Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 183

On October 4, for the fourth time, Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma vetoed a proposed law on elections that the Verkhovna Rada (parliament) had passed, most recently, on September 13. Leaving Ukraine without election rules just six months before the Rada elections (which are scheduled for March 31, 2002) is to him evidently a lesser issue than making any concessions to his opponents.

Two clauses were the basis for his veto. First, the provision allowing only the parties that gained parliamentary seats in the previous elections to form the electoral commissions in constituencies. Second, that which set the length of the election campaign at 170 days.

The first provision, Kuchma argued, runs counter to the constitution, in that it discriminates against certain political organizations and individuals. Furthermore, at least two of the eight parties that won in the 1998 elections–former Premier Pavlo Lazarenko’s Hromada and the Progressive Socialist Party–are now political lightweights with few members, little funding and no chances of faring well in the upcoming elections. Entrusting the campaign to minor groups on the sidelines would not, he points out, be logical.

As to the length of the campaign, Kuchma continues to insist that it be decreased to 90 days. Doing so, he says, will obviously make the elections less costly. He also argues that once the campaign has gotten underway, deputies will put canvassing before lawmaking, thus stalemating work on such vital legislation as the 2002 budget, the Tax Code, the Land Code, the Housing Code and court reform. (A decade after gaining independence, Ukraine is still guided in those important spheres by hastily passed amendments to Soviet laws.)

It is hard to argue with Kuchma’s logic, but his veto does not help the situation. The stability of both society and, in particular, parliament is threatened in the face of uncertainty about how the elections will proceed. One thing is sure: The campaign will not, as had been expected, begin on October 12. The various political forces will therefore have to re-think their strategies and budgets accordingly. Propresidential parties are the net winners in this situation, first, because the media controlled by the state and the oligarchs are already at work for them, and, second, because opposition and smaller parties are less likely to get enough public exposure or adequate financing with a shorter campaign period.

The Rada may try to override Kuchma’s latest veto, but the voices of Kuchma’s most consistent opponents on this issue–the Communists, the Socialists and the United Social Democrats (USDP)–will not be enough. Together, they number far less than the necessary 300 votes. Even if a veto were to go through, Kuchma could simply refuse to sign the law and send it instead to the Constitutional Court for discussion, that is, stalemate the process yet again. Meanwhile, Kuchma’s right-wing opponents from the Rukh and Reforms and Order parties have already announced their readiness to “compromise.” Apparently, they are ready to agree with Kuchma’s objections, if only to be rid of the electoral uncertainty.

And the uncertainty is so acute that the USDP even proposed reviving the old law, according to which the 1998 elections were held. USDP leader and first deputy Rada speaker Viktor Medvedchuk argued that if the new law were buried, the old one would remain in force. The Constitutional Court had ruled several provisions of the old law, including the one on the campaign length (180 days) unconstitutional, which is what prompted parliament to begin work on the new law. But, according to Medvedchuk, because only several provisions–not the entire law–had been deemed unconstitutional, that law should remain in force (Ukrainska Pravda, September 26; STB TV, New Channel TV, October 4; see the Monitor, September 21).