Interviewed by Bohdan Butkevych
U. W.: How pressing is the need to have new electoral legislation right now?
– Certainly, the entire legal framework relating to the election to the Verkhovna Rada and the local elections is outdated morally, technically and in terms of procedure. There's a good reason why upon the conclusion of all previous campaigns we received proposals regarding amendments to the respective legislation. Now the Venice Commission has joined this process. The current mixed system – a blend of closed party lists and the majoritarian model – completely discredited itself. It birthed outrageous corruption in the single-member constituencies, where election commission members are bribed, and at the same time it brought about internal corruption within the parties, where spots on the passable part of the list are sold. So you formulated the question quite correctly. Whether there is the need to change electoral law at all is not even the question worth talking about. The need is there and it is pressing. Even the politicians themselves already realized that changes in the electoral domain are in huge demand in the society, so they cannot just talk about this forever hoping that everyone gets bored and loses interest. For the first time in years, according to opinion poll data, citizens no longer view the majoritarian system as the best option for the electoral law and are willing to see election lists. I'll also remind that the Coalition Agreement of the current majority in the Parliament includes written commitment to adopt a new electoral law before the local election campaign, which is to take place in autumn.
U. W.: Are the politicians really prepared for this? The adoption of new law has been unanimously blown by almost all the factions last year before the 2014 elections.
– Now that's a good question. Granted, the discussion about the need for a system with open party lists has been on for more that a decade, however, none of the country's leaders (be it Yushchenko, Tymoshenko, Yanukovych or Poroshenko) did anything to implement it. But purely in words everyone supported the idea. Moreover, they used to stomp on the brakes at a very early stage even before the bill was being put to a vote. Clearly, all the current party leaders without exception aren't thrilled about the idea of adopting new legislation, because it means they lose the means to control the spots in the election list. Because then it will be the people that will choose, not the owners-oligarchs. Yet, I remain convinced that with enough pressure from the society we'll arrive to this reform and it will not be delayed anymore. At least there are a number of existing draft laws that can used a starting point and worked on.
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U. W.: Please outline the main principles and foundations, on which the new law should be based. Particularly interesting is the issue of the frontline and occupied territories, which is something that cannot be ignored…
– I would make a distinction between conducting elections in Ukraine in general and the elections in frontline areas. As far as the election process in the zone of the Anti-Terrorist Operation is concerned, there should be a separate section, or, preferably, a separate law. And the final provisions of the main document on elections should mention that the respective process there (in the frontline and occupied territories) will be regulated by a dedicated act, because one cannot compare the election campaign on the territories not controlled by Ukrainian authorities with the normal campaign. There's a whole host of issues to consider beginning with the safety of the voters, and ending with technical matters to do with accountability, vote counting and so forth. As regards to the main part of the country, the new law must be as convenient as possible for the voter, because the party system with open lists is not so much complicated, as it is simply novel, it needs getting used to. Let us not forget that there are other issues, which are not directly related to election process, that still need to be resolved urgently. For example political advertising, forming election commissions, funding the elections and so on. As a matter of fact, all of this is covered in the developed draft laws, all it takes is political will adopt them. In the nearest future under the Parliamentary Committee on Legislative Policy and Justice a working group is to be created. It will include the representatives of all factions, independent experts from the public and members of the Central Election Commission. The group will develop the single unified draft law. The new system should be based on the principle that each political party in every region nominates its representatives, for whom the voters will vote. Those that gain the most votes within the political party become parliament members. At the same time on the local level, in county councils for example, it would be a good idea to have a multi-member majoritarian system, since proportional representation system would not be very appropriate there. This, by the way, will allow avoiding the main problem of this electoral principle, when there is only one winner, while the candidate, who gained even one single vote less, is out. This is why there are so many violations, scandals, court hearings and so on in such constituencies.
U. W.: Do you think this unified draft law should be developed from scratch of based on the old existing law on elections?
– Definitely from scratch. It's easier to inscribe everything in it from scratch, rather than to rework the law that is conceptually unsuitable. Moreover, there's a very well written draft by Chumak and Yemets based on the section on parliamentary elections from the so-called draft Electoral Code developed by Yuriy Kliuchkovskyi in 2010. We need to homogenize electoral procedures of all the different elections as much as possible: the parliamentary, the presidential, the local. Having said that, we do need to have two separate laws: one on parliamentary and one of local elections. And out of those two the Electoral Code should be formed.
U. W.: Local elections are just around the corner. Do you expect problems with the introduction of the new model in such a short timeframe? Such experiments tended to end badly…
– On the contrary, local elections could be used to test out this new system. According to the Coalition Agreement this new legislation has to be adopted no later than in May. I am convinced that the working group, which I am part of, will work hard in February through April in order to put this draft law to a vote by the end of this period, having already agreed all the terms with all the major political parties. Because it is indeed necessary to adopt it before summer comes, that is at least 6 months before the elections, in order to avoid time trouble.
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U. W.: Is the adoption of new electoral system capable of renewing the authorities through elections, or in other words carrying out the so-called "natural lustration"?
– The law on its own will not make the elections fair and clear. This is something that only people themselves and their good will can do. However, there's no doubt the new law will contribute to this. As it will eventually contribute to healthy party-building, since political parties built upon one famous personality will no longer have a chance to gain seats in the parliament. It will also help the arrival of new, fresh and interesting people. Especially since the very participants of the election process will now be interested in their arrival.
Oleksandr Chernenko, born in 1973 in Kyiv Oblast, is a politician, journalist, activist and political expert. In 1997, he graduated from the National Pedagogical Dragomanov University majoring in teaching history and ethnology. He also took public activity course in National Democratic Institute (United States) and a course of political education in Akademie Klausenhof (Rhede, Germany). Mr. Chernenko worked as journalist in numerous publications. In 2009, he chaired the Committee of Voters of Ukraine. In 2014, he was elected deputy of the Verkhovna Rada with the Bloc of Petro Poroshenko.