Political parties market in Ukraine: «corrupted multiparty system» | Center for Political Analysis “Observatory of Democracy”

Political parties market in Ukraine: «corrupted multiparty system»

It is no secret that the level of trust in the party system in Ukraine is one of the lowest among all social and political institutions (about 11% with 76% of distrust). And the result of “Sluga Narodu” in the recent parliamentary elections (43%), with its ideological eclecticism and lack of local structures, does not only contradict, but confirm the crisis of the party system.

Why, in such circumstances, the number of parties in Ukraine is constantly growing, and does it have any sense from the point of view of the electoral process’ democratization? The “party business” in Ukraine and ways to optimize the legislative framework are all in the new material of the Center for Political Analysis “Observatory of Democracy”.

When too much is too much

To date, more than 350 parties are registered in Ukraine (according to the Ministry of Justice, 352 are at the beginning of 2019). For the period 2014-2019, the number of parties almost doubled, and the peak year was 2015, for which 78 political forces were registered. And, for example, in just one day on January 22, 2016, 21 new parties were registered in Ukraine with an impressive brand spectrum – “European Kryvyi Rih”, “Socialistychna Partiia of Oleksandr Moroz”, “Partiia Zarobitchan Ukrainy”, “Tsyganska Partiia Ukrainy” and many others.

Since 2017, the “party boom” has been stopped – according to official data, in 2017-2018, only 4 new parties were registered. Such a sharp decline can be explained by the following factors:

  • A multiple growth of the administrative fee for registering a party (140 living wages) – i.e. officially the party initiator has to pay about 11 thousand dollars to the state budget. At the same time, insiders claim that the unofficial registration costs for holding a package of documents for all instances also have increased significantly from the second half of 2016.

However, in 2015-2016, the party market managed to expand significantly, and some experts saw this as more positive than negative. What is significant is that if you open the analytical report of the National Institute for Strategic Studies for 2015, which is devoted to the party system of Ukraine, then the recommendations there suggested simplifying the procedure for registering parties and abolishing the requirement for parties to participate in presidential or parliamentary elections at least once in 10 years.

Such recommendations come from a very abstract interpretation of the democratic principles of the electoral process: the fewer institutional barriers for electoral actors are better for democracy. A multi-party system in contrast to a single-party system is understood as an undoubted benefit, and instead of searching for a “golden mean” and an “effective number of parties” to build a stable party system, the assumption of a correlation of “more is better” is accepted a priori.

The nature of almost all Ukrainian parties is completely ignored, that American political scientist Henry Hale has described in his works (in the context of the entire post-Soviet space). Unlike the traditional Western understanding, in which parties are stable organizations that are fighting for a presence in power and representing the interests of an electoral group; in Ukraine, “parties” as the election campaign projects for a specific election cycle represent the interests of their investors only and do not carry political responsibility before voters (often make a rebranding on the eve of the next cycle, including to distance oneself from their previous activities and past promises).

And do not always the interest of the organizer / investor is to bring a party to government or local government – this is seen, rather, as a means to capitalize the party brand. Financial profit as an underlying motive for party building together with a rather liberal legislative base created in Ukraine such a model of the party market, which made not only possible, but also demanded the existence of three and a half hundred quasi-party substitutes.

The fact that the goals of the vast majority of party projects lie outside of the electoral sphere is evidenced by their “activity” in parliamentary elections. In 2019, 22 parties submitted their lists for participation in the elections, i.e. about 6% of all registered. For comparison, in 2014, 29 party lists with 220 registered parties (13%) were submitted, that is, the trend (primarily 2015-2016) for the registration of the new party projects did not lead to an increase in the number of parties participating in the elections.

Typical Party Monetization Strategies

Such party projects use several traditional strategies for making money. One of the most common is the trading of quotas in District Electoral Commissions. Moreover, for this, it is completely unnecessary for parties to participate in the current elections and make a deposit.

Section 107 (paragraph 2) of the “Law on the Election of People’s Deputies” provides parties, that participated in the last elections, can take a part in the drawing of lots of the district commissions formation in the early parliamentary elections. For example, in the Kharkiv region, district commissions at the July election were headed by representatives of such “parties” as “Ukraina Maibutniogo”, “Yedyna Kraina”, “Nova Polityka”, “Solidarnist Zhinok Ukrainy”, and “Liberalna Partiia”.

In relation to such parties and their quotas, two mechanisms most often work: either the heavyweight parties centrally rent a participant of the last election, holding their own commission members according to its quota, or after the draw, appeals come from the leaders of candidates who are going to be elected by majoritarian system, and who are interested in the loyal leadership of District Electoral Commission.

The topic of “franchise lease” is also very relevant in the context of local elections (especially if they run through the same electoral system as in 2015). The current law on local elections requires a proportional personalized system at almost all levels (regional, city and district councils) without the possibility of self-nomination. The subject of the nomination is not the all-Ukrainian, but the local party organization of the related level.

As a result, taking into account the personality-oriented voting in local elections, many rating politicians are forced to look for at least some kind of party franchise with a registered unit in their city / region in order to be able to run. For example, according to the results of the elections to the city Merefiansk UTC (2016) of the Kharkiv region, not only fractions of well-known All-Ukrainian brands appeared in the local council, but also such parties as “Volonterska Partiia Ukrainy” and “Nasha Zemlia”.

Party organizations are also often used in the election political technologies in various roles. For example, “parties-spoiler” work as technical projects to get votes from opponents. To do this, the project “starts” in a similar electoral niche – by age (for a long time, this function was performed by the “Party of Pensioners” to get votes from the “Communist Party of Ukraine”), by ideology (“Nash Krai” as a competitor to the “Opposition Bloc” in the struggle for Party of Regions electoral heritage) or other parameters of the target audience.

Special cases of “spoilers” can be considered “parties-clones” and “named projects”. For example, in 2015, officially registered alternative “Samopomich” was going to go to local elections, but at the last moment abandoned its intentions and submitted documents for renaming. This case illustrates another specific capitalization strategy – to register a party with a similar name and pursue the “electoral blackmail” of the original in order to obtain compensation for non-participation.

As for the “named projects”, the classic example of this technology was successfully implemented in the elections in October 2006 in the Oktiabrskyi district council of Kharkiv; the technical project “Bloc for Yanukovych!”, working in the interests of “Nasha Ukraina”, took away the major part of the Party of Regions votes. In 2015, the mayor of Kharkiv, Gennadii Kernes, announced attempts to register and use the “Bloc for Kernes” party in local elections against his will (the mayor managed to prevent this in court).

In addition to goals related to the splitting the electoral field of others, parties often perform image, representative functions, increasing the subjectivity of their leaders in various negotiation processes about associations. The personal party project “Nashi” probably helped Yevgen Muraev after breaking up with “Za Zhyttya”, he got into the “Opposition Bloc” on more favorable terms (including becoming the first number on the list).

Party projects “Osnova” by Sergii Taruta and “Spravedlyvist” by Valentyn Nalyvaichenko created the appearance of a “unification of democratic forces” around the “Batkivschyna” in the parliamentary elections in 2019. Such an association allowed its leaders to get the 2nd and 3rd numbers in the list, respectively (Taruta also managed to bring his ex-deputy head of the Donetsk regional state administration Andrii Nikolaienko).

The visibility of an even broader “alliance of democrats” under the brand of “Gromadianska Pozytsiia” by Anatoliy Grytsenko was designed to ensure the entry into the top ten leaders of 4 political projects – “Narodnyi Control” by Dmitro Dobrodomov, “Ridna Kraina” by Mykola Tomenko, “Yevropeiska Partiia” by Mykola Kerenchuk and “Alternatyvy” by Yegor Firsov.

In other words, for leaders of little-known “personal” parties, having your own party project allows you to improve the format of the negotiations from “what should I do to take me on your party list” to “discuss the conditions for combining our parties” (with all “bluffing” about real people in local party organizations, international relations of the party, mythical own rating, etc.).

Turnkey old party for “new faces”

However, most parties are registered with one ultimate goal is to be sold for a profit for renaming. In Ukraine, almost every season of public policy, new players appear for whom the registration or purchase of an already registered party is relevant. Moreover, the second way is chosen significantly more often: registering “from scratch” (and, therefore, collecting 10 thousand signatures in 2/3 of Ukraine’s regions) is more bulky, long and risky in terms of passing documents to the Ministry of Justice, than holding a congress of purchased party, its renaming and change of leadership.

Insiders say that the prices on the market “parties for renaming” start from 25 thousand dollars, but for this money the investor risks getting a “problematic package” (fictitious legal addresses of local organizations, registration of local organizations on the same individuals, overdue reports, open litigation on the party, etc.). That is, with minimal interest, such a party can legally be, at a minimum, not eligible for election. The cost of “normal packages” depends on many factors, including the branching of local party organizations, and starts from 40-50 thousand dollars.

Most parties of the so-called “first line”, which today is heard by voters, have their own shadow history of sale and official history of renaming. What is characteristic is that this also applies to political forces declaring a different quality of politics, a change of approaches, and other innovativeness.

So, the party “Sluga Narodu” was registered back in 2016 under the name “Partiia Rishuchyh Zmіn” in the name of Yevgen Yurdyga, a graduate and ex-head of the council of the campus of the Kyiv Polytechnic Institute. Sviatoslav Vakarchuk’s “Golos” party was initially registered as the “Platforma Initsiatyv” in 2015, long before its current leader decided on his future in Ukrainian politics. “Rukh Novyh Syl Mikheil Saakashvili” is also far from new – the “Partiia Harmoniinogo Rozvytku” registered in 2015 was purchased for him.

“Ukrainska Strategiia Groysmana” is the previously associated “Vinnytska Yevropeiska Strategiia”, whose historical name upon registration (and before Groysman appeared in the project) is “Narodna Trybuna”. “Syla ta Chest” party was given to Igor Smeshko for use by Evgen Marchuk (formerly called “Partiia Svobody”). Even “Yevropeiska Solidarnist” formally does not act as the successor of the “Solidarnist” that Petro Poroshenko headed back in 2001, but the “Vseukrainska Partiia Myru ta Yednosti”, founded by Liudmyla Yankovskaya in 2000 in Donetsk.

Each such story can serve as a separate topic for research of “party genealogy”, and together they confirm the thesis: parties in Ukraine are created for various forms of earnings on them and final opportunity of their sale to new players who have got into Ukrainian politics.

Conclusions and recommendations

  1. By itself, the number of parties, registered in Ukraine, is not completely connected with the democracy or competitiveness of the political regime, does not contribute to “responsible voting” of voters, democratization of the electoral process, and is not insurance against possible usurpation of power. The quality of these parties does matter, and at the moment, the vast majority of the existing three and a half hundred quasi-party substitutes do not conduct political activities, do not represent the interests of any group of voters and are used as a tool for earning.
  1. “Quasi-party spam”, which peaked in 2014-2016, has sharply slowed down in connection with the tightening of requirements for registration and reporting of parties. In our opinion, it is such trend, and not the liberalization of legislation in this area, that, through filtering mechanisms, could lead to the building of a modern democratic party system in Ukraine.
  1. Some initiatives to change the legal framework could help achieve this goal. For example, it is advisable to prohibit the names of real people in the names of parties (already registered numerous “named projects” to give some time to hold a congress for renaming). Such “depersonalization” in the future should reorient voters from personality and leadership to programmatic and ideological motives for voting for parties.
  1. In the same “anti-chiefdom” direction, it should be institutionalized the mechanism of mandatory rotation of head of the party (for example, every 5 years). It is also important to ensure the relative autonomy of local party organizations from the center in order to strengthen intra-party democracy – for example, if an electoral system with open lists is adopted in parliamentary and / or local elections, the relevant local party organizations should be the subject of nomination (it will help fight against “paratroopers” in the lists) .
  1. It is also advisable to introduce a prohibition on renaming a party less than 2 years before the date of parliamentary or local elections (except for those who need to get rid of the name in the party) – this will reorient political players towards registering new parties, rather than buying “party skeleton”.
  1. At the same time, the rules for registering these new parties should be changed in two, only at first sight, opposite directions – simplifications in terms of financial barriers and complications in terms of basic support for party initiative. At the moment, the party must provide 10 thousand signatures when registering – as is the case that in 2014 and 2019, two parties outside the parliamentary elections had results below 10 thousand votes (illustration to the question of how these signatures are actually collected). And we are talking, roughly speaking, about the TOP-30 of 350+ Ukrainian parties – those that found money for the electoral deposit and decided to participate in the elections, but in the end they didn’t even get “their” 10 thousand. It is advisable to increase the starting threshold several times (up to 30-100 thousand of the basic supporters of the party initiative), and as an additional alternative to signatures, offer an electronic form for support (by analogy with electronic petitions and relevant user verification mechanisms).
  1. In order to maximize the filtering of the party system, it is also necessary to ensure real control over the implementation of Article 24 of the Law of Ukraine “On Political Parties in Ukraine”, which presupposes the cancellation of registration if the party does not nominate candidates for presidential or parliamentary elections for 10 years. The law provides that the body directly registering the party must appeal to the court regarding the cancellation of registration in such circumstances. However, de facto this rule of law is not applied automatically, but selectively.
  1. Moreover, the tightening of this norm is quite acceptable and justifiable – for example, with a decrease to one election cycle (but with inclusion in the list of local elections) and / or with linking to the party’s results, that is, the effectiveness of its real representing function of any group voters. For example, in Finland, a party that has not won a single mandate for two cycles temporarily becomes a public organization. So, any adaptation of this principle could also be applied in Ukraine, encouraging registered parties to participate in elections and really fight for the votes.
  1. The state should move towards lowering the cost of this participation to stimulate the participation in the elections – in particular, by reducing the electoral deposit and, more importantly, the marginal costs of the election funds for parties (they were 375 million hryvnias in this election), creating more competitive conditions and equal opportunities.
  1. The context of local elections actualizes another problem of the current party system – a collision in which de jure all parties must have a national character, but de facto a lot of local, regional parties are registered (which some can immediately see from the name – “Cherkashchane”, “Nash dim Odessa”, etc.). It should be either filtered out all “regional parties” in accordance with the current law (and not only by such formal characteristics as the name, but also by more substantial ones, for example, coverage of the territories where the party nominates candidates in local elections), or a two-level party system should be reflected in the legislatives (with the concept of regional parties for local elections, national are for parliamentary, and acceptable mechanisms for their interaction).

Anton Avksentiev, PhD in Political Science,

Center for Political Analysis «Observatory of Democracy».

Published on the informational and analytical portal “Hvylya”.

The paper was prepared under the project «Promoting Democratic Elections in Eastern Ukraine», with the support of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED). The content of the publication does not necessarily reflect the views of the NED and is the sole responsibility of Center for Political Analysis “Observatory of Democracy”.