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30 October, 2015

What Local Elections Show

Ukraine needs an election system that will enable new movements and politicians who enjoy community trust locally

After the EuroMaidan, the dream was, that there would be subsequent presidential, parliamentary and local elections in order to change the country upside down from an oligarch one into a democratic society. Everybody knows now – after 25 years’ experience – that “things take time”. But you have to build on something, that can grow in your own garden – not just rely only on “imported seed”. The Council of Europe, Venice Commission, European Union, OSCE/ODIHR – all can give advice and send experts, urge and follow-up. But in the end it has to be implemented in a way that builds on the society’s own “trial and errors”, 
so that the rules are understandable and you know their purposes.
Legislation should not just be a lip-service game. Society should play by home-grown rules exactly because their purpose is understood. Here, the local dimension is an important tool for giving room for new people who are trusted locally and can grow up in their own society, as well as probably earn their way to the Parliament. Therefore, local elections should be an important tool for the “new beginning” everybody hopes for. It is an occasion where local communities set their own priorities for the next years and for the future. Local elections should be a competition between various choices and different ways forward. How do we create better  condition for education? Better conditions for the elderly? How do we  modernize the local school? How do we offer better conditions for small firms? Better infrastructure – roads and public transport? Better environment? And more.
In many countries, a politician starts his/her way with local voluntary work and working together to solve local challenges.

RELATED ARTICLE: A village community in Kyiv Oblast proves it promote its interests even with an ineffective local government

Local politics is to prioritize and make responsible decision on all what matters in your local community. And pay locally for the improvement you demand. Until today, money and responsibility has been non-transparent and  control has been a tool for those in power to act “smarter” at the expense of those who don’t have power. Politics has been a power-game that has corrupted the society. It is therefore important to set new rules for the local game. Ukraine has a lively civil society, and many are good organizers. But local politics here seems to be overruled by the oligarch race to take control over cities and oblasts.
The law says that every candidate, when registered should submit a transparent declaration of money obtained and spent. This is very important because then the voters know about the forces behind the candidate. But where are the implementation and punishment for failure to do so?
If one takes a look at billboards, advertisement and rallies paid for by the candidates, their cost does not fit with any declaration – submitted or not. Why not make an easy web-site where all these facts can be seen?
When sent out to see how the new law on local elections functions as an observer, I am impressed to see how the local election staff – especially, very strong and competent women – try to make the best out of a very complicated and unclear system on the day of the vote. They go on for hours after hours and organize the process in a very dedicated manner under a very difficult system. The system has so many levels that it is not easy to detect how the result comes out.
First of all, if the election is local – why should only party-candidates be eligible? There are big differences between Zakarpattia and Odesa, so 
there could be many reasons for new movements in an area to be more  trusted than “party-soldiers”.

RELATED ARTICLE: Dnipropetrovsk vs Donetsk clans in Ukrainian politics

At a certain layer the “first-past-the-post” system is applied. This means that when 7 candidates get 7-17% of the votes in the area, the one with 17% wins over all the others. Here, a system of proportional election would be more representative.
But when you then look at the proportional system the lawmakers have labeled as “openlist”, it is a distortion of what is meant with this principle.
The open-list system means, that the voters can influence on who of the party list will be elected by voting for a specific candidate they prefer.  
Under the current procedure, however, the party headquarters determine the No1 candidate on all lists, while the others can be randomly elected if they run in an area with weak candidates. It is also still too easy to pay deposits for candidates with clone-names to run and confuse the voters.
The election law is strange and has a strange backrgound. After big discussions and consultations, a brand new system suddenly appeared in July and was passed by the Parliament. It had never been used before, except for the only time – once in St. Petersburg. 

For the future of Ukraine one may sincerely hope that decisions on election law – be it for the presidential, parliamentary or local elections – will not be taken in such a strange background, often raising a suspicion that the present parties do not want newcomers. The election law should not be designed to secure the power of those in power. Its whole idea should be that the elected forces or people represent their voters. And if they lose this trust, they will not be reelected.

Ukraine is suffering today because of the Russian aggression and should be helped to defend itself. But Ukraine will also help itself in the long run by being a democratic prosperous European value-based State. The Russian aggression will in the long run best be fought if Ukrainians free their entrepreneurial power and show the world that they have talent and national resources that will flourish in a free, predictable, law-based and reformed just system.

RELATED ARTICLE: Co-author of a bill on local elections Oleksandr Chernenko on the main challenges in changing local political powers, electoral risks and voting rights for IDPs 


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