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3 March, 2011  ▪  Andrii Duda

New Election Laws – Fewer Choices

The Party of Regions has launched preparations for the 2015 presidential election by proposing amendments to election legislation that are aimed at furthering the government’s impact on the results of the vote, while the drafted constitutional amendments will, if passed, strip Viktor Yanukovych’s successors of control over government bodies.
Using the smoke screen of administrative reform which, in the government’s interpretation, boils down to a temporary reduction of central agencies, Mr. Yanukovych’s team is getting geared up to implement systemic political transformations. The goal is to secure the Party of Regions against a loss in the 2015 presidential election or, more exactly, to create a power model in which a loss would not be as significant.
 
Cleansing before elections
 
The number one task for the ruling party seems to be forming a Party of Regions-controlled constitutional majority in the Verkhovna Rada, our sources say. On the one hand, this will remove the headache of having to deal with unreliable renegade MPs from other parties, while on the other, it will give the party a real opportunity to amend the Constitution, particularly with regard to the division of power. This is a no small thing since the president elected in 2015 will have to work with the old parliament for two years.
 
The first step on the way to obtaining the “right” results in the 2012 parliamentary election is to draft the “right” election law. It is not likely that there will be any surprises here.  The new bill on parliament elections will follow the pattern of the law on local elections.
 
This is precisely what is suggested by what the Ministry of Justice and Party of Regions MPs stated with regard to the drafting process.
 
Justice Minister Oleksandr Lavrynovych said at a press conference that the next election will definitely be based on a mixed proportional/district representational election system, because such is the president’s position. Neither are we inclined to doubt a mixed system will be used — the first-past-the-post component is one of the best ways to undermine the opposition’s election chances in central and western Ukraine.
 
At the same time, Mr. Lavrynovych is not entirely truthful when he says that election commissions will be formed following the same procedure as today. According to our trustworthy sources, the new bill will copy the regulations governing the formation of these commissions from the law on local elections, which means that the Communist Party, the People’s Party, and the Party of Regions will have a controlling portfolio on all commissions and will be able to pass any decisions regarding contenders.
Mr. Lavrynovych made an interesting remark at one of his press conferences about the nature of discussions taking place the sponsors of the bill over clauses that pertain to the financial side: “The positions of Ukrainian politicians and Ukrainian lawyers are very close, while representatives of international organizations have the opposite position.” This should be taken to mean that the ruling party will try to incorporate regulations in the bill that will limit the election fund. This will permit it to cancel the registration of “disagreeable” candidates on grounds of illegitimate campaign donations.
 
The backup scheme
 
Almost unnoticed in the stream of political news was a statement made by Yevhen Onopriienko, first deputy chief of the Presidential Administration. Despite his holding a secondary position in the administration, his statement was revealing: “By 2015 we will get from administrations (in raions and oblasts. – Author) to the executive committees on all levels. Councils alone will have executive bodies, including in Kyiv.” This suggests that state administrations will not cease to exist but will, rather, be given other functions — “the head of a state administration should, on behalf of the sate, ensure the legality of actions of the executive branch, rather than carry out these actions,” said the official.
 
At first glance, there is nothing strange about this bill promoted by the Presidential Administration.  The removal of local state administrations has been on the Party of Regions’ agenda for quite some time. The Party of Regions was the first (since the 1996 Constitution was adopted) to suggest, in its 2003 draft of the Constitution, replacing local state administrations with executive committees attached to local councils, essentially reviving the Soviet pattern. (It should be noted, however, that this draft Constitution provided for the direct election of the heads of regional and district chiefs.) The idea was later incessantly promoted in all programmatic documents of the Party of Regions and in political statements made by its party representatives, including Mr. Yanukovych.
 
In 2010, the Party of Regions and the new president’s team consolidated all power in their hands. The most recent vote on constitutional amendments about the schedule for next elections showed that the Party of Regions now has a situational constitutional majority and is able to push through amendments that do not go against the interests of the opposition.
 
However, no-one seems to be rushing to initiate the reconstruction of the local government system in Ukraine, even though this is a fairly easy thing to do from a technological viewpoint. District and regional councils have been formed and they can now simply pass a decision to set up executive committees and delegate to them the authority now invested in state administrations, as well as other functions (excepting control and supervision). This political promise was made by the Party of Regions and Mr. Yanukovych personally and can now be fulfilled simply by amending several laws, primarily: “On Local Self-Government in Ukraine,” “On Local State Administrations,” and “On the Capital of Ukraine, the Hero City of Kyiv.”
 
But a Presidential Administration official says that a systemic reform of district and regional administration will be completed by 2015. That this agency is clearly tying the reform to the 2015 presidential election sheds much light on its plans. It seems that Mr. Yanukovych’s team wants to preserve the strict vertical of power on the local level as long as he stays in the presidential seat. He now has the authority to appoint heads of local state administrations, impose disciplinary punishment on them, and dismiss them on submissions from the Cabinet of Ministers. However, ahead of the 2015 election and fearing a possible loss, the Yanukovych team will strip the next president of Ukraine of real influence on regional governments. We have seen this before: President Viktor Yushchenko’s authority was curtailed under Law “On Making Amendments to the Constitution of Ukraine” of 8 December 2004. In the light of the 2010 local election, this shift of executive power from local administrations to executive committees will enable the Party of Regions to essentially control regional governments even after the 2015 election.

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