Venice Commission: Electoral Law cannot be changed without the opposition’s consent
In an interview given to Deutsche Welle, the Secretary of the Venice Commission stresses that consensus regarding electoral rules of play is the basis of democratic order, and calls on the Ukrainian government to engage in dialogue with the opposition.
Lack of dialogue between opposition and pro-government political parties in parliament with regard to the new election law, due to be adopted this year, is a source of concern for the Council of Europe experts. “Any electoral law should guarantee equal chances for all political forces. Its aim cannot be to keep a certain party in power. Therefore consensus between the government and opposition when introducing amendments to electoral legislation is an important democratic tradition in Europe”, Tomas Markert stressed.
He shares the opposition’s fear that the planned return to a mixed electoral system under which half the deputies will be elected according to party lists, half in majority constituencies could distort the election outcome in favour of pro-government forces. “In general it is not for our commission to decide which electoral system you have – in European countries there are many different systems. However we cannot avoid reminding our partners in Kyiv of the negative experience the country has had with the mixed system they are planning to return to”. Mr Markert added that the Venice Commission has already published opinions indicating that elections in majority constituencies have resulted in mass-scale use of “administrative resource”. Furthermore, the majority of “independent candidates” as a result supplemented the pro-government majority in parliament, resulting in the regime strengthening its control over parliament.
Equal opportunities for candidates and transparency of funding
The most controversial elements in the draft Law on the Election of National Deputies sent for assessment to the Venice Commission in June will be discussed when members of the Commission come to Kyiv on 22-23 September. President Yanukovych earlier stated that he would ask parliamentarians to take the Venice Commission’s comments into account. Tomas Markert pointed out that during the visit to Kyiv the members of the Commission plan to discuss changes to electoral legislation with both representatives of different political forces, and with NGOs.
The Venice Commission’s final verdict regarding the draft electoral law should be issued in the middle of October.
In preliminary conclusions regarding the planned changes, the Venice Commission has made some fundamental comments which will be discussed at the meetings in Kyiv. These concern, for example, the norm which prohibits people with a criminal record from standing for electoral office. “This norm seems inadequate. Such restrictions are normally only applied with respect to people who have committed serious crimes. And restrictions on electoral representation should be a part of the court sentence imposed for a grave crime. There this is not envisaged, they simply talk of a criminal record”. He says that the experts are also planning to discuss controversial issues on determining the boundaries of electoral constituencies and precincts; ensuring transparency of the election campaign, as well as the free work of media representatives at the elections.
Previously the Venice Commission and Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe recommended a proportional system according to open nationwide candidate lists, or according to regional party lists. The Council of Europe experts believe that regional lists make the choice of party candidates more transparent, with people voting for politicians from their region whom they trust.