How are the form of government and electoral system related and whether they affect economy?

We talked to Ilona Solohub, director for political and economic research at Kyiv School of Economics, CEO at VoxUkraine, about why Ukraine has a parliamentary-presidential form of government and whether it affects economy.

How are elections regulated?


They are regulated by electoral legislation. The Constitution creates a basic legal frame of a presidential or parliamentary election (general, secret, and free voting). For example, the procedure of elections, competency of Central Electoral Commission or local electoral commissions, is regulated by separate laws.

The distribution of power between the President, the Verkhovna Rada, and the Government, is also covered by the Constitution. Hoever, the latter does not provide the complete picture of regulation, as some powers coincide. For example, the President appoints governors, who are responsible for policy implementation and accountable to the government. It creates a conflict inside the authorities and slows down necessary reforms.


Has Ukraine always had such electoral legislation?


No. The electoral reform has changed several times. During the first election in Ukraine in 1994 only majoritarian representation existed. After it was changed for a mixed one: 50 % of deputies were elected according to majoritarian system, another 50%  — proportional one. In 2006-2007 we had a fully-proportional system, which was again replaced by the mixed system.


What was driving these reforms?


Most likely, the changes were driven by electoral relevance. The deputies of every parliament are always motivated to be re-elected again.


Why do some countries have a two-chamber parliament, while we have a single-chamber one?


Because we have a unitary state, while a two-chamber parliament is more common for federations. Theoretically, the function of upper chamber is to represent the interests of separate regions, when the lower chamber is designed for political parties, which are meant to represent the ideas and hopes of some social groups. At the same time, it depends on the electoral system – if there is majoritarian representation, then deputies may be considered as delegates from these districts. In addition, not only the form, but also the real context is important – for example, the Russian Parliament can hardly be considered as representing society’s interests.


Do the majoritarian deputies pay more attention to the needs of the people of their electoral district than those elected through party lists?


Theoretically, yes. However, very often the deputies recall about their electoral districts only before the upcoming election and start “bribing” them with “buckwheat”. Moreover, there were many cases of “parachutes” – the deputies who run in the district unrelated to them. Nevertheless, if the deputy’s party is well supported in the district, then his victory becomes possible. Therefore, the voters have to dedicate at least a few hours once in five years to learning more about previous activity and programs of the deputies.


What are the features of different electoral systems?


The majoritarian representation can be explained by the principle “the winner gets everything”. Then, if a candidate is supported by only 20% of voters, while others even less, this candidate manages to get into the Parliament. All of this considered, the deputy represents only 20% of citizens, when the votes of the rest 80% are considered as neglected. According to the proportional system, fewer votes are lost, as parties get their Parliament seats based on the share of votes given for them. The only votes lost in this case are those in support of parties, which did not make through the electoral threshold. For example, in a recent editorial article in VoxUkraine we showed that only 22% of votes were lost in the proportional representation, comparing to 61% in majoritarian.


Is there research on which electoral system may lead a country to economic prosperity?


I have not seen such. However, there are works proving that wealthier countries, as a rule, are more democratic and respect personal rights. However, most likely, this relation works in both directions: democratic rule nourishes economic development, while the economic growth pushes democratic reforms in response. Nevertheless, one can always find exceptions, such as a wealthy and authoritarian Singapore or democratic but poor countries of Latin America.


Is it right to say that there are no classical parties in Ukraine, which are united by an idea, except for the Communist Party?


Yes, it is, but even the Communist Party cannot be considered as an ideological party, because even its members lost the belief in the communist idea, probably, at the time of Brezhnev. Our current parties arise around its leaders; however, some of them attempt to formulate the ideas, bringing them together.

Why do people vote the first faces instead of ideologies? Is this a feature of Ukrainians?


It is due to the lack of understanding of what institutions are. Citizens do not realize that parties have to be built from the bottom up, according to party goals. The willingness to get into the Parliament cannot be this goal, as it is only a tool to put personal program into life. Speaking of programs – it would be really nice if citizens got familiar with them before voting.


Can the existence of ideological parties be named as a “feature” of wealthier and more developed countries?


No. When we talk about ideological parties, we usually recall two-party systems such as the USA or the UK, which are the wealthy countries. Nevertheless, one can also recall about the early USSR, built on the ideology, that was not a rich country apparently.

Today, the “classic” parties experience a crisis and lose to the new, mostly populistic ones. In general, ideologies as such are depressed – political scientists even discuss about the death of ideologies. Most likely, it is caused by the changes in society – instead of big strata, such as wage-workers (so-called, proletariat), there arise numerous social groups, a person can associate himself/herself with. Respectively, it is very difficult to find one or several “great” ideas, capable of uniting the people around.


Who is subject to immunity? What is it designed for?


It is declared for the President, deputies and judges. Immunity is needed to prevent any pressure on them, as they have to stay independent. To my mind, immunity is more of a good thing than bad, as it is important, that deputies or judges perform their work according to the law and their personal moral code. If you recall both of the Maidans, there were tents with “reception room of a people’s deputy” written on them. This provided certain protection from illegal actions of security officials. Independence and immunity of deputies is important in such crucial moments. What is also important is that other members of the Parliament care more about the legitimacy of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine as an institution rather than about protection of their own colleagues from justice. Accordingly, deputies should consent to bring to responsibility those members of the Parliament, who have violated the law. In such a way, they will ensure social trust towards the Parliament.


Why is lobbyism illegal and unregulated in Ukraine? 


If any business operate in shadow, it is beneficial for people, who have reached certain level of success in this field and want to limit entries to it, leading to no competition, which could decrease their revenues. Speaking about lobbyism, you or I, for example, cannot establish a company officially engaged in lobbying, since we are not aware of “necessary” clients and their prices. It is bad for voters, because citizens cannot find out, whose interests certain deputy is protecting. It is also bad for members of the Parliament, because one can gossip about “deputy N being a puppet of oligarch M” with this gossip being impossible to confute. It leads to lower level of trust towards the Parliament in general.


State Structure


What form of government is efficient during wartime? 


It is not important what form of government the state has chosen. The main thing is to have a concrete distribution of authority with no doubling of responsibilities and grounds for conflict embedded in the system itself. Both presidential and parliamentary forms of government possess advantages as well as certain drawbacks: for parliamentary form, there exist a risk of dissipation of responsibility, while for presidential one – possible seizure of power by an authoritarian leader. 


Why did the form of government in our country change so many times?


This happened due to political reasons. The Constitution was modified for the first time in 2004 after the Maidan, being the first compromise between the old and the new authorities. The decision was to hold the repeated second round of elections and limit the power of a president at the same time. Later Victor Yanukovych returned this power to himself. In 2014 reactivation of more parliamentary power was reasonable in order to prevent the appearance of a “new Yanukovych”, that is, a new authoritarian leader.


Are talks on federalization substantiated? Or Ukrainian regions should not be granted more powers?


Nowadays such process is occurring, however it is not called federalization, but rather decentralization, in particular because powers are transferred to lower levels – not regions, but cities or communities (united territorial communities – UTC). The concentration of power at the level of regions may potentially pose some risks. In theory, the whole region may decide to separate from the country and become a territory of another country; however, one city or community is unlikely to do this. There are no reasons for Ukraine to be a federation, since the population in our country is more or less homogeneous by national, historical as well as cultural characteristics.  


Why is the separation of regions a bad phenomenon?


It is natural that no country wants to lose its territory and people. From the perspective of regions, separation is not beneficial either. Indeed, if one has a look at the consolidated budget, some regions contribute more to the upper level of authority than they receive as transfers. However, such calculations do not take into account nationwide services, provided to these regions, notably defense, protection of justice and international representation. In case of certain region being separated from the whole country, it will have to establish its own army, judicial system, network of embassies or missions, which will be too expensive.

On the one hand, there are very small developed countries in Europe, which have formed the European Union. On the other hand, the Soviet Union has collapsed. What is the future – unification or disunion?  

The European Union was established in order to avoid war in Europe. The initial aim was to unite the economies of the countries. Later, elements of political unification were set, such as the European Parliament and the Council of Europe. Small European countries are exposed to no risks at the current moment.

Speaking about the Soviet Union, there were many reasons for its collapse – both political and economic. During the times of disunion into independent states, they claimed that they did not want to transfer their resources to the upper level and were eager to control them on their own.  


Are there any studies linking the size of the country to its wealth?


If wealth is proxied as GDP or income per capita, then the size of a country is unlikely to be important, especially nowadays when the main factors of national wealth are technologies rather than natural resources.


Was it possible to reduce the risks of losing Crimea by giving more or less powers to it?


To my mind, if big economy wants to occupy a part of the territory of a small economy, then without external support one can do nothing, especially when the small economy is not ready for military protection. Crimea had high level of autonomy and significant support from the state at the same time. If one considers data for 2013, more than 60% of the budget of Crimea were subsidies from the central budget. But let me repeat myself – loss of Crimea happened due to external, but not internal factors.


Did Crimea have a support program for tatars, who had returned back from deportation? If no, would it have helped Crimea to change for the better?


There were several legal acts aimed at supporting Crimean tatars after their return. More actions could have been done for sure. To my mind, more efforts should have been directed to ukrainization policy, so that all citizens of Crimea considered themselves as a part of Ukraine. I also mean television (for instance, the last time when I was in Crimea, which was 10 years ago, it was much easier to find Russian channels than Ukrainian ones). Moreover, one could hardly see Ukrainians schools, published materials etc.


How to return Crimea back?


I think that without regime change in Russia it is impossible to return Crimea back. We will not succeed in doing this by military means with diplomacy bringing no results. However, we can act towards making citizens of the occupied territories of Crimea as well as Donetsk and Luhansk regions feel homey on the territories under the Ukrainian control. It depends not only on the government, but also on every one of us.


The translation is done by Mykola Kravets and Maryna Shykun, EA2.