Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 173

Ukraine’s proposed new election law, which would have represented a significant move toward a proportional vote typical of most European democracies, has failed. On the winning side of the September 13 parliamentary session were the centrists, most of whom had been elected from single-seat constituencies. On the losing side, the leftists, the right wing and the Greens. Vetoed three times by President Leonid Kuchma, the legislation mustered only 242 override votes. Three hundred were needed.

The proposed law called for 75 percent of the candidates to be chosen from party lists and 25 percent from single-seat constituencies. Its failure is a significant defeat for the party system and Ukraine’s political stability in the long term. Halving the number of single-seat constituencies would have automatically doubled the size of each constituency, thus making it more difficult for local authorities to manipulate elections. Increasing party representation by half would have made the Rada factions larger and more immune to interfaction migrations, and the Rada itself more stable.

As it is, the old law, which stipulates a 50-50 split, will remain in effect. The vote among the 415 deputies present at the session was 230 in favor, 113 against and six abstaining. Sixty-six deputies simply ignored the vote, thus signaling either their indifference or their protest. To participate in elections, each party will have to gather 500,000 signatures collected in no less than eighteen regions out of Ukraine’s twenty-five, with at least 17,000 signatures in each of those eighteen. In the final vote on election day, parties qualify only if they meet a 4-percent barrier. Single-seat constituency candidates are not subject to these requirements. They run on the basis of their own “merits”–that is, their own funding and connections.

Kuchma did lose on one point, however–his proposal to cut the election campaign from 180 days to 90. He, and those supporting him, had argued that cutting the campaign would have saved money and increased parliament’s efficiency, because deputies would likely have worked more on the legislation and less on campaigning. Compressing the campaign period would also have improved the chances of such established and well-prepared pro-Kuchma forces as the USDP and the PDP, as well as the Communists, versus smaller parties and the Rukh, which is struggling to reunify (see the Monitor, September 14). The campaign was decreased by only ten days, to 170, and thus will officially begin on October 12.

One new provision to the old law was introduced, easing the way for those in power to remain there: Constituency electoral commissions will be formed by the political parties and blocs that won in the previous elections. These commissions will thus be controlled by (1) the right-wing Rukh; (2) the leftists from the Communist Party, the Socialist Party and the Progressive Socialist Party; (3) the centrist United Social Democrats (USDP) and People’s Democrats (PDP); (4) the Greens; and (5) the Hromada (which has lost its faction in the Rada and kept a low profile since its leader, former Premier Pavlo Lazarenko, fled to the United States in early 1999).

Reaction to the September 13 vote was of course mixed. Popular former Premier Viktor Yushchenko, unhappy about the failure to override the veto, noted that the deputies elected in single-seat constituencies, often having no clear position, are prone to swap factions. But the chairman of the Central Electoral Commission, Mykhaylo Ryabets, described the new old law as “the best election law passed in Ukraine since independence.” Kuchma, asked to comment, said that he had not yet read it, but promised to sign it if “it contains nothing contradicting the constitution” (Ukrainska Pravda, September 13;, September 14; UT-1, September 13, 15).