Monday, March 27, 2006

Post Election: Issues

Yushchenko a neutered stallion: Analysis

The results of Ukraine's Parliamentary election held on March 26, 2006 are a rude awakening to Ukraine's President, Viktor Yushchenko and his Our Ukraine Party. Our Ukraine which only 16 months ago enjoyed a 60% approval rating slumped in the Parliamentary elections to just over 14-15% polling half as many votes as his former opposition candidate.

Ukraine today remains divided as ever. instead of uniting Ukraine the President took a path that failed to win hearts and minds and has left Ukrainians worst off with little gain. inflation is in the double digits and economic growth has stalled. relations with Russia, Ukraine's major trading partner at at an all time low.


There are a number of issues that a skilled politician would have tried to avoid. Issues that only undermined the Presidents efforts to turn Ukraine around and to bring it in line with other democratic European nations.

One of the most divisive issues. Had Ukraine adopted two official languages (Russian and Ukrainian) the opposition parties would not have secured as many votes. Ukrainian could still be the prime language and required to be taught in all schools. I twenty years time when more Ukrainians actually speak Ukrainian then maybe the issue of language could have been reviewed. There are many successful countries that have more then one official language, Switzerland (4) Canada (2) just to name two. Ireland is an good example. Its native language is Gaelic but English is the dominate tongue. Ireland has embarked in policy to revive the Gallic language and Ireland's culture is thriving as a result. The key being that they are not trying to force the development and restoration of Gallic.

The decision to try and make Ukraine a member of NATO was ill timed. There were many other issues facing Ukraine that needed revision before consideration was given for Ukraine to join NATO. There is widespread concern that NATO has seen its day and that there is a need for a new European security treaty. Irrespective as to the future of NATO there was not need for Ukraine to rush into a NATO alliance. This issue should have been put on hold and considered in 2007-8 under less colloidal circumstances.

President Yushchenko had plenty of time to consider and influence reform to Ukraine's Constitution and the transition from a Presidential democracy to a more democratic Parliamentary democracy. IN 2002 and again in 2004 Yushchenko instead of playing a constructive role to moderate and improve the constitutional model he took an opportunistic role of opposing the amendments considered by the previous parliament. His motivation appearing to be more to do with Power then good governance and democratic values..

Yushckenko's predecessor, past president Kuchma, originally proposed a by-Carmel parliament with a reduction in the number of members of Parliament from 450 to 300. This proposal was later revised in 2004 to a single house Parliament of 450 members elected by a party list proportional representation. the proposed amendments fell short by five votes from the statutory majority required to modify Ukraine's Constitution, again opposed at the time by Yushchenko but later agreed to as part of an agreement to resolve divisions and conflict that arose during the 2004 Presidential election.

In the lead up to the March election the President advocated further constitutional reform but failed to spell out the extent of reform he was proposing. In the minds of many this was seen as a tactical move to try and regain some of the power that was removed from the President and transferred to the Parliament. Following the result of the Parliamentary election it is difficult to see who the President would secure the majority support required to change the constitution by referendum with out the substantial support of other political parties including Party of Regions.

Whilst there is need for further reform changes to Ukraine's Constitution would be easier to negotiate and secure via a 2/3rd Parliamentary vote then it would be via plebiscite of Ukraine's population. It certainly would be less costly (a referendum estimated to cost around US$100 Million dollars).

The voting system itself needs revision with close to 20% of Ukrainians who voted for minor parties being disenfranchised. The Party List system and the three percent threshold requirement disproportionally allocated the Parliamentary Representation with major parties being the beneficiary of the system. Party of Regions who secured around 30% of the vote will obtain close to 40% of the east to be allocated. Coalition partners such as PORA who failed to secure the required 3% quota reduced the overall support allocated to the "Orange" coalition.

Ukraine needs to seriously consider changing its electoral system in favor of a preferential voting system and the possibility of creating multiple electoral districts as opposed to a single country-wide electorate.

A preferential Presidential ballot would require only a single ballot as opposed to the multiple ballots required in 2004. Voters would indicate in order of preference their supported candidate. A preferential ballot election would save millions of dollars in direct and indirect costs by avoiding the need for multiple ballots. Successful candidates would still be required to secure an absolute majority (50%+1) but with out the need for an exhaustive multiple ballot election.

Preferential ballots could also be extended to the election of Parliamentary delegates allowing voters who support minor candidates that fail to obtain the required quota threshold to nominate subsequent candidates of their choice for election. Political Parties could advocate and recommend preference allocations.

Under the current Party List system, like minded minor-candidates play a negative destructive role as opposed to a positive contribution to the selection of candidates of their choice.

Preferential ballots are currently used in Australia, New Zealand, Ireland and some states in the United States.

One of the most controversial decisons of the Yushchenko's first year of office
was the failure of the President to veto proposed laws giving absolute Parliamentary immunity to all elected politician at National, Oblast and Municipal level. Contrary to all other democracies in the west this one proposal is a recipe for ongoing corruption. The failure of the President to reject this proposal brought his Presidency into disrepute and signalled a return to the corrupt practices of the past.

The decision to summarily sack Yulia Tymoshchenko in the lead up to to the 2006 Parliament elections spelt the end to the ideals and rhetoric of the "orange Revolution". The method and timing of Yulia's dismissal was ill-considered. Yulia, as was demonstrated in the results of the March election, was the heart of the "Orange revolution" by sacking her as Prime-minister Yushchenko undermined public confidence in his own Presidency and his committemnt to the ideals and change that he promoted.

"Our Ukraine 'Tak' logo for personal gain undermined further the Presidents credibility as did his brother who was reported as misappropriating funds donated to Our Ukraine.

The above coupled with the fact that Viktor Yushchenko did not go far enough to correct the wrongs of the past and bring those who had illegally benefited from corruption to account contributed to his decline in public support.