Opinion

Ukraine constitution writers should have taken a lesson from America's Founding Fathers

By |
Beltway Confidential,Opinion,Michael Barone,Ezra Klein,Ukraine

America’s Founding Fathers may have known a thing or two. When they wrote the Constitution, creating a workable federal government, they also allowed a wide measure of autonomy for the states. The states would be required to have a republican form of government, but they would determine voting qualifications for themselves.

The Constitution established that the voting requirements for House of Representatives would be the same as for the lower house of each legislature, and that the states would elect their own governors and legislatures. This allowed states with different religious heritages and civic traditions great leeway. In contrast, revolutionary France provided that in each of its newly defined 83 departments governance would come from centrally appointed officials.

Ukraine followed the French example. That hasn’t worked well in a nation with great differences among its regions — differences in language, ethnic identity and historic heritage.

As you can see by clicking on electoral maps in the Electoral Geography 2.0 website, the different regions of Ukraine have voted very differently in closely contested national elections, with 90 percent support for pro-Russian candidates in the east and 90 percent support for pro-Western candidates in the west.

But the winner in these narrow contests has been appointing governors in all of these regions. That has meant that local government has been run in some areas by people almost unanimously opposed in those regions. In the New York Times, American economist Roger Myerson, promotes a common-sense solution: the popular election of governors. This proposal makes sense and might help make Ukraine into a viable polity.

Back in 2010, Ezra Klein, then the proprietor of the Washington Post's Wonkblog and now leading Vox Media, complained that the Constitution is “confusing” because it was “written more than 100 years ago.” In retrospect it's unfortunate that those who wrote Ukraine's constitution did not penetrate that confusion and take a lesson from what the American Founders wrote 226 years ago.

View article comments Leave a comment