Paul D'Anieri, Understanding Ukrainian Politics: Power, Politics, and Institutional Design, 2007.


The Electoral Law
Cause or Effect of Weak Parties?

A 1998 survey of Ukrainians showed how poorly the parliament was regarded by those it is meant to represent: only 7.3 percent said they "trust more than distrust" or "completely trust" the parliament, as compared with 14.5 percent who trusted astrologers.1 Parliament is perceived as fragmented, dominated by groups that have little desire to pass legislation, and highly corrupt.

The problem with forming a functioning parliament is arguably the central problem in building liberal democracy in Ukraine. It is not possible to have liberal democracy in the absence of a functioning legislature. In turn, a parliament cannot function effectively without the ability to form relatively stable majority parties or majority coalitions. These in turn cannot be formed without functioning political parties. In Ukraine, the absence of strong parties, majority coalitions, and a functioning parliament led in the 1990s to the widespread view that power must be diverted to the executive in order for government to be effective. This augmentation of executive power was the central component of the erosion of democracy in Ukraine. The Orange Revolution placed stronger limits on the power of the president. But if the parliament cannot function more effectively, aspirations for liberal democracy in Ukraine will continue to be frustrated.

Explaining the Absence of a Majority

Ukraine has never had a durable majority coalition in its parliament. The simplest explanation lies in the fragmentation of political views stemming from regional, ethnic, and linguistic cleavages. This view was explored at length in Chapter Five, where it was found wanting. Some theorists point out that the overall structure of executive-legislative relations has an impact on coalition formation in parliament, a factor discussed in Chapter Six. Having discussed the role of societal cleavages and constitutional provisions in causing this fragmentation, we now turn to the Ukrainian electoral law as an explanation.

There are essentially two schools of thought on the sources of parliamentary fragmentation. Both examine the same two sets of factors, societal cleavages and electoral rules. One school focuses exclusively on electoral rules, finding that well-designed laws can overcome societal cleavages. The other finds that societal cleavages and electoral laws are both significant, with societal cleavages limiting the effectiveness of electoral laws.

In all of these analyses, the primary focus is on the "effective number of parties"; that is, the number of parties that consistently gains representation in parliament. The underlying assumption is that a smaller number of parties makes it more likely that a stable, effective governing coalition will be formed. The literature on political parties becomes quite technical in measuring the "effective number of parties."2 However, in Ukraine this precision is both unneeded and misleading. While there are a large number of political parties in the country, the number that "matter" appears to be shrinking over time. Between six and eight parties were elected to parliament in the 1998 and 2002 elections, but those parties quickly fragmented, so that there were effectively many more in parliament. Thus the relationship between the number of parties elected and the number of parties working in parliament has been tenuous.

This pattern is changing with the new rules adopted since 2004. In the 2006 elections, only five parties entered parliament. Under the new rules (in particular the "imperative mandate"), parties will not be able to split once they are elected to parliament, so the standard measure should become more relevant. We say "should" because even though formal defection from parties will not be permitted, party cohesion might remain low.

Institutional Approaches

It is widely argued that electoral laws can powerfully limit the fragmenting tendencies of heterogeneous societies.3 From this perspective, the institutional and societal explanations of parliamentary fragmentation compete with one another. The argument, based in rational choice theory, is that politicians want to come to power and that to achieve this they will do whatever is necessary, given the constraints of the system. If electoral rules make it necessary to join forces with other parties to succeed, this view argues, party elites will do so, even if it requires making compromises with other parties that they do not like. Interest in getting elected trumps ideology. Moreover, there is a natural selection aspect to the argument: those parties that make their strategic choices based on ideology rather than on the need to win office will, over time, lose support and eventually disappear. Thus, Ordeshook and Shvetsova argue that a country will have a fragmented party system only if it has both substantial societal cleavages and an election law that creates little incentive to overcome them.4 This view implies that properly designed election laws will overcome Ukraine's societal divisions to create a more unified parliament.

Societal/Institutional Approaches

Other scholars view societal cleavages and election laws as independent determinants of the number of parties in parliament. Neto and Cox, for example, treat the number of parties in a system as a function of both societal cleavages and the electoral law.5 They do not disagree that different electoral laws create different incentives for party consolidation, and hence influence the number of parties in parliament. But they also argue that the results created by a particular electoral law are likely to be conditioned by the cleavage structure in society.

At least in the case of Ukraine, this makes more sense. As we pointed out in Chapter Two, Ukraine's regional divisions strongly condition the way that Duverger's law operates. Single-member district plurality election rules will create a two-party system only in states with a homogeneously distributed population, but not in those with substantial regional differences.6 Moreover, because independents are so strong in Ukraine, single-member district (SMD) seats tend to undermine the role of all parties by putting independents in a strong competitive position.

More specifically, Giovanni Sartori argues that the effects of all electoral laws—both SMD and proportional representation (PR) systems—are contingent upon the geographical distribution of electorates.7 In a society that is not heavily polarized, he contends, a PR system will have centripetal (consolidating) tendencies, providing incentives for parties to merge. Competition tends to move parties toward the center rather than toward the extremes. In such situations, he predicts, PR will lead to "moderate multipartism," in which there are more than two parties, but not many more.

In a country with a polarized electorate, however, Sartori asserts that a pure PR system will lead to "polarized multipartism," in which parties tend to move toward the edges of the political spectrum rather than to the middle "thereby inducing a multipolar competition that eventually heightens systemic polarization."8

Applying the Societal/Institutional Approach to Ukraine

Here we follow the view that societal cleavages and electoral laws are complementary sources of the party structure. Ukraine's societal cleavages motivate elites to form a variety of parties and to split parties in a way that makes coherent governance difficult. But there is no compelling evidence that the formation of a "normal" ruling coalition in Ukraine is impossible. On the contrary, the bargaining over a coalition following the 2002 parliamentary elections indicated that the formation of a majority is possible. More recently, bargaining over the confirmation of a new prime minister in September 2005 showed that even parliamentary factions regarded as mortal enemies can join forces when it is in their interest to do so. Similarly, after the 2006 parliamentary election, even the intense hostility among the three most successful parties did not prevent a coalition from eventually being formed.

Majority coalitions can be formed in Ukraine, but given Ukraine's societal fragmentation, the challenge is more substantial than is the case in very homogeneous societies. Election laws and other rules will need to be designed more carefully in Ukraine because the obstacles to coalition-building are higher.

Thus, assessing the extent of Ukraine's cleavages and assessing the effects of various electoral laws are not two distinct enterprises, even though they must be separated for analytical purposes. What implications do the cleavages discussed in Chapter Five have for the design and effect of electoral rules? Are the cleavages so deep that a pure PR system will lead to "polarized multipartism?" If so, then Ukraine faces quite a challenge, insofar as Sartori provides no ready solution for designing electoral laws for such a polity. Fortunately for Ukraine, the situation is not so dire. As Chapter Five showed (and as Ukraine's 2006 elections indicate), Ukraine's divisions are real but not insurmountable. There are plenty of actors in the middle of the political spectrum around whom coalitions can be built.

While Ukraine has cleavages, it does not have "polarization."9 If we examine Sartori's criteria for a society that is too fragmented for PR to work, it is clear that these criteria do not fit Ukraine. He argues that moderate multipartism is impeded only when "incoercible above plurality or as the case may be, above quotient minorities happen to be geographically concentrated or dispersed."10 In plain English, the point is whether minorities exist in sufficient numbers (and geographic concentration) that they can sustain minority-based parties, and not be forced to choose from among the other parties. In one of the most methodologically sophisticated studies of Ukrainian voters' attitudes, Melvin Hinich, Valeri Khmelko, and Peter Ordeshook conclude: "Preferences differ, but there remains a vast middle ground that can be nurtured in search of a national compromise, if not consensus."11

In Ukraine, the parties that have identified themselves with specific minority groups or languages—be they Crimean Tatar or Russian—have never gained more than a small percentage of the vote. Most significantly in this regard, parties that have sought to build support primarily by focusing on the rights of Russian speakers or on unity with Russia have never been elected to parliament. Parties following a Ukrainian nationalizing agenda, such as Rukh, have seen their share of votes consistently diminish and were not represented separately in either the 2002 or 2006 parliaments. Thus, the empirical findings of Chapter Five, combined with general findings in the comparative literature, indicate that Ukraine's societal cleavages are not of the nature that would prevent formation of a party system based on five to seven major parties.

Institutions and Coalition Building

As many students of party politics have emphasized, the problem is not that institutions create strong incentives toward party fragmentation, but that the variety of public opinion makes such incentives inherent. The natural tendency is toward fragmentation, and the question is: what institutional disincentives counteract this tendency?12 Electoral laws can provide strong incentives for parties to coalesce in order to increase electoral success. Or they can provide weak incentives, insufficient to overcome the inherent tendencies to split parties.

Underlying the institutional approach is the assumption, widespread in the comparative politics literature, that politicians are opportunistic and react to the incentives they face. Without necessarily accepting everything that the rational choice approach to political science asserts, it is certainly plausible to build our understanding of Ukrainian politics on the generalization that the vast majority of Ukrainian politicians are self-interested and concerned with gaining and holding power. Erik Herron has examined this question in great detail, finding that electoral strategy as well as policy concerns influence the decisions of Ukrainian parliamentarians to desert their parties.13 If party consolidation makes it much easier to gain and hold power, parties and elites are more likely to seek ways to merge, whatever their differences. This was in evidence in Ukraine in the coalition formed in August 2006.

In Ukraine, we have seen a variety of institutional arrangements that provide very little payoff to party mergers and coalition-building. For each political "identity group" in Ukraine, there may well be two or more political parties—implying that cleavage structures are not the sole source of fragmentation.14 The most extreme example is the "national democratic" constituency that originally was served almost exclusively by Rukh. Having split once in the early 1990s, when the Congress of Ukrainian Nationalists was formed, Rukh fragmented in 2000 into three factions, and a host of other nationalist parties emerged as well. While there were serious differences among the three factions, they were very near to each other ideologically and programmatically (as shown by the fact that a single Rukh existed in the first place), and voted together often in parliament. The fragmentation of Rukh in 2000 cannot be explained by regional difference or by ideological incompatibility. While there may have been genuine differences, the personal ambitions of the leaders were likely an equally strong cause. Regardless of the cause, however, leaders could find it in their interest to split only if the costs of doing so were fairly low. This low disincentive to splitting is largely an institutional factor, for it is the electoral laws that raise or lower the costs of party fragmentation.

This chapter examines two sources of the inability to form majority coalitions in parliament. First, it examines provisions of the electoral law that have reduced incentives for parties to join together. Second, parties themselves have been very weak. Most analyses of party systems begin with the assumption that parties are well rooted in society and are the main structuring forces in politics. This assumption has not held in Ukraine, where candidates have often succeeded as independents, and where parties tend to be associated with a single individual. Because parties have been weak, elites have not invested in them, and because elites have not invested in them, parties have remained weak. There have been signs since 2002 that elites are investing more in parties, but of the five parties that surmounted the 3 percent hurdle in 2006, four were so closely identified with a single individual that the names of the individual and the party were often used interchangeably.15

Electoral Laws

No aspect of institutional design has received greater attention than electoral laws. It is clear that electoral laws can have an immense effect on the party system in a country, on the fragmentation of the parliament, and hence on the parliament's ability to legislate effectively. Moreover, they seem relatively easy to change (compared, for example, with the societal cleavage structure). "Compared to other components of political systems, electoral systems are the easiest to manipulate with specific goals in view."16 Therefore, a central place to look for sources of parliamentary ineffectiveness in Ukraine— and to look for cures—is the election laws by which parliament is chosen.

To briefly recap the literature reviewed in Chapter Two, studies of election laws have focused on two archetypal systems, the single-member district plurality system (e.g., that used to elect the U.S. House of Representatives and the British Parliament) and the proportional representation system used in electing legislatures in most of Western Europe, which is the most popular model. These two systems are subject to "Duverger's law" and "Duverger's hypothesis," respectively. Together, Duverger's law and hypothesis find that plurality election laws lead to two-party systems while proportional representation laws lead to multiparty systems. In two-party systems, one party or the other is virtually guaranteed a majority in parliament, such that coalition formation is not an issue. In PR systems, it is more likely that no single party will win a majority, and that a coalition will be required to form a working majority. The primary benefits indicated by supporters of PR are that it allows for representation in parliament of a much broader array of political forces and that the politics of coalition formation force governments toward moderation.

Ukraine used a single-member district system in 1994, a mixed system in 1998 and 2002, and a full PR system in 2006. The mixed system used in 1998 and 2002 is nearly identical to the system used in Russia. Half of the 450 deputies were elected in single-member districts based on plurality voting, while the other half were elected on party lists according to proportional representation.17 The effects of mixed systems depend on the details of the provisions, and therefore are less uniformly predictable than those of pure systems.18 At least in Ukraine, however, it appears that the mixed system retains the weaknesses of both systems as much as it does the strengths.

Election laws in post-Soviet Ukraine have had to grapple with two problems simultaneously. The first problem is the same as that in other countries: providing incentives to party consolidation and coalition formation. Ukraine has also had a second, less typical problem: the weakness of political parties in general. This combination of challenges has traditionally been neglected in the considerable literature that has emerged both to design and analyze these systems. As Robert Moser says of Russia, "The conclusion is simple, yet surprisingly absent from most of the neo-institutionalist research: context matters."19

The mixed system was adopted with a view to solving both problems at once; Shugart and Wattenberg call it the "best of both worlds."20 The proportional part of the ballot was intended to strengthen parties by selecting half the parliament's seats on the basis of parties. The plurality system was intended to promote party consolidation through the mechanism of Duverger's law.

In practice, however, the measures adopted to solve one problem tended to exacerbate the other. The plurality section undermined party-building by allowing independents to thrive. The proportional component undermined party consolidation by allowing small parties a good chance of entering parliament. Thus, Sartori's assessment that the mixed system is a "bastard-producing hybrid which combines their defects," may be more accurate.21 Ukraine needs electoral laws that do more than just provide incentives for well-developed political parties to merge. It needs to provide the conditions for the formation and strengthening of those parties. The fully proportional law used in the 2006 election had a powerful effect on party formation, and even led to the admission of fewer parties (five) to parliament than the mixed system had.

Table 7.1

Results of the 1994 Parliamentary Elections

Ukrainian National Assembly 3
Ukrainian Conservative Republican Party 2
Rukh 20
Ukrainian Republican Party 8
Congress of National Democratic Forces 5
Democratic Party of Ukraine 2
Interregional Reform Block 4
Ukrainian Democratic Renaissance Party 4
Civic Congress of Ukraine 2
Social Democratic Party of Ukraine 2
Labor Congress of Ukraine 4
Christian Democratic Party of Ukraine 1
Communist Party 86
Peasant Party 18
Ukrainian Socialist Party 14
Independent 163
Total 338
(112 seats remained unfilled)

Source: BRAMA, "1994 Election Results in Ukraine—By Alliances/Parties,", accessed July 8, 1998.

The 1994 Electoral Law

Parliaments elected under Soviet election laws were elected in single-member districts, in a two-round majority system, which has many of the characteristics of a plurality system but is expected to lead much less reliably to a two-party system.22 It is in essence a very weak version of the single-member plurality system. There is less pressure on third parties to merge, because running second in a two-round system keeps their hopes alive, while running second in a single-round system is useless. Similarly, voters have more incentive to vote for third parties in a two-round system. However, the more important result of this system in Ukraine was the election of large numbers of independents (see Table 7.1). The first post-Soviet parliamentary elections in Ukraine in 1994, which used the Soviet-era electoral law, led to a parliament in which 25 percent of the members were independents.

Duverger's law did not apply to Ukraine's 1994 election in part because the electoral law used was not the plurality law on which the theory is based. But there was a more basic problem. The preconditions for party consolidation (a relatively small number of parties) did not exist. One of the limiting factors that Duverger and others place on his "law" is that single-member plurality systems cannot be expected to consolidate highly fragmented systems. Rather, once a system has some degree of consolidation, single-member plurality rules provide powerful incentives for parties to merge until there are only two. Ukraine's "initial conditions" in its first post-Soviet elections consisted of a very large number of very small parties, with a large number of powerful independent candidates as well. The result is that the SMD format tended to encourage, rather than undermine, independents.

Understanding why this is so is important to understanding the dynamics of Ukrainian politics in the 1990s. According to standard research on electoral laws, single-member plurality systems work through a combined "mechanical effect" and "psychological effect." The mechanical effect operates on parties, and especially those that get a substantial portion of the vote but do not win many districts. Two or more of these parties have powerful incentives to merge because until they do they will be shut out of power. For example, in a system with one right-wing and two left-wing parties, the two left-wing parties, by dividing the leftist vote, will win far fewer seats than they could by merging (imagine a situation in which the two left-wing parties each get 30 percent of the vote, but the rightist party wins the seat with 40 percent). There is a powerful incentive for them to merge, because both parties will receive more seats than if they continue to split the vote. This is a key point: in the SMD plurality system, the merger of parties creates a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts: the merged parties gain more total seats as a single party than they would as two separate ones. Over time, the number of parties is reduced toward two, as losing parties merge to increase their chances of winning a plurality.

The "psychological" effect works not on parties, but on voters, relying on the notion that voters do not like to "waste" their votes by voting for candidates that have little chance of winning. In a single-member plurality system, it is likely that, at most, two or three parties will have a serious chance of winning any given seat (or an overall majority in parliament). Even voters who prefer some less popular candidate are likely to vote only for one of those considered to have a genuine chance. This fact is often used to explain the inability of third parties to emerge in the United States. Over time, parties that do not win seats will get fewer votes with each successive election, eventually becoming irrelevant.

Both the mechanical and psychological effects, however, depend on the ability of party leaders and voters to effectively determine which parties have good chances of winning either a particular seat or overall control of parliament. In other words, these effects depend on the party system's already being consolidated to some extent. Thus, Sartori emphasizes that the SMD plurality system can be relied on to maintain an existing two-party system, but not necessarily to create one where it does not exist.23 In Ukraine in 1994, with a large number of very new and very small parties, it was difficult for voters and party leaders alike to accurately assess which parties were likely to win and which were likely to do poorly. The problem was compounded by the fact that the parties that appeared likely to compete strongly in one district may have differed from those that appeared promising in another district. Because no party except the Communist Party of Ukraine was strong across regions, neither the mechanical nor the psychological effect could work.

This problem was magnified even further by the strength of independent candidates. In districts where the most prominent candidates were independents rather than party members, the logic of party consolidation ceased to operate altogether. While voters still might try to avoid obvious losers, to the extent that they could be identified, there was no mechanical effect on the candidates, because unlike parties, which by merging could expect to pick up seats overall across many districts, individual independent candidates faced a zero-sum game: consolidation meant that one candidate would have to give up his or her aspirations altogether.

The 1998 Election Law

While the 1994 election law served the interests of many entrenched elites, it produced such a badly fragmented parliament that there was a widely perceived need for change prior to the 1998 elections. There were two primary goals in changing the rules of competition. First, the fact that many districts failed to meet the requirement of a 50 percent voter turnout meant that many seats were not filled for much of the parliament's term. That problem was universally recognized, and removing the 50 percent rule endangered nobody's interests. Hence it was dropped relatively easily. The second and third problems were much more difficult to tackle.

The second need was to reduce the number of independents in parliament. It was widely recognized that the centrist "swamp" of independent candidates made it very difficult to form a stable majority. But there was disagreement concerning what to do about it, as well as outright opposition to eliminating single-member districts. The simplest way to eliminate independents, in the eyes of many participants and observers, would be to shift to a pure PR system. By making members of parliament more dependent on parties for their seats, it would help to structure the parliament by increasing party loyalty.24 This solution was finally adopted in 2004 and first implemented in 2006.

However, the designers of the 1998 law hesitated to go to a full PR system for several reasons. One was a desire to maintain some link between candidates and their local constituencies. Perhaps the most significant shortcoming of a pure PR system is that there is no regional or local representation.25 To some, this seemed to undermine the notion of representation. It also seemed more prone to the formation of a Kyiv-based political elite that was out of touch with the rest of the country. Furthermore, it seemed less able than a district-based system to represent Ukraine's diverse regional interests. Finally, there was some concern that a full PR system would produce a proliferation of political parties that would make the forming of a working majority no easier than it had been in the 1994—98 parliament.26

These debates were not carried out in a dispassionate or apolitical environment. Everyone involved recognized that much was at stake in terms of which parties and which political forces would be likely to prosper under various arrangements.27 Generally speaking, leftist parties opposed the shift away from the single-member district system because their candidates held positions of local influence under the communist system and continued to hold them. Their local power bases advantaged them in a district-based system. The leftists' position changed in subsequent debates, as the socialists and communists lost control over local positions and realized that their superior party organizations would provide an advantage in proportional representation.

The single-member district system was also favored by the growing group of less ideological businessmen who sought seats in parliament as an adjunct to their business activities. Their local resource bases also advantaged them in a single-member district system. They benefited from the opportunities for vote trading in a system where they had no hard political allegiance. They had no interest in a system that eliminated independents or made members of parliament more easily controlled by party leaders. Centrist business interests continued to oppose a full PR system all the way through 2004.

The PR system was favored more by the rightist parties, due to the peculiar conditions that they faced at the time. The overriding problem for the right was its continuing inability to marshal its forces into a single party or even a small number of parties. The Rukh movement had split (and would split again), and there was a strong tendency for rightist elites to form new parties rather than to merge, as would be required in a full single-member plurality system. In a full PR system, there was much less need for these parties to merge because simply meeting the threshold for representation (which was established at 4 percent), rather than attaining a plurality of votes in some district, was required. Not only would PR reduce the imperative to merge, but it might turn the variety of rightist parties from a liability to an advantage. Voters would have a range of rightist parties from which to choose—some more nationalist, others more focused on the free market.

Ukraine's mixed election law was not merely a result of horse-trading. There were also some theoretical arguments supporting the idea that the mixed system would help to accomplish both of Ukraine's needs simultaneously, strengthening parties and reducing their number. The PR component was intended to build political parties by making them the central actor in the system and by reducing the ability of independents to get elected. Since half the seats in the parliament would be given to political parties, there was a new and powerful incentive to organize along party lines. Moreover, since the party lists were "closed," meaning that party leaders controlled the listing of candidates, the law promised to have a consolidating effect even after the elections. Party leaders could ensure members' loyalty by threatening to move them down the list for the next election or leave them off altogether.28

The plurality component was designed to consolidate the party system itself, by providing an incentive for parties to merge. The idea was that both forms of logic would operate separately and simultaneously: the PR system would channel activity into the parties, and the plurality system would create strong incentives to party consolidation. If both forms of logic operated, Ukraine could expect to develop stronger parties (and to eliminate independents) and to decrease the number of parties in parliament. Presumably, coalitions would then be easier to form and more effective governance would result. By electing half of the members by PR and half in plurality single-member districts, one might expect to have more than two parties in parliament, but not many more.

Effects of the 1998 Law

Instead, the hybrid system retained the negative features of both systems rather than the positive features. The plurality system undermined parties because candidates could still run as independents, and the most prominent individuals had the incentive to pursue this route, rather than investing in party-building. Proportional representation hindered the consolidation of parties because the low (4 percent) threshold allowed even very minor parties to be admitted to parliament. Indeed, by providing multiple routes into parliament, the mixed system led to the emergence of even more parties than a pure PR system would have.

In its effects on the number of parliamentary parties, the mixed system of PR and single-member districts functions essentially as a PR system.29 If the key process of electoral rules in consolidating party systems is the elimination of marginal parties (the so-called mechanical effect), then the relevant question is: what is the minimal success a party can achieve and still gain representation? In Ukraine's mixed system, two different hurdles exist for a party to enter parliament. However, a party needs to clear only one or the other, not both. Therefore, it does not much matter how high the higher hurdle is; it matters only how low the lower hurdle is because any party that can clear the lower hurdle can enter parliament. In Ukraine, a party with less than 10 percent popular support may have no chance to win any single-member district seat, but that party could easily enter parliament on the PR side, and hence have no incentive to merge with another. Thus, the "mechanical" effect of Duverger's law on the single-member district is undermined by the PR side. Similarly, the "psychological" effect is undermined by PR, because as long as a party could enter parliament with 4 percent of the vote, a vote for a weak party is not obviously "wasted" (in the sense that it is wasted if cast for a party that has no chance of gaining a plurality).

In Ukraine, the mixed system almost certainly led to a greater number of parties than a strict PR system would have.30 A party that could not amass enough votes nationally to clear the 4 percent hurdle for admission to parliament could win a majority in a small number of districts, and gain entry that way. At the same time, while parties with distributed support might be unable to win any local constituencies, they could still cross the 4 percent threshold nationwide. In either case, the pressure to consolidate was relieved. Because a party needed only to clear one type of barrier (either the percentage threshold on the PR side or the plurality on the single-member district side), parties with different strengths could enter parliament, and parties could even tailor their strategies accordingly. While some parties might be eliminated under a PR system and others under an SMD system, all of these could survive under a mixed system. This is precisely what happened in Ukraine's 1998 elections (See Table 7.2): eight parties entered parliament by clearing the 4 percent hurdle in the PR section, while another sixteen parties (as well as 114 independents) failed to clear the 4 percent hurdle but won at least one single-member district.31

The 2002 Elections

In 2002, the mixed system used in 1998 was retained intact. On both sides, there was evidence of consolidation (See Table 7.3). On the proportional side, the number of parties that crossed the 4 percent threshold declined from 8 to 6 (with only one party receiving between 3 and 4 percent). The percentage of votes "wasted" on parties that did not cross the threshold declined from 34.1 to 19.3. On the plurality side, the number of independents decreased from 140 to 94 (though several candidates elected as party members declared.themselves as independents later).32 While the decrease in the number of independents in the parliament between 1998 and 2002 must be considered progress, independents still amounted to more than 20 percent of the parliament, and therefore made forming a lasting legislative majority challenging.

Table 7.2

Results of the 1998 Parliamentary Elections
Party Percentage of
(PR) vote
PR seats Single-

Total seats
Communist Party of Ukraine 24.7 84 37 121
Rukh9.4 32 14 46
Socialist/Peasant Bloc 8.6 29 534
Greens5.4 19019
National Democratic Party5.0 171128
Progressive Socialist Party4.1142 16
Social Democratic Party of Ukraine (United)4.014317
Independents; parties gaining less than 4 percent (total)34.10140 140

If the main goal of the PR portion of the ballot was to strengthen parties and eliminate independents, it was clearly undermined by the plurality portion. Not only were 114 candidates in 1998 and 94 candidates in 2002 (just over 25 percent and 20 percent of the parliament, respectively) able to get elected without any party affiliation, but several small parties entered through the plurality districts, reducing their incentive to coalesce to make the 4 percent hurdle. In at least two cases in 1998, parties were demonstrably punished by failing to merge. The Agrarian Party received 3.68 percent of the vote, meaning that an alliance with any of the sixteen parties that received between 0.32 and 4 percent would have put them over the threshold. Similarly, the party of Reforms and Order received 3.1 percent, and could have crossed the threshold by uniting with any of the other ten parties receiving between 0.9 and 4 percent of the vote.

Either of these factions (and their partners) could have gained roughly fourteen seats by doing so. Instead, they received none, although Reforms and Order did enter parliament through the plurality portion of the ballot. In 2002, only four parties gained multiple seats in the single-member districts without passing the 4 percent hurdle in the PR portion of the ballot, and each with very small numbers.33 In this respect, Duverger's psychological effect seems to be operating: as voters become better at predicting which parties will do well, and steer their votes away from those who have little chance of winning.

Table 7.3

Results of the 2002 Parliamentary Elections
Party Percentage of
(PR) vote
district seats
Our Ukraine25.170 42 112
Communist Party of Ukraine21.3 59 7 66
United Ukraine12.635 68 103
Tymoshenko Bloc 7.7 22 0 22
Socialist Party of Ukraine7.320323
Social Democratic Party of Ukraine (United) 6.719 524
Independents; parties gaining less than 4 percent (total) 19.3 0 9898

In sum, the application of the mixed system in a country with very weak parties appears to undermine both fundamental goals of the design of the electoral system. The PR component provides some incentive to join parties and some incentive for parties to merge, but both effects are undermined by the plurality section, which allows alternate routes for both parties and individuals to enter parliament. The result was a parliament (in 1998) with a large number of relatively small parties distributed widely across the political spectrum from the overtly pro-Soviet Progressive Socialists to the neo-Nazi National Socialists. The establishment of a working majority under such conditions is difficult, to say the least, and the fact that a quarter of the parliament was elected as independents only made matters worse. The electoral law did very little to reward parties that merged forces or to punish those that did not. In this important sense then, we can say that the fragmentation of the party system both in elections and in parliament is a result of electoral laws.

How could these shortcomings be remedied? In Ukraine, one frequent proposal has been to raise the threshold in the PR section of the election from 4 percent to 5 percent or even higher. Certainly, this would make a difference: in 1998, moving from a 4 percent to 5 percent threshold would have eliminated three parties and distributed forty-four seats among the six parties that received more than 5 percent (other things being equal). The bigger problem, however, is that in a system where parties themselves are so weak, the plurality component would continue to allow many independents into parliament, undermining both the incentives for politicians to structure their activities around parties and the ability to forge a parliamentary majority. This could be eliminated by going to a full PR system, though doing so would eliminate the local representation that the single-member districts allow for. Ultimately, this is the plan that was adopted in 2004 and first used in 2006.

Revised Laws for the 2006 Elections

In 2004, conditions came together for the shift to a fully proportional system. Earlier, this was impossible because Kuchma had a strong interest in maintaining a weak and fragmented policy. By 2004, however, he and his allies sought to hedge their bets against the chance that Viktor Yushchenko would win the presidential election. With Kuchma's opposition diminished, it became possible to change the law. Under the new provisions, the plurality single-member district portion of the ballot was eliminated. All 450 seats are now allotted via proportional representation. As part of the compromise necessary to reach this agreement, the threshold for entering parliament was lowered to 3 percent.

Had a full PR system been in effect in the 1998 and 2002 elections, it would likely have led to an anti-Kuchma majority, which may explain why he so resolutely voted against it. Extrapolating from the PR portion of the 1998 election, if the entire 450-seat parliament were determined by PR with a 4 percent threshold, the Communist Party (with 168 seats) and the Socialist/Peasants bloc (with 58 seats) together would have been able to form a narrow majority, probably electing a Communist speaker.34 In 2002, Our Ukraine would have received 140 seats, the Tymoshenko Bloc 44, and the Socialist Party 40, which would have left them just short, but within close reach, of a majority. In contrast, United Ukraine, which did form a majority based largely on seats won in single-member districts, would have garnered only 70 seats, which along with 38 from the Social Democratic Party of Ukraine (United) would have left them far short of a majority. Thus, the shift to a PR system does not appear to provide a clear advantage to any particular political force. Rather it favors the large parties at the expense of the smaller ones, and assists those with stronger party identification and with the most prominent notables. This may explain why it was politically feasible to adopt this system in 2004.

In the immediate aftermath of the 2006 election, the question was, as it had been in 1998 and 2002, which parties might form a coalition. However, the atmosphere was entirely different. There was no feeling that the elections themselves had been unfair. Nor was there the perception that, due to the large number of independents, a coalition would be meaningless. Instead, everyone recognized that a great deal was at stake. The majority coalition would name the prime minister and most of the rest of the ministers.

Table 7.4

Results of the 2006 Parliamentary Elections

Party Percentage of votes Seats won
Party of Regions32.1186
Bloc of Yulia Tymoshenko22.3 129
Our Ukraine 14.081
Socialist Party5.733
Communist Party 3.721
Bloc of Natalia Vitrenko 2.90
Bloc of Volodymyr Lytvyn2.4 0
Thirty-nine other parties 16.9 0

Sources: Vote percentages are from the Central Election Commission, vnd2006/w6p001 .html, accessed April 11,2006; seat totals are from Agence France Presse, "Ukraine's 'Orange Revolution' Allies Confident of Coalition," April 11, 2006.

There was profound drama over which parties would form the coalition. Two possibilities quickly emerged (See Table 7.4). An "orange coalition" would include the parties that supported Viktor Yushchenko and the Orange Revolution in 2004—Our Ukraine, the Tymoshenko Bloc, and the Socialist Party (totaling 243 seats). Due to the relative strength of Tymoshenko's vote compared with Our Ukraine's, which surprised nearly everyone, the Tymoshenko Bloc assumed that their candidate (Tymoshenko) would be named prime minister. It had been agreed between the two parties that the one receiving the most votes would name the prime minister. To Yushchenko and some of his close supporters, Tymoshenko was an unacceptable candidate. While this negotiation dragged on, Our Ukraine explored an alliance with the Party of Regions.

An alliance between Our Ukraine and the Party of Regions was deeply distressing to supporters of the Orange Revolution, who were profoundly dismayed to think that Yushchenko could make a deal with the forces that had tried to steal the 2004 election, and to kill him. It seemed like a betrayal of the Orange Revolution. Yushchenko, however, had a history of preferring conciliation over confrontation. He had worked well as Kuchma's prime minister. Moreover, in some respects this coalition had already existed: in October 2005, Yushchenko's candidate for prime minister, Yuri Yekhanurov, had been approved by the votes of the Party of Regions, and against the opposition of the Tymoshenko Bloc. While the "orange coalition" seemed to promise a return to the ideals of the Maidan, which had been lost in 2005, some feared that it closed out eastern Ukraine from power. The Regions/Our Ukraine coalition had the virtue of bridging Ukraine's regional divide, but it seemed unlikely to lead to serious reform, and virtually certain to leave the crimes of the Kuchma era unpunished. Moreover while an "orange coalition" provided hope for a rapid improvement in relations with the West, including perhaps a clear path to NATO membership, a Regions/Our Ukraine alliance seemed likely to end those hopes.35

As is sometimes the case in coalition politics, one of the small parties was able to drive the final process. Oleksandr Moroz, leader of the Socialist Party, shocked everyone by taking the SPU out of the "orange coalition," and instead formed an alliance with the Party of Regions and the Communists. In return, Moroz received their support and was elected speaker of parliament. However, this coalition could not retain enough cohesion to quickly elect a prime minister and cabinet, opening up the door for Yushchenko to dismiss the parliament and call new elections. A new coalition, of Regions, Our Ukraine, and the Socialist Party, then formed a cabinet in early August 2006. Tymoshenko was left fuming and in opposition, and supporters of the Orange Revolution declared Yushchenko a traitor, but advocates of this coalition saw virtue in its cross-regional character.

The 2006.elections tell us a great deal about the role of electoral rules in shaping party and voter behavior, and more broadly about the potential for parliament to function effectively in Ukraine. Most surprising, and generally underappreciated, was the fact that with a very low 3 percent threshold, only five parties were admitted to parliament. In a comparative context, this is remarkable, since countries with higher thresholds often have more parties in parliament. We cannot make too much of the results of a single election, but this election demonstrated in principle that Ukraine's societal cleavages are indeed bridgeable—more so, it seems, than those in many other societies. With the removal of SMDs, and the increased power given to the parliament, even a very low threshold was sufficient to shift voters away from minor parties and toward those they knew had a good chance of winning. This is a promising indicator for the future, notwithstanding the ensuing difficulty in forming a coalition agreement.

These new laws will have some clear benefits for the functioning of the parliament, but will not by themselves fix Ukraine's problems. The fully proportional system will eliminate independents from parliament. This should make it much easier to build a majority coalition. It should also strengthen party leaders' ability to maintain discipline, since members that do not toe the party line can be left off the list in the next elections. Moreover, the new laws include adoption of the "imperative mandate" (see Chapter Eight). This rule requires that members of parliament elected under a certain party lose their seat in parliament if they leave the party. Exactly how this will function remains unclear. At a minimum, it will reduce the frequent party-jumping that has characterized Ukraine's parliament. At a maximum, it will give party leaders tight control over individual members, making it easier for party leaders to make deals with one another, and to deliver the votes needed to pass legislation.

However, several sources of weakness persist. While individual candidates will be forced to operate through parties, this will not automatically strengthen the parties. As we detail below, prominent individuals have tended to build parties around themselves, and then discard the parties after elections. This might well continue under the new system. On the other hand, perhaps the advantages to be gained by a well-organized "ground campaign" will create incentives to strengthen permanent party organizations. Furthermore, depending on how the imperative mandate functions, we might still see a very low level of party discipline, with members of parliament nominally remaining with their parties, but voting as independents. Finally, it is difficult to predict the long-term effects of the 3 percent threshold. The number is low enough that it will always be possible for well-financed individuals to form brand new parties rather than having to choose among the existing parties. In 2006, Volodymyr Lytvyn formed a party that immediately won 2.4 percent of the vote. Were he more popular, his party could well have succeeded. This might help the system avoid stagnation, but it will do little to promote consolidation.

Effects of the Presidential Election Law on the Party System

Thus far, we have focused on the parliamentary election law as the prime determinant of the party system. But as Shugart and Carey point out, consolidation of the party system is influenced not only by the rules for electing the parliament but also by the rules for electing the president. In particular, they argue, the majority runoff system (used in both Ukraine and Russia) does not provide incentives for parties to merge.36 In this system, a first round election narrows the field to two, unless one candidate receives more than 50 percent of the vote. A second round between the top two candidates then determines the winner. This system creates two distinct disincentives for parties to consolidate.

First, even a party or candidate that does not win in the first round can hope to make it to the second round, and by collecting the votes of the eliminated candidates, win the election. This is exactly what Leonid Kuchma did in 1994. Even though he came in second in the first round, the votes of defeated leftist candidates helped him to defeat Leonid Kravchuk in the second round. In a single round winner-take-all system, Kravchuk would have won that election. The possibility for a second-place finisher in the first round to win the second round erodes the incentive for parties running second and third to join forces. As Robert Moser shows in examining the Russian case, however, by focusing on a final choice between two candidates, the existence of presidential elections has a consolidating effect on voting that advantages centrist candidates at the expense of the left, which thrives in fragmented parliamentary elections.37

Second, by participating in the first round, a candidate or party can hope to gain significant influence in the process by striking a bargain with one of the two leaders in the second round. For example, while Alexander Lebed had little chance of prevailing in the 1996 Russian presidential election, his ability to garner 15 percent of the vote in the first round made Boris Yeltsin willing to give him a cabinet position in return for his support in the second round. Yevhen Marchuk made a similarly weak and lucrative showing in the first round of the 1999 Ukrainian election. Had he dropped out before the first round, it is possible that Oleksander Moroz rather than Petro Symonenko would have faced Kuchma in the second round, and polling data indicate that Moroz might have defeated Kuchma.38 Instead, Marchuk was rewarded with an important government post. Because party systems encompass both presidential and parliamentary elections, the dividing effects of the rules for presidential elections carry over to parliamentary elections.

The Self-Reinforcing Nature of a Weak Party System

The weakness in Ukraine's party system is self-reinforcing.39 Once a situation is established where political parties have relatively little to contribute to individual politicians, there is not much reason to invest in party-building. If the primary assets to gaining election are name recognition and money, and if prominent politicians possess more of both of these assets than do parties, then there is relatively little reason for elites to invest significant resources in building durable parties.

For the politician with money and name recognition who simply wants to gain a seat in parliament, the simplest route (until 2006) was through a single-member district seat. Because parties are weak, they can contribute little to such campaigns. Because they contribute little, politicians invest few resources in them. And because politicians invest few resources in them, they remain weak and unable to contribute much. This is a very tight vicious circle. Sartori states: "So long as the voter is personality-oriented, so long as he merely votes for a person, parties remain labels of little, if any, consequence."40 Even the shift to a fully proportional system in 2006 might not be sufficient to strengthen parties. It appears likely that parties will continue to be built around the careers of prominent politicians, rather than the other way around.

The Personalization of Parties

In post-Soviet Ukraine, individuals have greater name recognition than parties. The normal relationship between individuals and parties is turned on its head. Rather than politicians needing parties for their name recognition, finances, and organization, parties need prominent politicians for those things. In 2002, in two of the six electoral blocs that cleared the 4 percent hurdle, the name of the bloc's founder was in the bloc's title. These were Our Ukraine, which was officially titled "Blok ViktoraYushchenka 'Nasha Ukraina,'" [The Bloc of Viktor Yushchenko, Our Ukraine] and the "Bloc of YuliaTymoshenko." This was not due simply to vanity on the part of the blocs' founders. Rather, both of these individuals were very popular among a specific segment of the population. The point of naming the blocs after them was to gain voter support for a bloc that would likely gain less support without the leader's name attached. There was no shortage of existing parties with platforms that were essentially compatible with Yushchenko's or Tymoshenko's views. But none of them had the level of popularity of the individuals, so in order to win as big a share of seats in parliament in possible, the rational strategy was to name the blocs after the leaders. There is little reason to believe that either bloc will survive in recognizable form after its namesake passes from the political scene.

Similarly, the United Ukraine bloc was created in 2002 not because no ideologically similar party existed. Rather it was felt that creating a new bloc from scratch, avoiding whatever negative associations existed with previous versions of pro-presidential parties, such as the nearly indistinguishable Social Democratic Party of Ukraine (United), was a winning electoral strategy. Both the creation of new parties and their naming after prominent individuals simply represent smart retail politics. The point is that successful electoral strategy in Ukraine does not require long-term building of strong parties.

Disposable Parties

Instead of investing in parties, Ukrainian elites invest in elections. Elites have found it more expedient to make small investments in "disposable parties," rather than to make large investments in permanent parties. A prominent and wealthy politician seeking to gain admission to parliament through the PR portion of the ballot might form a party or an election bloc to do so. Once the election is over, however, what incentive remains to maintain that organization until the next election? What is to be gained by maintaining it? The party organizations themselves are not the main source of funding. At best, they are conduits, and at worst, they are irrelevant to the campaign finance process. Another potential reason to maintain the party over time is name recognition. By building a party with a strong "brand identification," one can begin building voter loyalty.

However, when none of the parties has much name recognition, not much is lost in abandoning an existing party and building a new one for the next new election. Thus, many prominent politicians have run on the lists of brand new parties or blocs. For these new parties, the fastest way to build an identity is to focus on the well-known politicians who lead the party. Once those leaders move on, the party collapses. To cite Sartori again: "The voter cannot identify himself with an abstract party image as long as the image is not provided, that is to say, as long as he is confronted with a party of mere notabilities."41

Moreover, relying on "disposable parties" relieves leaders of the considerable and constant work involved in building and maintaining a party organization. It also leaves them far more flexibility in choosing electoral strategies—they are not constrained by the views of the rank and file. Rather than being identified with a particular party and incurring serious costs by breaking with that party, politicians can be "free agents." In sum, there may be incentives for underrepresented societal groups to build parties as a way of gaining influence in the system, but in a system where parties start out as unimportant, there is little incentive for elites with resources to invest those resources in parties.

Disposable Parties in Operation

The ability to use "disposable parties" successfully was powerfully demonstrated in the 2002 parliamentary elections. In the year leading up to that election, a plethora of new parties was formed.42 Thus, the election process itself induced a proliferation rather than a coalescing of parties. The two electoral blocs that were by far the most successful, United Ukraine and Our Ukraine, did not exist during the 1998 elections. Both were created expressly to provide a vehicle for the 2002 elections. Both centered on a particular political figure (United Ukraine on President Kuchma, and Our Ukraine on Viktor Yushchenko). By mid-2003, one of them, United Ukraine, had vanished from the political landscape, having served its electoral purpose.

As noted above, four of the five parties that entered parliament in the 2006 elections (as well as those that finished sixth and seventh) were based on individual personalities. It is hard to imagine that Our Ukraine, the Tymoshenko Bloc, or the Socialist Party will survive long without their leaders. Only the Party of Regions, centered on the elite from the Donetsk region, transcends its individual leader, Viktor Yanukovych. Its existence depends less on Yanukovych than on its main financial backer, the Donetsk oligarch Rinat Akhmetov.

At the same time, parties with the longest track record and most developed grassroots organizations are weakening over time. The most venerable and most thoroughly organized parties in Ukraine—Rukh, the Communist Party, and the Socialist Party—have seen their influence diminish over time. Rukh, with its constant divisions and redefinitions, is coming more to resemble the disposable parties of notables. In May 2003, Boris Tarasyuk was elected head of the largest successor to Rukh despite the fact that he had been a member of the party only since March of that year, when he abandoned the smaller Party of Reforms and Order.43

Similarly, Yuri Kostenko, head of the Ukrainian People's Party (another Rukh offshoot), argued in February 2005 that, having succeeded in the 2002 parliamentary elections and propelled Yushchenko to the presidency, Our Ukraine was no longer needed.44 It is truly remarkable that, within two months of its greatest triumphs, the most popular political bloc in the country was regarded as disposable. As long as prominent politicians can jump parties so easily, they will have little reason to invest in them. By 2006, Rukh had vanished from the Ukrainian landscape, with some of its supporters in Our Ukraine, others in the Tymoshenko Bloc, and others in a variety of smaller parties. Similarly, the Communist Party appears to be headed for extinction.

Ukraine's Electoral Law Dilemma

We noted above that Ukraine needs to achieve two difficult tasks at once: it must strengthen the role of parties and induce parties to coalesce in parliament to provide a governing majority. How can Ukraine's electoral law be revised to accomplish both of the tasks at hand? Two factors make the puzzle substantially more difficult than it appears at first.

First, as mentioned above, the two goals are in some respects—though not completely—in conflict with one another. The simplest way to induce existing parties to consolidate is to institute an SMD plurality system. However, such a system undermines the effort to channel political activities into the party system, because it leaves open a great deal of room for independents.45 Conversely, a complete PR system will force electoral activity into parties, but—depending on the exact details—might tend to provide weak incentives for party consolidation.

Second, if we define party strength as the influence parties have over individual politicians and over the electoral process, other problems arise. As Sartori points out, when a strong electoral rule is applied to a weak party system, it is unlikely to have a strong effect on it.46 Sartori therefore finds that in countries with weak party systems, full PR systems are likely to have little effect in consolidating parties.47 "fW]hen relatively pure PR is combined with structurelessness, neither the electoral nor the party systems intervene in the political process with a manipulative impact of their own."48

Thus the preexisting weakness of Ukraine's party system may reduce the power of electoral laws to change the party system. Therefore, while the shift to full PR is a step in the right direction, it is unlikely automatically to make the Ukrainian parliament an effective actor.

The situation is not hopeless. If the 2002 and 2006 election results are any indication, then the problem of party consolidation is not insurmountable. In 2002, with an electoral law that was very weak (mixed system; only a 4 percent threshold in the PR portion), only six parties were admitted to parliament under the PR system (see Table 7.3). This is significantly fewer than in 1998, and fits well within what is considered normal for "moderate multipartism." The shift to full PR with a 3 percent threshold in 2006 reduced the number of parties to five, with only two others coming close to the threshold.

It is unclear, whether those results will hold in the future. One can imagine that several of the parties that met the threshold in 2006 will fragment before 2011, leaving a much larger number of successors capable of gaining 3 percent in that election. The sides in 2002, and especially in 2006, were particularly clearly drawn (and even then the "orange coalition" ran as two separate major parties, and several much smaller ones). If there is further falling out, or if the parties based on a single individual collapse, they could be succeeded by a much larger number of smaller parties. With a 3 percent threshold, there will be no powerful disincentive to such fragmentation.

On the other hand, building new parties between 2006 and 2011 will not be easy. The attention and the political resources will go to the five parties represented in parliament. New parties will find it more difficult than ever to break in. Those with prominent individuals at the head, and especially those bankrolled by wealthy supporters, will continue to find this possible. New mass-based parties will be harder to construct.

One problem will still remain: even if a small number of electoral blocs gain admission to parliament, they might fragment tremendously once in parliament. Producing a more consolidated electoral party system does not necessarily lead to a more consolidated parliamentary party system, which ultimately is the goal. The first problem can be dealt with through electoral laws, which have been discussed here, while the second problem is a function of the parliamentary rules of procedure, and will be discussed in the next chapter.


Several important conclusions result from this analysis of Ukraine's electoral laws. Ukraine is not doomed to illiberal democracy simply by its societal cleavages. Institutional arrangements can help to consolidate Ukraine's party system. However, the effects of electoral laws are tied up with three other independent variables that affect the results they produce. First, the overall form of government (presidentialism versus parliamentarism) has an important effect on what will work. The more power the parliament has, the greater the incentives for coalition-building. Second, the weakness in Ukraine's party system tends to be self-reinforcing, so that the new rules adopted might not have as strong an effect as hoped. Third, the internal rules of the parliament, which will be discussed in the next chapter, play a powerful role in influencing the incentives for party cohesion and fragmentation.

If the analysis in this chapter is correct, the shift to a PR system should produce optimism concerning the consolidation of the party system and hence the efficacy of the parliament. By shifting to a fully proportional system, Ukraine's elites will be forced to build parties, and its voters will be forced to think in terms of parties. However, two weaknesses remain.

First, the new rules may not be strong enough to overcome the existing weakness of the party system. Changes in the electoral law did not lead to the demise of the "disposable party" in the run-up to the 2006 parliamentary election. As long as parties are disposable, they will be weak and less effective in coalition formation. The poor performance of disposable parties in 2006 is a good sign; the continued importance of personality-based parties is a less favorable sign. Second, lowering the threshold to 3 percent may reduce the pressure on parties to merge and facilitate the success of "disposable" patties. We did not see evidence of this in 2006, but that does not mean it cannot become a problem in the future.

Because the parliament, under the constitutional changes adopted in December 2004, will have a much greater role in government formation, these two weaknesses have significant implications. The potential danger is that Ukraine will be returned to the situation it faced in the early 1990s, when parliament had more power but was effective only in stymieing the president. That was the circumstance that opened the door to authoritarianism under Kuchma.

Even taking those dangers into account, however, it is difficult not to conclude that the parliamentary election laws that went into effect in 2006 are likely to be far more effective than either of Ukraine's previous versions. There is no guarantee that the 2006 parliament will work effectively or that other problems will be avoided. But by reducing the number of independents to zero, and producing a parliament with five parties, only the smallest of which is an unlikely coalition partner, the shift to proportional representation is an important step toward building a functioning parliament, which is an essential component of liberal democracy.


1. Ukrainian Society, 1994-1998 (Kyiv: Democratic Initiatives Foundation, 1998).

2. For the methodology of measuring the effective number of parties, see Markku Laasko and Rein Taagepera, "Effective Number of Parties: Measurement with Application to Western Europe," Comparative Political Studies 12 (1979): 3-27. See also Arend Lijphart, Electoral Systems and Party Systems: A Study of Twenty-Seven Democracies, 1945-1990 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995). This approach is applied to postcommunist states in Robert G. Moser, "Electoral Systems and the Number of Parties in Postcommunist States," World Politics 51, no. 3 (1999): 359-84.

3. See Peter C. Ordeshook and Olga V. Shvetsova, "Ethnic Heterogeneity, District Magnitude, and the Number of Parties," American Journal of Political Science 38, no. 1 (February 1994): 100-124.

4. Ibid.

5. Octavio Amorim Neto and Gary Cox, "Electoral Institutions, Cleavage Structures, and the Number of Parties," American Journal of Political Science 41 (January 1997): 149-74.

6. The point was acknowledged, though not emphasized, by Duverger, and has been stated more forcefully by Gary Cox. See Cox, Making Votes Count: Strategic Coordination in the World's Electoral Systems (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 27-29.

7. Giovanni Sartori, "The Influence of Electoral Systems: Faulty Laws or Faulty Method?" in Electoral Laws and Their Political Consequences, ed. Bernard Grofman and Arend Lijphart (New York: Agathon Press, 1986), 43-68.

8. Giovanni Sartori, Comparative Constitutional Engineering: An Inquiry into Structures, Incentives, and Outcomes, 2d ed. (New York: New York University Press, 1997), 42.

9. Ukraine's voting behavior does show polarization in a different sense of the term: the regional voting patterns in the 2004 presidential elections show clear differences between eastern/southern Ukraine and the rest. However, what is lacking is an intensity of difference.

10. Sartori, Comparative Constitutional Engineering, 40-41.

11. Melvin J. Hinich, Valeri Khmelko, and Peter C. Ordeshook, "Ukraine's 1998 Parliamentary Elections: A Spatial Analysis," Post-Soviet Affairs (April-June 1999): 183.

12. See William Riker, "Duverger's Law Revisited," in Electoral Laws and Their Political Consequences, ed. Bernard Grofman and Arend Lijphart (New York: Agathon Press, 1986), 30; Sartori, Comparative Constitutional Engineering, 47'.

13. Erik Herron, "Causes and Consequences of Fluid Faction Membership in Ukraine," Europe-Asia Studies 54, no. 4 (2002): 625-39.

14. Vicki L. Hesli, "Issue Voting in Ukraine," paper presented at the annual meeting of the Midwest Political Science Association, April 15-18 1999, Chicago, 1-2.

15. The parties (and their leading individuals) were the Tymoshenko Bloc (Yulia Tymoshenko), Our Ukraine (Viktor Yushchenko), the Socialist Party of Ukraine (Oleksandr Moroz), and the Party of Regions (Viktor Yanukovych). Only the Communist Party, which is rapidly declining, did not lean on a particular personality. Of the others, only the Party of Regions could be expected to survive the departure of its leading figure.

16. Rein Taagepera and Matthew Soberg Shugart, Seats and Votes: The Effects and Determinants of Electoral Systems (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1999), 4.

17. In Russia, the threshold is 5 percent; in Ukraine it was 4 percent in 1998 and 2002, and 3 percent in 2006.

18. Erik S. Herron and Misa Nishikawa, "Contamination Effects and the Number of Parties in Mixed-Superposition Electoral Systems." Electoral Studies 20 (March 2001): 63-86. See also Federico Ferrara, Erik Herron, and Misa Nishikawa, Mixed Electoral Systems: Contamination and Its Consequences (New York: Palgrave, 2005).

19. Robert G. Moser, Unexpected Outcomes: Electoral Systems, Political Parties, and Representation in Russia (Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2000), 4.

20. Matthew Soberg Shugart and Martin P. Wattenberg, eds., Mixed-Member Electoral Systems: The Best of Both Worlds? (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001).

21. Sartori, Comparative Constitutional Engineering, 74-75.

22. Matthew Soberg Shugart and John M. Carey, Presidents and Assemblies: Constitutional Design and Electoral Dynamics (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1992), 213.

23. Sartori, Comparative Constitutional Engineering, 40.

24. In the next chapter, it will be shown that while party list voting eliminates nominal independents from being elected, it does not, by itself, eliminate members of parliament from behaving like independents once elected. Further rules, most notably the "imperative mandate," in which a member loses his/her seat when he/she abandons the party to whom the seat belongs, are necessary to ensure that members do not behave independently of their parties.

25. Shugart and Wattenberg (Mixed-Member Electoral Systems) see the ability to retain local representation as one of the significant benefits of the mixed system.

26. These views were all expressed in interviews with policymakers and political scientists in Kyiv in the summer of 1996.

27. This point is made in a cross-national context in seminal electoral studies such as Seymour Martin Lipset and Stein Rokkan, "Cleavage Structures, Party Systems, and Voting Alignments: An Introduction," in Party Systems and Voter Alignments: Cross National Perspectives, ed. Lipset and Rokkan (New York: Free Press, 1967), 113-85.

28. Herron, "Causes and Consequences," 629-30, shows that placement on the party list did indeed influence party loyalty in the parliament elected in 1998.

29. This argument is consistent with that made by Herron and Nishikawa, "Contamination Effects and the Number of Parties."

30. In addition to the ways described here, other ways in which mixed electoral systems can lead to party system fragmentation are discussed in Ferrara, Herron, and Nishikawa, Mixed Electoral Systems, ch. 8.

31. International Foundation for Election Systems, Elections 1998/ Deputies/index.html, accessed March 10, 1999; Ukrainian Weekly,, accessed March 10,1999.

32. Data from Ukraine Central Electoral Commission, vd2002/webproc0e, accessed March 25,2002.

33. Author's calculations based on Central Election Commission data.

34. Data from Central Election Commission; author's calculations. The totals that parties received in the PR half of the parliament were simply doubled to determine what they would have received were the entire parliament determined on that basis.

35. The need to include the Party of Regions, in order to represent eastern Ukraine in the coalition, is argued by Dominique Arel, 'The Virtue of Mistrust and Regional Rivalries," paper presented at the Roundtable on Ukrainian Elections, University of Toronto, April 11,2006, as printed in the Ukraine List, no. 388, April 18, 2006. Support for an "orange coalition" is articulated in Tammy Lynch, "Fancy Cars and Hope Clash in Ukraine," UNIAN, April 17, 2006; and Taras Kuzio, "Parliamentary Elections to Have Geopolitical Implications," Kyiv Post, April 13, 2006.

36. Shugart and Carey, Presidents and Assemblies, 207-13.

37. Robert G. Moser, 'The Electoral Effects of Presidentialism in Post-Soviet Russia," in Party Politics in Post-Communist Russia, ed. John Lowenhardt (London: Frank Cass, 1998), 54-75.

38. YuliaTishchenko, Vybory-99: Yak i KohoMy Obyraly (Kyiv: UNTsPD, 1999), 230.

39. One should not overestimate the salience of this fact, but even in pre-Soviet Ukraine, there was some tendency to vote for independents. In the elections to the first Russian Duma in 1906, Sarah Birch shows that 65 percent of voters in regions that are today part of Ukraine voted for independents, and the leading party (the Kadets) received only 11.8 percent of the vote. See Sarah Birch, "Interpreting the Regional Effect in Ukrainian Politics," Europe-Asia Studies 52, no. 6 (2000): 1023.

40. Sartori, 'The Influence of Electoral Systems," 55.

41. Ibid., 55-56.

42. For an overview of this process, see "2001 Political Sketches: Too Early for Summing Up," UCIPR Research Report 8, no. 1/249, January 4, 2002.

43. "Yushchenko formuye komandu na vybory. U NRU novyi lider," Ukrainska Pravda, May 3, 2003,, accessed June 10, 2003.

44. Lvivska Hazeta, February 14,2005;, February 14, 2005.

45. In addition, as noted previously, in Ukraine, such a system is likely to produce two parties within each distinct electoral region, but not necessarily overall. Nonetheless, this would still have a consolidating effect, even if more than two parties resulted.

46. In the immense literature on party systems and electoral laws, Sartori is one of the few authors who gives more than cursory treatment to the existing strength of the party system as an important independent variable. Most of the well-known analyses begin with the assumption that the party system is already somewhat well formed, and therefore can be applied to Ukraine only with caution. Sartori's analysis is therefore especially useful in understanding Ukraine and many other new democracies. Comparative Constitutional Engineering, 42-44; 'The Influence of Electoral Systems," 55-57.

47. Sartori, Comparative Constitutional Engineering, 43-44.

48. Ibid., 44.