Saturday, October 09, 2010

Which part of PACE reform does Yanukovych not understand?

There is growing concern being expressed in the corridors of power in Europe with representatives of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE)  discovering that Yanukovych has misunderstood the recommendations and directions that Europe wants to see Ukraine take.

The changes that saw Ukraine revert back to the provisions of the 1996 version of its Constitution following the determination of Ukraine's Constitutional court has set off alarm bells that Ukraine is taking a backward step.

PACE whilst critical of certain provisions of the 2004 Constitutional Amendments were not opposed to them in fact they were supportive.  Their main criticism of the 2004 amendments were the Imperative Mandate provisions and the apparent unworkable divisions of power between the Office of the President and the Parliament, divisions that often brought the two into conflict and at odds to each other, divisions that made government in Ukraine unworkable.  PACE was not opposed to the transition of power from the President to the Parliament.  In fact it was in favour of the proposed shift.

In 2007 PACE's Explanatory Report called on Ukraine to adopt a Full Parliamentary System in line with other European States and European Standards  The report stated "It would be better for the country to switch to a full parliamentary system with proper checks and balances and guarantees of parliamentary opposition and competition."

Similar concerns are being expressed today.

One of the criticism levelled at the way in which Ukraine's parliament is structured was centered around the Imperative Mandate provisions which PACE has always considered to be problematic and unworkable.  In its previous reports PACE had called for Ukraine to abandon the restrictive Imperative mandate provisions. Provisons that Ukraine's Constitutional Court had in effect ruled unconstitutional when it ruled that members of parliament had a right to vote as individuals and could break away from the faction that elected them and support the formation of a new governing coalition. It was this ruling that saw the collapse of the Tymoshenko government as members of the previous government crossed the floor to support the formation of a new government lead by Yanukovych's Party of Regions.

The PACE report of 2010 went one step further and recommended that "electoral reform should not only entail the adoption of a new election code but also of a new electoral system, and reaffirms its recommendation that an electoral system be adopted that consists of a proportional system based on open lists and multiple regional constituencies"

Somewhere along the line something was lost in translation.

Viktor Yanukovych who reassured the European Community that it was actively pursuing an European integration agenda had released a policy statement indicating that Ukraine was going to take a further backward step and introduce majoritarian :first-past-the post voting system in electing the parliament and President. Such a police shot ignores the PACE recommendation outline above and if implemented would see the dynamics of Ukraine take a turn for the worst.  No longer would Parliament be representative of the people of Ukraine. the party that was able to secure the most votes in any election would win.  Even of that Party did not represent a majority of the electorate.

One of the criticism of the majoritarian "first-past-the-post" voting system is in its name. The Majoritarian system does no actually represent a majority but the highest vote. Of course in the past elections the President's Party of Regions has been the highest polling party and presumably that would translate into a sure win for the President's team at the expense of the other parties.  Exactly how this new policy which runs contrary to the PACE recommendations will play out is dependent on the detail of its implementation.

Yanukovych is not the only one that has considered and recommended that Ukraine abandon the democratic proportional voting system.  Ukraine's previous President Viktor Yushchenko also tried to implement such a policy in his model reform.  A model that was rightly rejected by Ukraine's parliament at the time.

First-past-the-post voting   is outdated and undemocratic. It was designed in the 8tth century at a time when voters could not read or write. In most parts of the world it has already been replaced. Britain is in the processes of abandoning it, Canada earlier on tried to replace it and the USA still uses it.  It is widely open to manipulation and the main tactic is to run  candidates that hold similar policies to that of your main opposition., dividing their support and in the process reducing their prime vote.  As long as the opposition remain divided and your party united you hope to come out on top and have the highest vote.  The highest vote does not translate into the majority vote.  You can be elected with as low as 34% of the vote so long as your opponents do not get more then you,  they could have 32% and would lose out.

This is the problem Ukraine now faces in its local government elections due to be held on October 31.

Countries like Australia recognised the problem associated with first-past-the-post voting  were more often than not the party elected is opposed by more people then who support them.  In Australia they implemented what was referred to as Preferential voting or Instant Run-Off voting in the United States.  Organisation such as Fair vote are advocating adopting such a system in the United States,  It is a system that guarantees that the person elected has the support of the majority of the electorate. It is a system that Ukraine should also consider adopting and it can be used in multi=member proportional representation ballots where it is referred to by the name "Single transferable vote" which is what is used to elect the Scottish Local government councils

A model system that would meet the requirements an recommendation outlined in the PACE 2010 report.

Instead of introducing first past-the-post voting to elect Ukraine's Parliament Ukraine could establish 50 local electorates of roughly equal size in terms of the number of constituents with each electorate electing nine members of parliament using a single transferable proportional voting system and quota of 10% to elect representatives to Ukraine's Parliamentary body.

Such a system would be fair, equitable and representative of Ukraine’s diverse community without implementing a undemocratic voting system. No one party would have an unfair advantage.

In establishing local electorates and open lists the nature of politics will change in Ukraine.  Representatives would be held accountable to the electorate and members of parliament will be engaged with the community. 


James Gilmour said...

Small (but important)correction. The Scottish Parliament is not elected by the Single Transferable Vote system of Proportional Representation (STV-PR). The Parliament is elected by a regionalised version of the Additional Member System (AMS) which is known as MMP (Mixed Member Proportional) in some other countries.

In Scotland we use STV-PR to elect the local government councillors. The big advantage of STV-PR over AMS (MMP) is that the voters can express personal preferences for all the candidates as well as voting for them by party. Also, with STV-PR it is much easier to arrange the electoral districts (constituencies) to reflect existing communities.

If you want any more information about these two voting systems please do not hesitate to contact me.

James Gilmour

UkrToday said...

Thanks. I meant to refer to the Scottish STV counting system.

The MMP system I think is a complete disaster. Each house must be elected with each member having an equal mandate. If you believe there is a need for a split mandate then create a by-cameral house and elect one house by one system and the other house by another BUT do not mix them. Hybrid systems do not work.

In Ukraine's case local multi-member constituents are best for the Parliament. If need be they could then elected National representatives to a Senate/upper house again on the basis of an open STV Proportional Representation list. Equality and fairness being the guiding principle.