Politics in both Ukraine and the United Kingdom are undergoing dramatic changes at present; Brexit is causing significant fractures across Great Britain and Northern Ireland and Ukraine’s election is only the second since the Euromaidan revolution of 2014. Party politics in Britain are completely collapsing as the two largest parties, Labour and the Conservatives, fail to achieve any internal consensus over Brexit policy. While the fracturing and infighting among Britain’s major parties may seem to be a specific response to the current political situation, I suggest that its roots lie in Britain’s political system itself. By contrast, Ukraine’s political parties fail to resemble or act according to the label of ‘party’; they offer no concrete policy or ideology which voters may respond, instead being organisations designed by and for individuals for the sake of facilitating their election and power consolidation.
It is obvious that Ukraine’s political parties must develop into genuine organisations representing groups of people with shared ideological and policy opinions. However, assuming this change does occur, I suggest that Ukraine must also put in place a system that will allow party politics to continue to function even in the event of politically dramatic and difficult occurrences. Ukraine may therefore be in a positive position to develop a stable system of party politics that continues to function even despite difficult future political events.
The British perspective
Party politics in both leading UK parties has become increasingly dysfunctional and fractured. While there are many reasons for this and several differences in the precise manner in which the parties have become fractured, there also some key similarities. Both parties have come to span an extremely wide-ranging set of ideals, far beyond the ideology that governed them at the time of their creation (hundreds of years ago). The Labour party is struggling to encompass an increasingly outwardly socialist movement and a moderate centrist position. The differences have become so radical in recent times that (initially) seven centrist Labour MPs quit the party to form their own group. However, the vast majority of centrist Labour MPs stayed. The conservative party is similarly split between more radical tory MPs who would like the hardest Brexit possible, and more moderates who are looking for a compromise. This has led to the inability of either party to consistently achieve consensus in their votes or policy and is causing the UK parliament to sleepwalk towards a no-deal Brexit simply through paralysis.
While these problems have their immediate causes in particular political and policy debates of the time, the source of these problems lies in systemic issues with the British political system and specifically the electoral system. These problems have in fact been causing fractures in British parties throughout the second half of the twentieth century. British democracy uses a ‘First Past the Post’ (FPTP) system with single member constituencies; moreover, the head of state role is an unelected and totally symbolic position and so the prime minister, who is essentially elected in the same election as local MPs, is the clear ‘leader’ of the country. The results of this electoral system are manifold and largely negative; FPTP in single member constituencies has a consistent tendency to produce a two-party system since securing a large minority spread across the country has no guarantee of producing anywhere near a proportional number of seats, since in most constituencies they will be in the minority and will not get the seat.
For example, if we suppose one constituency has a race between 3 parties and two of the parties receive 33% of the vote and the third receives 34% of the vote, in this case the third party will win the seat as if it had been elected by an enormous majority. Moreover, if we suppose that, the first and second parties had similarly aligned (but by no means identical) ideology or policy, then the system has produced a candidate that fails to represent its constituents and additionally encourages constituents to vote tactically (i.e. voting for a party that you dislike but like more than some other third party that is your biggest competitor). As a consequence of this system, voters are strongly incentivised not to vote for smaller, less established parties since they are very unlikely to win any seats in parliament at all. As a practical example, in the 2015 UK general election, the Liberal Democrats received around 8% of the vote but only 1% of the MPs in parliament and the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) received 12% of the vote but only 0.2% of the MPs. Conversely, the Conservatives received 35% of the vote and 51% of MPs. It is for this reason that the Labour party and the Conservative party are so fractured and fail so consistently to achieve consensus.
MPs and members of that party may strongly dislike the overall direction that the party is taking but also understand that to genuinely separate would be political suicide; they would split the vote of the electorate and hand the election to their opponents. In a functioning system, the labour party and the conservative party would have genuinely split into different parties and Brexit would have been negotiated between parties leading to a better more open compromise. As it is, Theresa May has tried (and failed) to come up with a deal that satisfies all parts of the Tory party to keep it together, as opposed to coming up with a deal that would have cross party support.
How does this compare to Ukraine and what can Ukraine learn from Britain’s problems?
Ukraine’s problems appear to be very different from Britain’s. Questions of parties fracturing or failing to achieve consensus seem at first glance to be completely irrelevant; in order for parties to fracture they need to have a common ideology to begin with, which is fundamentally not the case for Ukraine’s individual focused parties. Ukraine also has a different electoral system: the country operates under a parallel voting system where half of the deputies are elected in FPTP, single member constituencies (as in the UK) and half the deputies are elected from party lists. In addition to which, the President (a non-symbolic role) is elected directly. It may be suggested that forming parties should precede the improvement of the system since the systemic change will only be relevant upon the creation of genuine parties.
However, it is firstly important to anticipate a change in Ukrainian party politics for the better so that the improvement may continue. If genuine parties do come into formation and the system remains flawed, then the system will inevitably be stricken with the same problems as Britain. Moreover, it is by nature easier to fix this problem before a dominant two-party system appears, since it is against the interests of a large party to give up its power for the creation of a more democratic system. Finally, the implementation of a particular electoral system may actually lead to improvement in Ukraine’s party politics by making parties (even more) intrinsic to the nature of the electoral system, and thus give strong incentive to politicians to create functioning parties that appeal to a genuine base of voters.
I suggest that Ukraine adopts a Mixed-Member Proportional system in order to improve its system and avoid Britain’s pitfalls with minimal change to Ukrainian constituencies or constituents. This system includes casting two votes at the same time, one for a local candidate and one for a party, much in the same way as Ukraine currently has. The difference appears in the fact that these votes are mixed rather than parallel; practically, this means that the deputies of constituencies are elected in the same way (with a first past the post system), then the deputies that are elected from party lists are chosen from parties until the entire parliament (not just the half chosen from party lists) is representative of the second votes of the population. This allows people to elect local deputies but also have parliament reflect the will of the people at large. This places parties at the forefront of the electoral system and could help foster party development.
It seems, therefore, that Ukraine is in a moment of opportunity. It is easy to be pessimistic around Ukraine’s politics; corruption is rife, electoral discussion is characterised by personal insults and smear attempts, and Ukrainian voters choose their leaders and party based on character rather than policy. These problems are entrenched but they are not intractable, and the nature of flux in Ukrainian politics at present gives Ukraine an opportunity for the kind of systemic change which seems impossible for the UK to achieve.
Patrick J. ORME, intern-volunteer at CAY East