For almost seven decades the Ukrainian people had been living in conditions of political monopoly. Elections in the USSR were held as voluntary-compulsory practice and were not a civic responsibility or the right of free will but a demonstrative ceremonial event aimed to show how much every Soviet citizen worships Communist party.
Up to 1989 the elections have been held in negative mold: a person had to cross out names or parties in a ballot he or she doesn’t vote for, leaving just one option “I agree”. But Soviet ballots had just one option indeed: depending on a district, voters got just one candidate, and there was no need to even put a mark against his name. That kind of elections had no real sense, but this farce was an important national holiday, which the person wasn’t allowed to miss as it was dangerous. That is why a presence on the election was always very high, and it is typically for authoritarian regimes, where “people’s choice” is unanimous.
In 1988 Perestroika got to election laws: they allowed alternatives to other parties besides Communist one. Elections for a new executive power body, the Congress of People’s Deputies of the Soviet Union, have been already held on a competitive basis. But that freedom was also just declaratory. One third of candidates run for positions on behalf of non-government organizations, they were chosen by all-union councils from those unions. So, people, in fact, couldn’t influence results, as heads of unions had more than one vote at once.
Elections were organized in the majoritarian voting system in single-member districts in two rounds. In the first tour they had to have more than 50% votes, in the second – just get the majority. The elections were valid, if not less than half voters voted. The Ukrainian election law started with this law.
The following editions of this law reflected evolutional changes in society and the country.
In March 1994, they held other elections, supported by a new law: keeping the majoritarian voting system, elections went in two rounds, 50% barrier was there as well. But now a candidate had to get an absolute majority of votes in both runoffs. For these conditions, after the parliamentary elections of 1994, the second Verkhovna Rada could get only two- thirds of constitutional seats. But there were positive changes as well. Besides, the new law had fixed supervisors’ participation, international ones too.
In 1997 they passed a new long-suffering law, which was given to revision more than 10 times. The law cancelled condition of an absolute majority of votes, and changed election system to mixed-member proportional one, so half of the deputies were chosen by a proportional system, and half were chosen by majoritarian one. Parties or blocs had to cross 4% barrier in the multi-member nationwide constituency, also, 225 mandates were “played” in single-member electoral districts.
After results of the elections, 8 political forces representatives out of 30 parties who registered for the elections got to the Rada. The Communist party got most of the seats (84), People’s Movement of Ukraine got the second place (32), and the Electoral bloc of the Socialist Party of Ukraine and the Peasant Party of Ukraine got the third place (29).
In 2001, the Verkhovna Rada passed the law which stated using the proportional system only, but the president interposed a veto on it a couple of times. So, the system didn’t change in the end. Anyway, they put a row of some other crucial changes to the law to make the election more democratic. For example, they bought in multiparty representation at the polls and proportional distribution of polls electoral commissions between representatives of different political forces, carefully fixed supervisors’ rights, simplified appealing procedures, expanded access to media etc.
Election law in those times was rather weak which laid in dimly fixed responsibility for the violation of it. For example, the law wasn’t coordinated with the Administrative code to ensure putting sanctions for violation of the law.
Voters’ lists became an important factor which influenced the snap elections to the Parliament in 2002: there were no centralized registers, mistakes in lists became a good target for ‘dead souls’ manipulations. These cases were brightly covered in media and were a subject of international supervisors’ complaints, but the elections were validated in the end.
Post factum, experts from Democratic Institutions and Human Rights by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe recommended developing Election code to unify and agree on the procedure of the elections of all kinds with other legislative acts in Ukraine.
In elections of 2002, 33 parties took part in the nationwide multi-member constituency, and 6 of them crossed the barrier. Viktor Yushchenko’s bloc “Our Ukraine” got most of the seats in the Rada (70), then Communist party (59), and then political alliance “For United Ukraine!” (35).
In 2005, the Rada passed another law, accepting a proportional system, independent candidates weren’t allowed to stand for elections, and only parties existing more than a year before elections were to submit lists.
Soon additional terms have been added to the Constitution: a parliamentarian couldn’t leave the party and be at the Parliament in independent status at the same time. The passing barrier was lowered to 3%, and they counted invalid ballots and “against all” votes which were contrary to international experts’ recommendations. They put a limit term for making changes in election law: not more than 240 days before the elections. But, this term was soon excluded. Also, according to the new law, the term of the Rada was prolonged up to 5 years.
In the elections of 2006, 5 out of 45 registered parties passed 3% barrier: the Party of Regions got 186 seats, the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc – 129 seats, “Our Ukraine” bloc – 81, the Socialist Party of Ukraine – 33, and the Communist Party – 21.
For the political crisis of 2006–2007 caused by disagreements between the president Viktor Yushchenko, prime minister Viktor Yanukovych and the leader of opposition Yuliia Tymoshenko, the president dissolved the Parliament and called snap elections for September 2007.
Crisis reflected election law as well, they put a bunch of important corrections there: citizens lost possibility to vote with absentee certificate, it was forbidden to create new foreign polls, they changed rules of voting by location (earlier, if person wanted to vote for location, she or he had to give documents proving a state of health or invalidity, but in the elections of 2007 a statement with request was enough). This addition created good conditions for falsifications and manipulations with people’s votes.
Also, before elections of 2007 voters didn’t have access to information about candidates for deputies which is very important for making minds, such as education, origin, work experience, income, and property declarations, and expired criminal records. Besides, the law about the Central Election Commission was changed. Particularly, the CEC could be discharged after the motivated president’s demand.
The next elections to the Parliament of 2012 were held with a new law and once more changed the system, this time mixed one: list of 225 deputies in the multi-member nationwide constituency, and 225 – by majoritarian system. They put 5% barrier and forbade blocks (alliances) of parties to take part in elections.
These changes reflected serious changes happening in political life of Ukraine: Viktor Yanukovych won in the presidential elections in 2010, the Party of Regions got the parliament majority, the Constitution was changed to the president-parliamentary republic (as it was till 2006), the leader of opposition, Yuliia Tymoshenko, was put to jail, international experts openly spoke about falling of democracy in Ukraine, the country got between Iraq and Israel territories by the level of freedom of speech.
So, direct correlation of election laws and leading political forces was once more demonstrated: the law was changed again by wishes of the strongest part.
International experts, Ukrainian independent supervisors, and opposition representatives rigidly criticized the elections of 2012 because of many falsifications. The then president has also admitted the elections were held with violations, and passed the case to the Prosecutor’s office for analysis. Media spread information about rather high support for the president among prisoners and psychiatric hospitals patients; they sometimes were even higher than general party statistics in regions. In December 2013, they organized re-elections in five constituencies.
2014 was a crucial year for Ukraine. Snap presidential and parliament elections have been held; they changed the mix of the political elite. The main election law wasn’t really changed, although there were discussions about giving political blocs right to take part in the elections back, and about having a proportional system. But, changes to the Constitution have been cancelled, Ukraine became Parliament republic again.
Local elections in Ukraine
In July 2015 they passed current law “About the local elections”. According to law paragraphs:
• village councils deputies are chosen by a majoritarian system of a relative majority in single-member constituencies;
• town/city heads are chosen by a majoritarian system of an absolute majority in the only single-member constituency;
• village, town (in ones where a number of voters are less than 90 thousand) heads are chosen by a majoritarian system of relative majority in the single-member constituency;
• united territorial communities heads are chosen by a majoritarian system of relative majority in the only single-member constituency of the united territorial community;
• the Verkhovna Rada of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, region, district, town, district in towns councils is chosen by proportional election system in a multi-member constituency with lists of fixed territorial candidates.
After the elections of 2014 election law reform was the requirement of time. It was announced with other reforms along in 2015, but up to May 2017, it has never been executed. There are several variants of reforms, law projects, but none of them has been revised in the Verkhovna Rada yet.
Law project about people’s deputies of Ukraine elections №1068 from 27.11.2014
The initiator – Yurii Miroshnychenko, the “Opposition Bloc” party. According to this project, they offer proportional election system with closed parties lists and 1% barrier, having party blocs take part in elections again, as well as the demand to publicly inform about sources of finance, make party lists public not less than 7 days before the constituent assembly.
The Main Scientific and Expert Department noted in its conclusion on the project, that using of “proportional election system with “closed” parties lists (either in parliament or local elections) showed a bunch of crucial disadvantages numerously criticized by lawyers and experts inside and out of the country”.
The main disadvantage of the aforesaid system (especially visible while having elections in the only nationwide multi-member constituency) is the absence of direct communication voters and deputies. In this basis, we think, changing proportional system with “closed” lists to the one with “open” lists would be the better alternative. In the end, experts recommended rejecting the project.
Law project about people’s deputies of Ukraine elections (with open party lists) №1068-1 from 02.12.2014
Initiators: Yuliia Tymoshenko, Serhii Soboliev, Ivan Kyrylenko, Ivan Krulko, Ihor Lutsenko, Borys Tarasiuk, Alona Shkrum, Hryhorii Nemyria, Vadym Ivchenko, Vladyslav Bukhariev, Oleksii Riabchyn, Oleksandra Kuzhel (all from the All-Ukrainian Union “Fatherland” (Batkivshchyna). The project offers to hold elections by the proportional system with a nationwide voting list and with candidates fixed to territorial constituencies, and 5% barrier.
Expert department recommends to send his project to revision, as, according to the project, “voter, in fact, doesn’t make a choice among some alternative candidates, but he or she just support the only candidate fixed to a respective constituency, and that doesn’t make offered system the proportional one with open lists”.
Law project about people’s deputies elections of Ukraine №1068-2 from 11.12.2014
Project initiators: Viktor Chumak (non-factious), Nataliia Ahafonova, Nataliia Novak, Pavlo Rizanenko (the Petro Poroshenko bloc), Leonid Yemets (the “People’s Front” party). Deputies offered the proportional system with nationwide and regional voting candidates’ lists. That is the system international experts advised as it allows joining high demands to candidates and needs to represent regional interests. The Main Scientific and Expert Department recommended taking this project as a basis (considering advice).
Project of Election code of Ukraine №3112 from 16.09.2015
The initiator – Valerii Pysarenko, deputy group “Revival”. The project offers the Parliament election system, similar to the local election system, which is said to be proportional, but has no open lists.
According to the Main Scientific and Expert Department conclusion, “offered model doesn’t allow voters to choose a candidate from the party list, because party offers just one candidate in a territorial constituency with no alternative. So, the election system in the project cannot be seen as proportional one with open lists”.
Also, experts think codification of an unstable part of legislation doesn’t make sense. The project is full of other complaints, so experts recommend sending it to revision.
Project of Election code of Ukraine №3112-1 from 02.10.2015
Initiators: Andrii Parubii, Leonid Yemets (the “People’s Front” party), Oleksandr Chernenko (the Petro Poroshenko Bloc). The project offers a new model of the parliamentary election system: personified voting which allows the voter to vote for a particular candidate included into regional party list. The expert department thinks, the project can be taken as a basis (considering advice).
All the projects mentioned above were presented more than a year ago but passed to the Verkhovna Rada just in March 2017. And the process didn’t move further.
1991: an All-Ukrainian referendum on the Act of Declaration of Independence of Ukraine and the presidential elections – 84,32% (percent of voters who got ballots relating to the general voter’s quantity in the voters list on constituencies).
1994: people’s deputies of Ukraine elections – 76,07%.
1994: presidential elections – 70,62% (the first runoff), 71,74% (the second runoff).
1998: people’s deputies of Ukraine elections – 71,21%.
1999: presidential elections – 70,19% (the first runoff), 74,92% (the second runoff).
2002: people’s deputies of Ukraine elections — 69,39%.
2004: presidential elections — 74,56% (the first runoff), 80,44% (the second runoff), 77,20% (repeated second run off).
2006: people’s deputies of Ukraine elections — 67,58%.
2007: snap people’s deputies of Ukraine elections — 57,94%.
2010: presidential elections — 66,76% (the first runoff), 69,15% (the second runoff).
2012: people’s deputies of Ukraine elections — 57,98%.
2014: snap presidential elections — 60,29%.
2014: snap people’s deputies of Ukraine elections — 52,42%.
October 1989 – UkSSR (the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic) election law about people’s deputies was passed. It has been valid until November 1993, was edited 4 times.
November 1993 – a new election law about people’s deputies of Ukraine passed. The law had 9 editions.
June 1996 – the Constitution of Ukraine (aimed to replace the Constitution of 1978) was passed; as the Constitution took effect the law of 1993 lost its validity.
September 1997 – a new election law about people’s deputies of Ukraine was passed, it had 9 editions.
October 2001 – a new election law about people’s deputies of Ukraine was passed, it had 7 editions.
March 2004 – a new election law about people’s deputies of Ukraine was passed, it had 14 editions.
November 2011 – a new election law about people’s deputies of Ukraine was passed. The 13th edition of this law is now in action \ valid.
March 2017 – three election law projects and two Election code projects on first reading were passed to the Verkhovna Rada.