Passing of time Another opportunity lost

Ukraine’s embattled president, Viktor Yushchenko, has less then five months remaining of his five-year term of office.

With the passing of August is also the passing of last opportunity in which any proposed amendments to Ukraine’s constitution can be initiated before the Presidential elections scheduled for January 17, 2010.

Under the terms of Ukraine’s Constitution any amendments must be proposed before and later confirmed by the Parliament during the following Parliamentary session. The next regular session of the Parliament commences on September 1

If Ukraine was to adopt changes to its Constitution before the Presidential election it would have to do so next week.

Yulia Tymoshenko’s government surprisingly has proposed holding an extra-ordinary Parliamentary session on August 21, ten days before the next regular September session is due to start.

There are at present two items on the agenda both seeking to overturn the President’s obstructionist right of veto.

One is the proposed changes to Ukraine’s budget and the need for appropriate funding of preparations for hosting the Euro 2012 Football Championship.

The second more controversial issue is proposed changes to the laws on presidential election. Changes that Yushchenko has falsely claimed are detrimental to democracy in Ukraine.

Next week will be the last chance to make a real difference and change the way Ukraine elects its head of state.

The proposed changes would reduce the time set for the presidential election campaign from four months down to three. There is nothing extraordinary or wrong in this proposal. The time required for the official Presidential campaign can be as little as two months, as is the case of any early presidential or parliamentary election. Three months provides sufficient time for nominations and the preparation of the ballot. Narrowing the time of the official campaign period should also reduce some of the indirect costs involved in the campaign. It will not effect the overall Presidential campaign which has already started.

The law also requires candidates to pay a higher deposit in order to nominate for election. The aim is to reduce the number of minor candidates that do not have any real prospect of being elected nominating and negatively effecting the outcome of the election. The real sting in the tail is that only those candidates that progress into the second round of voting will get their 500,000 UAH deposit back.

Any minor candidate such as Yushchenko (Our Ukraine) or Yatseniuk (Y-Front for change) who fails to secure second place will be gambling on the outcome and will risk losing their deposit. They will have to decide if it worth the risk.

Under Ukraine’s two round presidential voting system, if no single candidate has 50% or more votes then the two highest polling candidates face off in a run-off ballot the following month.

A vote for a minor candidate is a vote wasted

The problem with Ukraine’s first past-the-post Presidential electoral system is that minor candidates play a negative role in the outcome of the election. They take votes away from the main candidates in the process deny any other candidate the benefit of their support. This is particularly the case with Viktor Yushchenko.

Yushchenko, who has less then 4% in the polls, is considered to have no hope of surviving the first round of voting and will not be reelected to a second term of office.

According to the polls Arseny Yatseniuk (13%) is five percentage points below Yulia Tymoshenko (18%) who is currently in second place to face off in a second final ballot against Party of Regions candidate, Viktor Yanukovych (23%).

Both Yushchenko and Yasteniuk are members of “Our Ukraine” and as such are competing for the same votes. United they could out-poll Yulia Tysmochenko but divided and competing against each other they risk losing their deposit.

The pressure is on for one or the other to pull out of the race. A reduced official campaign period and the possible loss of their deposit just adds to the pressure Yushchenko is under.

Yushchenko will try and portray that the proposed amendments to the law of the presidential election are undemocratic and designed to limit participation and choice.

The proposed law is not the problem (although maybe the deposit should be refunded to those that can secure 10% or 12.5% of the overall vote). The real problem is the two-round first-past-the-post voting system. At a cost of over US $100 Million per round the two round voting system denies minor candidates the opportunity to make a positive contribution in the outcome of the election.

A better alternative would be for Ukraine to adopt a single round preferential voting system where voters rank in order of preference candidates of their choice.

If no candidate has 50% or more votes then the candidate(s) with the least votes are excluded from the count and their votes redistributed according to the voters’ preference. Results known within days not months after the first ballot. One round of voting at half the cost as the two round system.

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