The Verkhovna Rada is getting ready to cut the number of local deputies threefold

The Verkhovna Rada is getting ready to cut the number of local deputies threefold
The path to votes of the electorate will be much more costly for candidates running for seats in local councils
Photo: Ivan Chernichkin

The parliamentary majority has drafted a bill that will help officials reduce the expenditures of the state budget for elections and financial support of deputies of the local councils. The proposed changes are unlikely to save money for the state, but they will considerably help parties increase the value of a positions on electoral lists.

Simple math

The bill on downsizing of the number of members of local councils in the elections scheduled for October 2015 was submitted to the Verkhovna Rada, a copy of which Capital possesses. The document was drafted by a team of representatives of the parliamentary coalition. This is the first time that a regulation limiting the number of deputies depending on the number of settlements in an area or their type has been proposed to them for regulation at the legislative level. At the moment their number is determined on the eve of the elections by the local oblast council.

Under the bill, six deputies will be elected to village councils (now 12–16 deputies) and 8 deputies to settlement councils (now 16–20). The number of deputies of city councils is determined by the urban population as of January of next year when the elections will be held. For example, 14 deputies will be elected to city councils in towns with a population of 50,000 (currently, the maximum number is 46 deputies), for the cities with a population of 200,000–500,000 — 30 deputies (currently 76) and for cities with a population of more than 1 mn — 50 deputies. Now, up to 150 deputies can be elected to councils in the cities with a population over 1 mn and the composite of the Kyiv City Council is 120 deputies.

The bill proposed by the coalition envisages that the number of deputies of future regional councils will be twice the number of towns and cities of the oblast level. At present, the number of deputies in oblast councils is determined based on the population of the counties in oblasts. Moreover, oblast councils approve their composite independently.

Based on the estimates of MP Anna Hopko (Samopomіch), who is the initiator of the bill, in the event that it is implemented the number of deputies in local councils will decrease by three times — from the current 240,000 to 80,000. Hopko believes this will cut costs for the maintenance of councils and electoral campaigns.

«Our electoral tour during the elections to the Verkhovna Rada showed that there are too many local deputies and the quality of their work leaves a lot to be desired. Formally, the deputies work on a voluntary basis, but the costs still depend on their number. This includes overhead costs for paper, correspondence, personnel and administration,» she said.

It is expected that the electoral system will be changed following the downsizing of the number of deputies. Now the coalition is preparing a bill on transition to a proportional system for city, county and regional councils. The first-past-the-post system will be used only during the elections of deputies to village and settlement councils.

First Deputy Chair of the VR Committee on Legal Policy and Justice Leonid Yemets (People’s Front), whose committee is supposed to evaluate the bill, confirmed for the publication that the idea of downsizing the number of local deputies was supported by all members of the coalition. He predicts that the parliament will vote for the document this year.

«We discussed this issue at the coalition level and it got the approval of the majority of MPs. I think they will vote for it this year, seeing as the electoral system should be changed for open electoral lists by October 2015,» Yemets underscored.

The new Finance Minister Natalia Jaresko was the first to propose the idea of reducing the number of deputies. In documents prepared by the Finance Ministry for optimization of the national budget the parliament was proposed to reduce the number of people’s deputies from 450 to 150. Based on the department’s calculations it will save the budget up to UAH 424 mn annually. The initiators of reduction of the number of local deputies admit that no economic calculations have been made yet.

Triple the price

Deputy Chair of the Central Election Commission Andriy Mahera claims that cost-cutting will be negligible, as only the heads of county and oblast councils and their deputies and secretaries in city councils are employed on a professional basis. In an interview with Capital he noted that reduction of the number of deputies will not affect the costs of holding local elections.

«The costs will be the same — be they for 10 deputies or 50. The number of polling stations, ballots and members of commissions will not change, as this is determined by the number of voters,» he said.

General Director of the Committee of Voters of Ukraine Oleksiy Koshel believes that local councils should be reduced by 30–50%, not by three times, because the connection between deputies and voters will be lost. He says a reduced number of deputies will have a positive impact on competition for votes, though it will lead to an increase in costs of conducting election campaigns.

«In the context of decentralization, when the executive power will belong to the executive committees, the value of mandates increases. In case of a reduction of the number of deputies by two or three times, its value will grow in direct proportion,» he said.

As a reminder, earlier representatives of President Poroshenko’s team repeatedly announced plans to hold early local elections in the spring of 2015. However, this will be possible only in case of timely introduction of amendments on the decentralization of power to the Constitution. Regular elections in the regions are scheduled for October 2015.

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