Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 204

At long last, after repeated drafts and vetoes and redrafts, Ukraine has a new election law. On October 30, Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma signed the legislation setting the rules of the elections to the country’s Verkhovna Rada (parliament), the next of which are scheduled for March 31, 2002. Amended for the last time on October 18, the law is the result of various concessions to different presidential vetoes (see the Monitor, June 12, September 21, October 5). Initially, the Rada wanted to introduce a purely proportional system vote from party lists, as is the case in most European democracies neighboring on Ukraine. But Kuchma insisted on preserving the main provisions of the 1998 law, which had itself reflected amendments to certain provisions of the original 1992 law that Ukraine’s Constitutional Court had ruled unconstitutional. The Rada wanted to maximize the role of political parties. Kuchma wanted to minimize it, arguing that fledgling Ukrainian parties have not yet grown into serious forces representing the interests of society.

In the long run, Kuchma took the upper hand. As it is, the 1998 law, which stipulates that 50 percent of the candidates will be chosen from party lists and the other 50 percent from single-seat constituencies, will remain in effect. The Rada accepted Kuchma’s proposal to cut the campaign period from 170 to 90 days. Things will therefore officially get underway on January 1.

Rather than collecting signatures of potential electors to secure their right to take part in the elections, as was the case in 1998, parties and individual contenders alike will have to pay cash. To be registered for participation in the campaign, each party will have to submit an equivalent of US$47,000 to the Central Electoral Commission. Each individual candidate running from a single-seat constituency will have to pay some US$190. One significant change: It is now forbidden to run both on a party list and from a single-seat constituency.

Although the president has signed the law, he is still pushing for more concessions. It is unclear, however, how he will manage to persuade the Rada into adopting them. In theory, he can appeal to the Constitutional Court, which could result in stalling the start of the campaign. At a press conference on October 30, Kuchma’s spokesman, Ihor Storozhuk, listed several of the most important provisions to which the president took exception.

First, Kuchma believes that the Rada violated the constitution by forbidding the parties formed less than a year before the elections to participate in them. He probably had in mind the pro-presidential alliance of the People’s Democratic Party, the Party of Regions and Labor Ukraine, whose leaders declared their intention to merge into a single party (see the Monitor, August 31). He also objected to the provision according to which parties and individual candidates are entitled to decide which media reports about them are false and which not, thus making it easier for them to claim libel. This decision, Kuchma argued, is a constitutionally granted prerogative of the courts. Last, he objected to the provision allowing parties to expel individuals from their lists both before the elections and after. With this provision, the established parties wanted to secure themselves against interfaction migrations, which contributed to the break-up of several factions in the current Rada and made it possible to set up new ones between the elections. As a rule, propresidential forces benefited from such migrations (STB TV, October 30; Ukraina Moloda, November 1).