Volodymyr Kovtunets, Coordinator of the Expert Group working on the Concept of Improving Legislation on Local Election, tells how the mechanism of holding elections to local councils could change next year
By Dmytro Synyak
Completion of administrative-territorial reform in one way or another entails reforming the electoral legislation. Realising this, the government proposed in January this year to develop a draft amendment to the Law of Ukraine “On Local Elections”. As a result, a group of experts at MinRegion developed the Concept for Improving Legislation on Local Election recently presented by the Ministry of Development of Communities and Territories. Decentralisation addressed expert group coordinator Volodymyr Kovtunets with request to tell about the changes that could be implemented soon.
What is wrong with the current electoral system?
- It has many drawbacks. In general, it is a simplified version of the system proposed in 1997 as a compromise with those who tried to maintain a majority vote system of parliamentary elections. That is from the very beginning it was far from being perfect.
Does it concern influence of political parties on local elections?
- Yes, it is a natural process, but in Ukraine such influence is definitely excessive. The main thing is not even that, but the fact that the current proportional electoral system (deputies are elected to the rayon and oblast councils exclusively under party lists) does not correspond to the constitutional status of these local self-government bodies, since hromadas should not formulate state policy, but address local issues and exercise state-delegated powers.
Has the model you propose already been applied in any countries?
- A similar electoral system is used in parliamentary elections in Germany, but I would not say that it is, in fact, a German model.
Are there any assessments of your Concept by international institutions?
- In our group there are several experts who know international standards rather well: Yuriy Klyuchkovskyi, Volodymyr Venher and others. Besides, our work is supported by the OSCE and the Council of Europe. So, we have relied on the help of at least these two institutions from the beginning.
In your Concept, much attention is devoted to the election to rayon councils. However, the debate on whether these councils are needed at all is not yet complete in society.
- Our Concept is not about reforming the administrative and territorial structure of Ukraine. It does not determine, for example, what the rayons will be and whether the function of oblast councils or state administrations will change. We designed this Concept within the framework of the current territorial division of the state, but taking into account the draft administrative-territorial reform.
Did I understand it correctly that electoral reform cannot take place without consolidation of rayons?
- Absolutely! If there is no consolidation of rayons, no one will be able to hold elections to rayon councils.
How will the quantitative composition of local councils change after your model is implemented?
- We proposed some options for determining the number of local council members, but this is not the main thing. The most important is the principle by which the number is determined. It lies in dependence of the number of deputies on the number of voters. We propose to set a clear standard of representation for one mandate. For example, 1 deputy to the rayon council will go from 1 thousand voters and 1 deputy to the oblast council will go from 3 thousand voters.
How many deputies will then a hromada with, say, a million voters have?
- As the population number of hromadas grow, the standard of representation increases, but non-linearly. A hromada with more than one million voters will have only 9 deputies in the oblast council. Thus, the oblast councils will have, as they do now, 130-150 deputies, and rayon councils – 50-100 deputies.
Why did you choose the Chernihiv Oblast for demonstration calculations? It is not typical since it has a large area and a relatively small population
- That's just why it is so interesting! There are many remote settlements, villages in the oblast. But we also made similar calculations on the example of the Kharkiv and Dnipropetrovsk Oblasts, where large-city voters dominate.
Does your model include valid constituencies for election to the Verkhovna Rada?
- No, it doesn’t, since they do not match the constituencies for local elections. A hromada, no matter how small, will become the constituency for election to rayon and oblast councils, according to our Concept.
In such circumstances, large cities virtually lose influence over oblast councils. It is possible that they will do everything possible to block this bill in the Parliament.
- I don't think there will be problems with that. First, significant influence will remain. And secondly, such a model is fairer than the current one.
How do you plan to reduce excessive partisanship in local elections?
- By introducing a majority vote electoral system. Then voters will be able to vote for both party representatives and non-party candidates. A similar system is now being used in the election of mayors or city councils.
But even majoritarian candidates can have party affiliation ...
- The purpose of our reform is not to fully eliminate partisanship but to create healthy competition between political parties and those active citizens who have not found a place in political parties. After all, the electoral system should push forward more professional people, regardless of party affiliation.
Is there a proposal to change the electoral system for the election of hromada heads?
- Yes, there is. At present, the so-called relative majority vote electoral system is used for the election of deputies to village, settlement and city councils with a number of voters not exceeding 90 thousand. According to it, the candidate with the highest number of votes becomes the winner in one round. Even if he/she scored, for example, 5%. And for cities with more than 90,000 voters, a two-round voting system is applied.
Will there be an increase in the cost of conducting elections in connection with the introduction of second rounds?
- I do not think the costs will be much higher. Their volume can also be adjusted by the percentage of votes in the first round. It can be 10%, and it can be 5%, 20% or even 30%. However, this is not the main thing. The main thing is to simplify the approaches to avoid, for example, attempts to manipulate with the number of voters.
And how to deal with such abuse?
- For this, we proposed to establish a number of voters in the hromada as of 1 December of each year and to make it unchanged over the next calendar year. To this end, we have proposed to form territorial election commissions not immediately before the election, but at least a year before it.
Among the problems with the current model, you mentioned the problem of voter affiliation with a particular hromada. How do you plan to tackle it?
- The voting place is now identical to the place of registration, and this is incorrect. After all, there is a strong labour migration in Ukraine. This factor must be taken into account.
Is there a certainty that such a Concept will be supported?
- Vyacheslav Nehoda, Deputy Minister of Development of Communities and Territories, is supervising this work. In addition, we have OSCE’s support and cooperate with the Committee on State Building of the Verkhovna Rada.
What is the future of your Concept?
- A draft law should be created on its basis. But this will only be done after public discussions – both in Kyiv and in the regions. And we plan to finish this work by the end of the year.
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