Elections: Back to the USSR

(Media Credit/Agence France Presse)

By Andriy  Kohut, Renaissance Foundation in Kyiv, and one of the orignal leaders of ‘Black’ Pora.

Elections are best though of as mirrors of democracy. Simply look at a given country’s elections and it will become clear whether its regime is democratic or not. Authoritarian regimes, for example, if they appeal to the “republic” and “democracy,” cannot do without elections. In Ukraine, there is a joke: “Elections are held even in Belarus.” The question here, however, is when this joke may apply to Ukraine.

During the first six months of President Viktor Yanukovych’s presidency, he concentrated practically all power in his hands: the Presidential Secretariat was again converted to the “Presidential Administration” (as under former President Leonid Kuchma) and became a place of state decision-making; Yanukovych and his administration control the entire executive power vertical; the Constitutional Court decided that the current constitution is ineffective, restoring the constitution of 1996 under which the president exhibited wide-ranging powers; after the judicial reform, the Presidential Administration may influence the decision of any court; parliament has become a puppet in the hands of the Presidential Administration.

The next logical step to power consolidation, as Yanukovych saw it, were local elections held last autumn, the first under his presidency. The elections were a chance for Yanukovich to the gain greater control of local governments, and they proved to be most advantageous for the ruling Party of Regions. In typical authoritarian fashion, they adopted changes to the election, which effectively tipped the balance in their favor. The law provided the Party of Regions with the ability to control the majority in the election commissions. Electoral programs of candidates are not required, and observers from NGOs were deprived of observer rights.

Assessing the electoral campaign, experts said local elections failed to meet international standards for free and fair elections. Conditions for equal political competition were absent, they said, and equal access to media not been provided. The main condition for victory was the ability to use administrative resources, which were employed widely. (Expert survey of “Reforms support network” and “Civic Assembly of Ukraine” http://parlament.org.ua/upload/docs/ExOp_results_1.pdfhttp://parlament.org.ua/upload/docs/II_results_survey_elections.pdf).

Although the voting was calm, the campaign and the results showed a return to Kuchma-type practices based on the infamous Stalin quote, “It not the people who vote that matter… it’s the people who count the votes that matter.” Under the new law, the Party of Regions had basically full control of the poll.

As far as elections go, the future looks dire. Soon, Ukraine will witness another round of elections – this time, to parliament. A Regions-backed government commission on changing the law once again is already up and running. But the damage is done: it can be easily said that Yanukovych and the Party of Regions have thus far failed the democracy test.

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