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Ukraine: New Rules for Legislative Elections

(Jan. 17, 2012) On November 17, 2011, the Verkhovna Rada (legislature) of Ukraine passed a new law on the election of its members that eliminates the present proportional electoral system and introduces a mixed system, which comprises elements of majoritarian and proportional systems. (Sergei Sidorenko, Nazad, k Kuchme, GAZETA.RU (Nov. 18, 2011).)

The mixed system existed in Ukraine until 2004 and was strongly criticized by minority parties. The opposition parties then favored the proportional system, because members of the Rada elected in single-mandate districts with the support of opposition parties often changed their party affiliation after being elected and joined the leading majority party in order to gain access to government privileges. Electoral reform was one of the campaign promises of the incumbent Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich. (Id.)

According to the new law, elections to the next Verkhovna Rada, which are scheduled for 2012, will be conducted in two ways. One-half of the members will be elected through party lists under a proportional electoral system. The other half of the parliamentarians will be elected in single-mandate districts based on receiving a simple majority of votes. Another major provision of this new law is the higher threshold set for political parties to gain seats in the Parliament. As of next year, this threshold will be raised to five percent, instead of the current three percent, of votes cast. (Id.)

Some newly added provisions are aimed at increasing election transparency. They provide for better representation of a variety of political groups in local election commissions and determine the mechanism of their participation in vote counting at precincts. Each party will be required to participate in elections independently; the new law stipulates that parties are not allowed to form blocks or join election coalitions. (Id.)

The law was supported by almost 400 members of the Verkhovna Rada, from various parties. (Press Release, The Chairman of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine Believes That a Mixed Electoral System Will Considerably Increase Parliament's Responsibility (Nov. 18, 2011), Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine website.) Such an unusually high level of support caused observers to suspect that some undisclosed agreements were concluded between the government and the opposition. (Sidorenko, supra.)