Familiar nuances in new draft electoral law
In the lead article “Two in One?” for this week’s Dzerkalo Tyzhnya [Weekly Mirror], Serhiy Rakhmanin notes that legislation is one of the most effective means of consolidating power. A favourite occupation for Ukrainian ruling parties is to endlessly re-write laws to suit them. He writes that in the long list of such legal acts under permanent renovation, two stand out: the Law on the Election of National Deputies and the Constitution.
The author notes that the recent considerable fall in popularity of the present regime should give impulse to such legislative initiatives. A recent survey by the Razumkov Centre found that 49% did not support Yanukovych’s actions, while a mere 10.6% fully approved of them. According to the same Centre, if elections were held today, only 15.7% would support the ruling Party of the Regions. Similar results indicating support or its lack were received by the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology.
There is nothing surprising, therefore, in the ever more persistent rumours that the next parliamentary elections could be postponed from 2012 to as far off as 2015. Most worrying, the author says, is that such conversations are more and more often taking place in the President’s Administration.
A little later in the text, the author returns to the President’s “interest in fundamental law creation” which he says emerged towards the end of the year as his credit rating among the public began vanishing before his eyes. On 2 November 2010 a Decree was issued “On a working group on improving election legislation” and on 21 February another – “On supporting the initiative to create a Constitutional Assembly”.
Razmanin notes that in a recent address to the Verkhovna Rada, President Yanukovych bewailed the fact that the people have too little power and articulated the task as being “to turn citizens into influential players for the transformation, development in society of the awareness of the government’s accountability and the possibility of having impact on it”.
Marvellous, and most importantly – consistent since back in 2007, in an article published in Dzerkalo Tyzhnya, Prime Minister Yanukovych sharply criticized closed party tables and called for open regional lists or at least to return to a mixed electoral model.
As President, open lists are no longer in question, but the “at least” option has been chosen. The author says that Dzerkalo Tyzhnya has seen a copy of the draft bill on the parliamentary elections, and it does envisage a combined system. Half the deputies would get into parliament via majority constituencies, half being elected by those same closed party lists.
The draft bill is scheduled to be considered by the working group on 28 April. Members of the opposition were included in this group in December, however as reported, the two international organizations in it have withdrawn until its work becomes more transparent, and diverse views are taken into account. After any possible corrections, the draft bill will be sent to the President’s Administration, then to the Verkhovna Rada. On 15 April, the First Deputy Minister of Justice, Inna Yemelyanova stated that the working group had been created by the President and that it would simply present ways of resolving this or that problem but “the right of choice is with the President”.
The new elections, according to this draft bill, will be according to a mixed system.
The party lists will be closed, with the order of candidates in the ranking being determined by party congresses.
Electoral blocs will not be able to take part in the elections.
The threshold for getting into parliament will be raised to 5%.
Individuals can put forward their own candidacy for majority constituencies.
A person put forward by a political party does not necessarily have to be a member of that party.
You cannot stand for election according to party lists and in a single mandate constituency.
Constituencies are carved out to get a more or less equal number of voters.
A regular system of territorial electoral constituencies is introduced, as well as of polling areas.
Corrections to the voter list can be made on Election Day only in accordance with a court order (EU legislation prohibits any changes on Election Day.
Observers from political parties and civic organizations have the same rights, and are entitled to demand copies of the protocols.
The electoral commissions need to have at least half the members present for a forum, but decisions are taken by a simple majority. The only exception is on Election Day when if there are less than 2/3 of the members present, a decision is taken by no less than 2/3 of those present.
There is a definition of election campaigning and election advertising.
The author has no major problems with the above (unlike the Consortium, consisting of the Committee of Voters of Ukraine, OPORA and others), but says there are nuances.
Voting from home is on the basis of a simple application from the voter without the need to provide a medical certificate. This gives considerable scope for abuse. In theory the fact that a written application needs to be backed up by the relevant decision of the electoral commission should reduce the scale of potential rigging.
The norm is retained by which those not elected are not returned the bond they paid.
Preferential treatment is retained for parties represented in parliament, with their representatives guaranteed places in the electoral commissions.
“It is still not clear what will happen to those political organizations which at the 2007 elections formed blocs. For example, 9 parties created the essentially defunct bloc Our Ukraine – People’s Self-Defence. Does this mean that all nine will be guaranteed representation in the commissions? That is doubtful. Due to objective considerations with there not being enough space for the other election participants. This is due to subjective considerations also since, for example, the Party of the Regions, which has created its own faction (and unlike the former has retained it) could only count on having one representative. So will those in power diddle themselves? I don’t believe it. There will therefore be a weeding process, but how it will be carried out and by whom is not clear from the text.”
Election campaigning via the media, private or State-owned, is based on the principle of parity – you can’t give time to one, not another. The author comments that this is good for equality but dubious in terms of the rights of private media outlets, with it having the air of interference in editorial policy.
The media are also prohibited from circulating free of charge any information able to inspire the voter to voter for one or other candidate or party. The media outlet can, in the case of infringements, be stripped of its licence or have publication stopped. Such restrictions in Europe are viewed as encroachments on freedom of speech.
The most important bombshell in the draft law is a thoroughly discriminatory approach: if documents are not properly filled out or not there at all, the Central Election Commission refuses to register the candidate.
“You couldn’t devise a simpler and more effective way of getting rid of “redundant” candidates. A high threshold, multiplied by administrative resources, will do the rest.”
Heavily abridged from the article at Dzerkalo Tyzhnya