On June 7, Ukraine’s Verkhovna Rada passed a new election law in a vote of 289-14 with 1 abstention. Seventy-nine more deputies, present in the session hall, did not participate in the vote. If President Leonid Kuchma does not veto the new law or if his veto is overridden, the Rada elections scheduled for March 2002 will be held according to a new scheme: 335 MPs will be elected from party lists and 115 from single-seat first-past-the-post constituencies. In the 1998 elections, 225 deputies were elected from party lists and the same number from single-seat constituencies. The new law should strengthen the established Ukrainian parties and prompt the weaker ones to merge. Such elections should be also more difficult to engineer. Single-seat constituencies will automatically become larger, and it will therefore be more difficult to influence election outcome through local fraud.
Predictably, the strengthening of proportional component in the election system was backed by the most popular and organizationally strongest parties: Communists and Socialists in the left wing, the right-wing Rukh and Reforms and Order Party, and the United Social Democrats and the Greens in the political center. Those parties have stable electorates and regional bases. Most of them should collect more than the required 4 percent for Rada representation by party factions, and under the new law they will get more seats. Fledgling parties and those organizations that have failed to find a popular political niche are less enthusiastic about the proposed changes. Such centrist pro-Kuchma groups as Democratic Union, Labor Ukraine and Regions of Ukraine appeared in the Rada only after the elections. Their leaders were elected mostly from the first-past-the-post constituencies, often thanks to good ties and big money, rather than to popularity. Their chances to get re-elected will dwindle if the number of such constituencies is diminished from 225 to 115. Furthermore, their parties stand little chance to overcome the 4 percent barrier. But they have a powerful ally in Kuchma.
The new law is essentially an attempt by strong parties to find a compromise with the opponents of a proportional system. Earlier this year, the Rada passed a law, according to which all MPs were to be elected from party lists. Kuchma vetoed that law on April 19, arguing that it would violate constitutional rights of those citizens who would like to be elected, but do not want to join political parties. On May 17, proponents of the proportional system failed to garner the necessary 300 votes in the 450-seat Rada to override the veto. This time, however, they think it may be possible to override Kuchma’s veto. First, the votes for the measure are only eleven short of what would be needed to override a veto. And, second, despite the differences among the political parties represented in the Rada, the respective factions may well join forces to override a veto that would undermine their power.
Kuchma, an inveterate opponent of the proportional system, promised on June 9 that he would veto this new law as well. He argued that it would depersonalize legislative power and contradict the constitution, which guarantees equal rights to elect and be elected. Those arguments do not hold the water, however. The real reason behind Kuchma’s reluctance to sign the new law lies elsewhere. He fears that the Communists and his right-wing opponents from the Rukh would strengthen their representation in a Rada in which more seats would be assigned to parties. Ukraine’s Communists remain very popular in the densely populated Eastern and Southern Ukrainian regions, while the Rukh, which remains the most popular nationalist force despite a series of splits, has been showing signs of overcoming internal discord. On June 9, the leaders of its two largest parts, which formally became two distinct parties after a split in 1999, Hennady Udovenko and Yury Kostenko, announced that they would go to the elections in a single bloc. If this intention materializes and the elections are held according to the new law, the Rada after March 2002 may be dominated by two strong opponents–the Communists and the Rukh. At the same time, pro-Kuchma’s center will lose its domination of the Rada if its numerous but unpopular parties fail to unite into one or two blocs under charismatic leaders (ICTV, April 19; UNIAN, May 22; Ukrainska Pravda, June 7-9; Studio 1+1 TV, June 9).
The Monitor is a publication of the Jamestown Foundation. It is researched and written under the direction of senior analysts Jonas Bernstein, Vladimir Socor, Stephen Foye, and analysts Ilya Malyakin, Oleg Varfolomeyev and Ilias Bogatyrev. If you have any questions regarding the content of the Monitor, please contact the foundation. If you would like information on subscribing to the Monitor, or have any comments, suggestions or questions, please contact us by e-mail at [email protected], by fax at 301-562-8021, or by postal mail at The Jamestown Foundation, 4516 43rd Street NW, Washington DC 20016. Unauthorized reproduction or redistribution of the Monitor is strictly prohibited by law. Copyright (c) 1983-2002 The Jamestown Foundation Site Maintenance by Johnny Flash Productions