Thursday, April 20, 2006

Ukraine After the Parliamentary Elections

Today, Hryhoriy Nemyria, director of the Centre for European and International Studies and newly elected member of the Ukrainian parliament (BYuT), lectured on developments after the country's recent parliamentary elections at the Swedish Institute of International Affairs. Nemyria, who is more of a researcher than a politician, is participating in a security policy research project organised by the Swedish Defence Research Agency and financed by the Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs.

In his lecture, Nemyria - among other things - pointed to three factors that I found of particular interest:
  • the 3% threshold to parliament;
  • that only 5 parties, out of a total of 45 running, actually entered parliament;
  • Only 67% of the electorate voted as compared to 76% in the last elections.

I have previously pointed to the fact that more than 20% of votes in the election will not result in any parliamentary representation due to the 3% threshold and the many parties running for parliament. I had, however, until now not taken the voter turnout into account. All in all, this would mean that less than half the Ukrainian electorate will be represented in parliament. This is perhaps not unique to Eastern Europe, but taking the recent orange revolution and its subsequent urge for reform into account, this may be more serious than might be expected.

Asking Dr. Nemyria to what extent this might pose a problem of democratic legitimacy to the parliament and a new government, he admitted that this was problematic. In the long run, it may either result in political lethargy or in pushing people to the extremes in terms of political choice. Expectations for a "third force" or some new political movement may easily rise. However, Nemyria continued, the matter should also be perceived from a vertical perspective, viz. in terms of what politicians may deliver to the people. This is the more serious problem, as links between politicians and people are weak - both top-down and bottom-up. Furthermore, one may ask whether people experience that what they get is a result of government policy or a consequence of connections with or bribes to officials or politicians on various levels of society. So far, most people have got little out of government policy.

The conclusion one might draw from Nemyria's reasoning might thus be that, as long as people do not see the causal link between what the government does and what they actually get, the problem of legitimacy is much greater on the vertical level than concerning how large a percentage of the electorate is represented in parliament. The combination of the two factors should, in my view, form a political nightmare if Ukraine - under these terms - is to continue its path towards reforms and change. Keeping to status quo needs little legitimacy. Changing a country needs a strong mandate. It would seem that whatever government Ukraine will get in the next years, it will have a weak mandate and no real way of showing the casual link between its policy implementation and the actual results - in terms of better conditions for the people. As long as this is the case, progress may be claimed by next to everyone, and failure will be blamed on the government. One can hardly envy the cabinet that will run Ukraine in the coming years.

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