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The CEC and electoral reform

October 2, 2016

The current composition of the Central Election Committee (CEC) will once again become a political issue in this parliamentary term – and rightly for it has long since past its legal term remit (or at least 12 of the 15 members had terms that expired in 2014).

However, despite any and all the political rhetoric that will surround the CEC issue prior to the year end, it seems extremely unlikely that those who currently compose the current CEC will be changed or be given new mandates.

Firstly the budget and other legislative matters will simply take priority.  Thus it follows that the issue will (once again) be put on the back-burner.  Sometime in early 2017 would appear to be the most hopeful (perhaps even fanciful) time frame when it will be addressed.   Secondly a reader may question any real political desire to actually do anything about changing the current CEC composition, providing doubt that early 2017 is indeed realistic.

As is always the case in Ukraine far too much attention will be given to who is put forward for the CEC positions rather than the institution, its role, and the legislation that it is charged with implementing and overseeing – and that legislation is certainly poor.

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Without going into unnecessary detail of the proposed candidates for the new CEC, the names of which are more or less already known, it is abundantly clear that the Presidential Administration is not keen upon any names put forward by The People’s Front, Radical Party, Opposition Block or Batkivshchyna.  They in turn will therefore not vote for any nominations of the presidential party.

Further consultations will naturally occur, albeit there will certainly be no rush to achieve a compromise.  What matters is not really the names but the political balance within any new CEC – at least under current legislation.

There are now also attempts to link the CEC nominations to a broader process that would include the expired terms of the majority of the Audit Chamber as well as the vacant “Chair” of at least 6 Verhovna Rada committees.

Therefore grubby deals behind the curtain may well reach agreement where it will prove easier to change the legislation to produce an unbalanced CEC than it will be to produced a politically balanced one under the laws that currently exist through appointment trade-offs elsewhere.

That being so, it is the institution, institutional processes, and accountability that will matter far more than those names that will (eventually) form the CEC.

What matters far more than the composition of a new CEC are changes to the poor electoral laws over which the CEC preside.

Lengthy is the rhetoric regarding a fully proportional representation system.  Equally as long and tired is the rhetoric regarding open party lists.

Innumerable are the conversations this blog has held with various parliamentarians over these issues – and it is here that the rhetoric clearly will remain just that for some time to come – for such electoral legislative change would appear to suit only the Ukrainian voting constituency.  It is difficult to see any benefits for the current self-serving feckless political class.  Thus these issues will be kicked into the very long debate/discussion, lots of talk, no walk, grass.

Firstly, speaking to several MPs that hold single mandate (first past the post) constituency seats, there is no desire among them to vote to move to a fully proportional voting system.  Many are very content within the single mandate cocoon that provides them with far more wiggle room to buck the party line because they are not dependent upon being placed highly on a party list for reelection.  Yet further, they are also free from having to play handmaiden and spew forth unreserved faux subservience to whichever party functionaries are placed in charge of election campaigns.

It follows therefore that across party lines many single mandate parliamentarians are not going to rush to vote for a fully proportionate electoral system – particularly when many currently do not have to pay a lot of cash for the privilege of a position high enough on a party list to insure reelection.  As half the Verkhovna Rada is comprised of single mandate parliamentarians, the problematic issues are self-evident.

This brings a reader to the issue of party lists and the long promised fully open party lists.

Party lists have not been open for several reasons.

The first is that party leaders simply do not want to give up control over who gets elected from a party list.

Secondly they do not want to surrender the huge sums of money paid to be placed highly enough on a party list to be assured election.

Thirdly they do not want to have their power lessened by their party parliamentarians having been elected by popular vote individually, rather than the party arbitrarily listing highly those (normally corrupt, old school cronies) in an order that insures the party favourites (and not necessarily the public’s preferred candidates) reach the Verkhovna Rada.  With individual and personal public mandate from a party list the parliamentarian is simply less constrained under the leader’s yoke, similar to the single mandate party parliamentarian.

Thus whilst it is entirely reasonable to assume a new CEC will (eventually by hook, crook, and grubby deals involving appointments in other entities) probably arrive at some stage in 2017, it is far more unlikely that any legislative changes to the electoral laws will occur before the next Verkhovna Rada elections – whether they be early or as envisaged by term completion.

Some readers will state that the Verhovna Rada has far more pressing legislative matters to address anyway – perhaps they are right too.  Nevertheless when elections are once again upon Ukraine and the predicable lamenting of an unfit legislative framework is once again to the fore, the reasons for failure to change them will be the same then as they are now.

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In the meantime, a reader is wrongly encouraged by far too many to concentrate attention upon the “who” in any new CEC composition rather than its institutional processes and accountability, or the poor electoral legislation it is meant to oversee.

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