Academic journal article Demokratizatsiya

The Negative Consequences of Proportional Representation in Ukraine

Academic journal article Demokratizatsiya

The Negative Consequences of Proportional Representation in Ukraine

Article excerpt

After Ukraine gained its independence in 1991, it faced an urgent need to reform its electoral legislation to address new political realities - most importantly, the development of a multiparty system in place of the previous one-party system that had ruled the Soviet Union. According to the existing law adopted during the Soviet era, parties other than the Communist Party of the Soviet Union had no legal basis. That law laid out a first past the post majoritarian system in which the winner had to win an absolute majority of the votes.1

The opposition national-democrat deputies in the People's Rada group in the first years of independence supported electoral law reform and backed a mixed system that included single-member districts and proportional representation (PR) or various models of proportional repre- sentation. The declining political prospects of the national-democrats stimulated their interest in electoral reform. The standard of living in independent Ukraine was not improving and the deepening economic crisis hurt their popularity. Moreover, these politicians had concentrated all their strength on gaining independence and had no plans for what to do after they succeeded. As a result, several parties formed from their ranks and each of these new parties had its own vision for the future development of Ukraine. Having failed to create a powerful network across Ukraine and constantly fighting among themselves, the national-democrats could not divide the districts among themselves to avoid competition with each other.

At the same time, the leftists, particularly the communists, had developed structures and expected an increase in popularity as Ukrainians became dissatisfied with their newly-won independence. Accordingly, they strongly supported the use of the majoritarian, first-past-the-post system, which they felt would improve their chance of winning more seats. Since they had an absolute majority in the Verkhovna Rada2 (See Figures 1 and 2), the leftists voted against any electoral law that did not include single- member districts.

After the 1994 elections, the position of the leftists changed despite the fact that they performed better in the elections than the Right. One in four leftist candidates won their elections, whereas only one in ten rightists succeeded. The Left felt that this margin of victory was not enough. The Right's problem was that it could not divide up the districts so that only one rightist candidate ran in each; the result was that they split their votes and allowed other candidates to win with a plurality. As a consequence of the problems on the left and right, the winners in more than half of the districts were non-partisan candidates who nominated themselves and represented no party (See Figure 3).3 These candidates represented the business inter- ests, which had begun to appear in the 1990s. Fearing that they would lose their influence, the Communists and the Socialists began to work with the rightists on the electoral law and became advocates of conducting parliamentary elections according to party lists. President Leonid Kuchma opposed such changes as the non-party deputies supported him, as well as representatives of the relatively weak parties.

As a compromise, the deputies adopted a 1997 law based on a mixed proportional-majoritarian system under which half the parliament was elected in single-member districts using a first-past-the-post system, and half by closed party lists. Under this mixed system one candidate could simultaneously run in a single-member district and on the party list. In 2002 the Constitutional Court ruled that a candidate could not simultane- ously run on the party list and in a single-member district since the court considered running in both violated the principle of equal voting rights. Therefore the 2002 elections were conducted according to two parallel electoral systems: closed party lists and majoritarian districts, which were not connected in any way. …

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