Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 193

Ukraine’s election law saga–four presidential vetoes on draft election laws since the beginning of the year–may be close to an end. On October 17, President Leonid Kuchma and parliamentary leaders reportedly reached a compromise, according to which the official election campaign will be shortened and the number of parties participating in constituency commissions increased. On October 18, the Verkhovna Rada (parliament) passed, by a vote of 234 to 123 with 79 abstentions, relevant amendments to its legislation. The Communists, the Socialists and the radical antipresidential Motherland of Yulia Tymoshenko were among those who refused to back the amendments.

According to one amendment, the official campaign will begin ninety days before the scheduled vote day of March 31, 2002, that is, on January 1. The Rada had proposed 170 days, but the president insisted on ninety. A shorter campaign should benefit the well-established and well-funded pro-presidential parties. Having access to Ukraine’s mass media, most of which are either state-run or controlled by the oligarchs, these groups are already advertising themselves nationwide. A shorter campaign means less time for poorer and smaller parties to canvass potential supporters and to uncover manipulations.

To compensate for a shorter campaign, the Rada passed an amendment changing the requirement for electoral registration for both candidates in single-seat constituencies and for parties and blocs in the nationwide constituency. Under the old law, registration hinged on a candidate’s or party’s ability to collect the signatures of 500,000 supporters. Under the new one, it takes cash, pure and simple. Parties and political blocs will have to submit a sum equaling 15,000 untaxed minimum official wages (some US$47,000) each to the Central Electoral Commission (CEC). Individual candidates will have to submit 60 minimum wages (some US$190) each. Communists and Socialists claim that their candidates are too poor to come up with such sums. Their opponents argue that signature collection is more costly.

The second key amendment pertains to constituency electoral commissions. Not only the parties that gained parliamentary seats in the previous elections, but also those that were able to form factions in parliament after the elections, will form the electoral commissions in constituencies. Thus the list of parties forming every constituency electoral commission is likely to have some representation from:

–first, those representing the right wing–two Rukhs and the Reforms and Order Party;

–second, those representing the center–Labor Ukraine of the Dnipropetrovsk elite, the People’s Democratic Party, the Party of Regions of the Donetsk elite, and the Democratic Union of Kuchma’s former key aide Oleksandr Volkov;

–third, the populists from Motherland, former banker Mykhaylo Brodsky’s Yabluko and former Premier Pavlo Lazarenko’s Hromada;

–fourth, those representing the left-center–chocolate magnate Petro Poroshenko’s Solidarity and First Deputy Speaker Viktor Medvedchuk’s United Social Democrats;

–fifth, on its own, the Green Party; and,

–sixth, those representing the left wing–the Communists, the Socialists, the Peasants Party and the Progressive Socialists.

To make the formation process of the constituencies more democratic, the amendment allows for other parties to participate as well. It is physically impossible to include representatives from each of Ukraine’s 120 or so parties in every commission. Thus representatives of the parties which neither won the previous elections nor are represented in the Rada will draw lots in the CEC to distribute seats on the commissions between them.

The amended law will come into effect if Kuchma signs it. Ukrainian politicians have been optimistic about this in their comments, but doubts remain. In vetoing previous bills, Kuchma insisted that the role of political parties in the elections should be decreased, arguing that they do not represent society. Yet the new provision on the formation of constituency commissions apparently makes parties even more prominent in the campaign. Finally, not all major parties are satisfied with the new amendments. The Socialists have threatened to appeal in the Constitutional Court against the replacement of signature collection with money deposits. They say that the signature collection was an important element in their canvassing strategy (New Channel TV, October 17-18; STB TV, Forum, October 18; see the Monitor, September 21, October 5).