnic minorities would be made. This ruling’s impact was fully felt following the 1990 census and subsequent redistricting process that took place throughout the country. As a result, in 1992 there were a record number of minorities elected to Congress and state legislatures.
By consolidating African-American, Asians or Hispanic voters into a district where they are the majority, it of course dramatically increases the likelihood of that district electing an ethnic minority to Congress. Conversely it reduces the number of minorities in the other districts. Currently 106 of 435 congressional districts in the US are designated as “minority districts” (24%).
Ukraine’s ethnic Russian population has long complained that they are not adequately represented in parliament and on local councils. The creation of “minority” districts to parliament may be a solution to explore given the current situation. On the parliamentary side, this would lead to Russian majority districts in most of the oblasts in the east and south. With the Russian annexation of Crimea, the current population of Ukraine is listed by the Ukrainian State Statistics Committee on June 1, 2014 at 42, 839,621. That means that since there are 225 parliamentary districts that each district should have an average of 190,398 persons. Thus, creation of a “minority-majority district” requires approximately 95,200 minorities in a geographic region. These minority districts would not only give ethnic Russians an opportunity to elect one of their own, but also Bulgarians, Hungarians and Moldovans in other oblasts.
Table 5: Oblasts Likely to Have “Minority-Majority” Districts
|Region||Population||% Russian||Russians||Districts||Minority Seats|
|Kyiv City||2,829,623||13%||367851||15||3.9 RU|
All districts included in the chart would have at least 50% of the population from ethnic minority groups. In addition, in some regions while there would not be enough to form a “minority-majority” district, there would be substantial minority influence although not an outright majority. This applies to the decimal value of 0.8 or greater under the category on the table listed as “# Minority”, which states the number of minority-majority districts that could be drawn based on population. Thus, in Kyiv city for example, 3.9 ethnic Russian districts could be created meaning that three districts would have an outright majority and one other district would allow the ethnic Russian population significant influence. In all, 55 Russian majority districts could be created which represents 12.2 % of the seats in Parliament and is close to the 14.8% of the population (post Crimean annexation) that is ethnic Russian. In addition, ethnic Moldovans in Chernivtsi and Odesa oblast would see the creation of their own minority-majority districts (as well as a second district with substantial influence in Chernivtsi). Bulgarians in Odesa would also have their own district and Hungarians in Zakarpattya oblast would receive a minority-majority district and including a second district with substantial influence (see Table 6 below).
Table 6: Other Non-Russian Minority-Majority Districts in Ukraine
|Region||Population||Minority||% Minority||Population||Districts||Minority Seats|
Drawing these districts will require specific skills and United States technical assistance programs could provide such. Since this is hypothetical and post-Crimean annexation, the table takes into consideration the reapportionment of seats from Crimea to other Ukrainian oblast per Table 4 above. The map below demonstrates the likely dispersion of minority-majority districts nationwide. It should be noted that the map is symbolic and not exact since it is based on the current district boundaries and not adjusted to redistribute seats from Crimea and Sevastopol to other regions. If actual minority-majority districts were to be drawn, they would require an overhaul of all district lines countrywide to ensure the maximum concentration of different ethnic groups into specific districts. Nonetheless the map is largely represented of where minority-majority districts would be located based on the 2001 census.
Map: Likely Locations of Minority-Majority Districts in Ukraine
What will be the effect of such a system on Ukrainian politics? First it will eliminate the claims by pro-Russian legislators that they are underrepresented in parliament (and potentially local councils). For Ukrainian Deputies elected from eastern and southern regions (but from non-Russian majority districts), it will give them more independence as they no longer have to represent an often radical Russian electorate. Those voters will be consolidated into the pro-Russian majority districts. While these districts sometimes produce boisterous politicians like Rep. Maxine Waters (who represents the conspiracy believing, ultra-left of the US Democrat Party), Ukraine has dealt with such fringe politicians already (i.e. Oleg Tsariov). The difference will be that those menaces to the electoral process will be confined to a single district and not a plague on the country as a whole. Plus, Russian voters in those districts will be inclined to vote and take part in the process to ensure the election of “one of their own”.
While no system is perfect, the creation of minority-majority districts in the United States has been effective in increasing the number of ethnic minorities elected to office and thereby giving some of society’s historically disenfranchised populations a greater stake in the country’s affairs. Given Ukraine’s current problems with a vocal Russian minority backed by outside forces, this may be an option worth exploring as the country seeks to find a compromise to ensure peace and tranquility. Suffice to say, it won’t be worse than anything currently being proposed.