An international conference «Ukrainian Political Parties at the Start of the Election Campaign» was held on January 29 in Kyiv

An international conference «Ukrainian Political Parties at the Start of the Election Campaign» was held on January 29 in Kyiv. The event was organized by Committee of voters of Ukraine in cooperation and with the support of Konrad Adenauer Foundation Office in Ukraine. International and domestic experts, MPs of Ukraine, representatives of political parties participated in the conference. 

Panel discussion: political parties at the start: «electoral machines» or responsible political forces

The head of the Committee of voters of Ukraine Oleksiy Koshel was a facilitator of the event. He reported that the so-called party boom had significantly decreased in 2017, since only three new political forces were registered throughout the year. This is much less than in previous periods. Thus, in 2016, 42 political parties were registered, in 2015 - 79; in 2014 - 37. In general, almost a half of the existing Ukrainian political parties were established during 2014-2016. In general, 356 political parties are registered in Ukraine, which is one of the highest indicators among the European states and the highest result in Central and Eastern Europe.

According to the head of CVU, one of the indicators of political activity of political parties is their participation in local elections (in particular, in elections to amalgamated communities). 40 political forces out of more than 350 political parties regularly participate in elections. At the same time, only two political parties actively participate in the relevant elections: these are Petro Poroshenko Bloc “Solidarity” and VO Batkivschyna which have nominated the largest number of candidates among all parties in the elections to amalgamated communities during two years.

O. Koshel also added that the results of local elections during 2015-2017 have shown that here is no renewal of political elites at local level. The so-called “old faces” win usually in elections to the amalgamated communities. These are persons who have already been elected in the previous elections. In election of October 29, 2017 75% of the winning candidates for the position of community heads have been elected earlier in election of October 25, 2015. So at the moment of election they were acting village, settlement, city heads.

CVU analyst Denys Rybachok mentioned that state funding would be important for political parties in preparation for the forthcoming parliamentary elections. That are the funds which the parties receive from the State Budget of Ukraine for financing of their statutory activities. During the first year of state funding, parliamentary political parties spent the most of funds received from the State Budget of Ukraine on advertising materials, which is a negative trend. During one year of state financing (since September 2016 to September 2017) the parties spent in total almost half a billion hryvnias - 436 million, the largest amount of which, 109 million, was spent on advertising in the media (TV, radio, print media, billboards). They spent more money on advertising than on both wages and rent of premises.

Talking on the main expenses of parliamentary parties, People's Front, Radical Party of Oleh Liashko, Samopomich and Opposition Bloc spent most of the funds from the state budget for advertising in the media, Batkivshchyna - for rental of premises, PPB Solidarity for branches development.

The parties, with some exceptions, also do not actually invest in the development of local branches or do it only in centralized manner. In general, parliamentary parties spent only 16% of funds for a year for local organizations - 68 million UAH. Two parliamentary parties (People's Front and Radical party of Liashko) do not have any local party organization with the status of a legal entity, which does not contribute to the proper work of party regional structures.

Yulia Kyrychenko, project manager for constitutional law at the Centre of Policy and Legal, drew attention to the issue of compliance with the requirements of the law as regards the submission of financial statements by political parties. In particular, she emphasized that currently about 270 of 350 registered parties submit statements, and this figure is unlikely to change. Ms. Kyrychenko pointed on the problem of responsibility of political parties for violating current legislation. The problem is that currently it is better for parties not to file a statement at all, rather than file it with violations and pay the penalty. National Agency for the Prevention of Corruption has no real leverages at the moment to bring party representatives to justice. According to Ms. Kyrychenko, the reason for this is that it is extremely difficult to find those representatives of parties’ responsibility according to the law. She also noted that parliamentary parties better comply with the requirements of the law than other political forces.

Volodymyr Ariev, MP of Ukraine, Petro Poroshenko Bloc party faction, spoke on implementation of electoral reform in Ukraine. In particular, he told about the adoption of a new electoral law. The MP said there is a serious resistance in the parliament of majoritarian MPs regarding the change of the electoral system. At the same time, he pointed out that none of the draft laws provides guarantees to avoid political corruption. In opinion of the politician, the launch of a large-scale rising awareness campaign should be an important stage in fighting political corruption. In particular, appropriate activities should be conducted in schools and universities, which will enable to solve the reason of the problem, and not to deal with only the consequences.

Viktor Taran, head of the Eidos Center, outlined the typical violations of political parties in terms of compliance with state funding requirements. In particular, he emphasized on such issues as:
- contributions to party accounts from anonymous persons
- contributions from foreign campaigns
- the parties continue not to disclose the central apparatus
- no bank accounts
- non-disclosure of office premises
- non-disclosure of sponsorship
- overstatement of expenditures
- understating and non-disclosure of expenses
- turnover of unaccounted cash

V. Taran described the situation with the Opposition bloc As an example of the “shadowing” of party life, as its central apparatus has no official staff. Parties often not disclose their offices in the financial statements. At the same time the premises are actually functioning.

Panel discussion: political responsibility of parties. International experience

Gabriele Baumann, Head of Konrad Adenauer Foundation Office in Ukraine, mentioned the low level of citizens' trust in political parties as one of the key problems of the party system in Ukraine. However, Ms. Baumann noted that Ukrainians trust in democracy as a successful political regime. According to sociological research, democracy in Ukraine is more trusted than in neighboring Hungary and Poland. Instead, Ms. Baumann indicated that even the most popular parties in Ukraine do not have a significant support of citizens, which is proved with the results of sociological research. Political education should be an important stage for democratization of the state and getting trust in parties, which will allow parties to establish more effective communication with citizens and not to work in the format of populist slogans.

Mary O'Hagan, Chief Adviser and Senior Director at NDI in Ukraine, talked on the issue of political responsibility of political parties. Ms. O'Hagan pointed to the problem of populism in the activities of political forces. In particular, she said that there should not be a significant gap in the promises of the parties and their actions after coming to power. One of the signs of political irresponsibility is that political parties are inclined to promote ideas that are popular among voters. Parties often do not have their own vision of the state's development and emphasize on issues which citizens want to hear. Moreover, citizens should also feel responsible for the political situation in the state. Responsibility concerns both those who were elected and those who elect them. As for populism, Ms. O'Hagan added that this situation is possible as the most progressive part of society is indifferent to the political situation in the country, and these are good conditions for potential populists to spread.

Morton Enberg, Head of the Council of Europe Office in Ukraine, reviewed the issue of changing the electoral system in Ukraine. In particular, he said that usually the Council of Europe and the Venice Commission are not inclined to recommend a specific electoral system for a particular state, but Ukraine was an exception. In accordance with the recommendations of the Venice Commission the proportional electoral system with open lists is the most suitable for Ukraine. At the same time, Mr. Enberg also mentioned that it is important to remember about the work with citizens at local level and work towards increasing of the political involvement of voters.

Cyrylo Tretiak, Program Coordinator at the Eastern Europe Center for Multiparty Democracy in Ukraine, called on the participants to pay enough attention to the international context when solving typical problems for Ukraine According to Mr. Tretiak Ukraine has some peculiarities but still it is not unique in terms of problems in development of democracy, political parties and election elements. Other European countries have similar problems, and therefore their experience can be useful in solving Ukrainian problems. According to Mr. Tretyak, rising awareness and educational campaigns on political accountability should be key issue for Ukraine. This includes both work with voters and work with the party members. Party members are often not much aware with politics which negatively affects the quality of their work. Mr. Tretiak mentioned that the Netherlands Institute for Multiparty Democracy provides advisory assistance to political parties in order to build a new generation of politicians.

Panel discussion: Ways to resist populism in period before elections

Volodymyr Tsybulko, political expert, said that party reform is inextricably connected with the electoral reform. Therefore, these processes must be developed together as one action but not independently. The adopted amendments to the Law “On Political Parties in Ukraine” should be an important step. While performing the party reform the future changes in the administrative-territorial structure of Ukraine should be also taken into account. In particular, these are enlargement of rayons and the overall decrease in the number of local officials. Thus, political parties should be guided by a new administrative structure when developing their organizations. Also, according to V. Tsybulko, at least several election periods are required to renew political parties in Ukraine.

Mykola Davydiuk, director of Polityka analytical center pointed that political parties actually don’t have own funds for development. Officially 90% of the parties' expenses is the money received within state financing. According to the expert, this may testify the “shadowing” of party life as it is unknown where large amounts of money disappeared, which parties declared before the start of state financing. One of the key problems is that the parties do not actually develop an intellectual product. Political forces do not work in the format of strategic thinking and the development of high-quality election programs. They do not involve relevant analytical centers and expert structures. In addition, lack of decentralization in party life is still the problem too. Local organizations do not actually have their own funds and are completely dependent on the central apparatus of political forces. As for populism resistance, the concrete results of politicians can be considered as the opposite to populism. M. Davydiuk said it is important for citizens to evaluate politicians through their concrete results in their field work. Then local successes could turn into general growth within the entire state. The parties should train young leaders, provide voters with an analytical data on key state reforms. The money should be invested not in material goods but in sense-bearing component.

Igar Tyshkevych, expert of Ukrainian Institute for the Future analytical center on internal and international politics, emphasized the key positive and negative trends in the development of Ukrainian society at the present stage with references to the data of sociological research. The negative trend is that voters are ready to get involved in vote-buying during election (on average, this applies to 12-15% of voters). This is a high indicator and shows the unhealthy condition of the state. Another negative trend is low level of citizens’ awareness about the politics. Thus, only 55% of voters have got acquainted with party programs at least once. On the other hand, positive tendency is that more Ukrainians wish to actively participate in politics. A third of citizens are ready for real action. According to the expert, this is a very high indicator, since changes in the state are implemented not by the majority but by a well-organized minority. This force is capable to fight contemporary challenges and to resist general populism. After all, the key idea of ​​populism is simple solutions in a difficult situation. Instead, when citizens have developed critical thinking, then the influence of populist ideas is minimal.

Andriy Duda, political expert, said that the problem of populism can’t be solved completely but its influence can be partly limited. According to the expert's definition, populism is providing false information that distorts the will of citizens. A. Duda supposes that it is important at the moment to reduce the media component of election as much as possible: the parties have to work directly with voters, involving them into political discussion. That means that a door-to-door format should prevail. According to A. Duda, this will help solve the problem of populism It would be much more difficult for politicians to offer voters unreal solutions of their problems directly. It is also important that public sector was also involved into combating populism. In particular, it is necessary to analyze the fulfillment the promises and election programs by politicians. As for party life, it should be built on the principle of decentralization of power. In general populism on a local level is the lowest, since it is relatively easy for voters to verify if the promises of parties or politicians are fulfilled. Therefore, populism is first of all an emphasis on nation-wide problems without specifics which is commonly found in local politics.

Maksym Cherkasenko, board member of the Democratic Alliance party, emphasized that Democratic Alliance party consistently advocated support for parties in the form of state funding. In his opinion, this should be done to renew the political elite in the country by providing access to politics for new political parties but not for temporary projects of oligarchs. As for the theme of populism, it should not be perceived as a phenomenon and tool of opposition only. Populism should be considered also in the actions of people in power. According to Mr. Cherkasenko, such politicians have access to resources and therefore the threat to populism in their actions is the highest. In general, populism directly depends on the economic situation in the state. According to Mr. Cherkasenko, the economic impoverishment of the population creates favorable conditions for populist ideas. To the contrary economic well-being can block populist politicians. He showed as a proof the situation in the European Union, where economic growth actually neutralizes the influence of populism on voters.