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Autumn of chances and populism

17:50, 04 September 2018
7 min. 244

Exactly one year ago, Speaker of the Verkhovna Rada Andriy Parubiy called the fall session of the parliament "autumn of reform." The current session, according to him, is the "autumn of chances." But it is unlikely that people's deputies will be able to resist populism on the eve of two election campaigns. UNIAN learned which bills would become a litmus test this political season.

Today people's deputies who have rested for two months have resumed their work. According to Andriy Parubiy, he hopes for a successful session, claiming that parliamentarians should consider a number of crucial issues. In particular, we are talking about the renewal of the Central Election Commission, the adoption of the Electoral Code, changes to the Constitution regarding parliamentary immunity, and presidential proposals - the inclusion of Ukraine's Eurointegration and Euro-Atlantic aspirations into the Basic Law, as well as many other issues.

In Parubiy's opinion, on the eve of the elections there are great chances that the deputies, in an attempt to win electoral sympathies, will be engaged in reforms. "Do you think the issue of parliamentary immunity is easier to vote for during an election or non-election year? Of course, it's the election year. Everyone, realizing that they're going to campaign, will think: how will people analyze my choice?" he noted.

The Speaker is convinced that it is easier to collect votes for certain bills in the election year and it is easier for society to influence the voting of each deputy, "therefore I view this autumn as an autumn of chances."

However, it is unlikely to completely rule out the factor of populism. "Of course, in a year when we have presidential elections, and then parliamentary elections, political emotions will go off scale. At least ten presidential candidates will sit in the hall," Parubiy said.

In this regard, the Speaker promises to tighten the registration of bills to avoid legislative spam. "In particular, my initiative will be to ensure that any bill that is registered is supported by a certain number of deputies… That at least groups of deputies demonstrate support for this bill and, accordingly, demonstrate that there are prospects of its consideration, and is not simply a PR move of a certain deputy," the head of parliament explained.

However, one should not cherish high hopes for the high productivity of the Verkhovna Rada of the current convocation. If we evaluate the work of the parliament in the last four years, it is hard to believe that until February, they will vote for everything they planned without any scandals, blockages and attempts to pull blankets.

Code of "honor" in elections and independent CEC

For example, the Electoral Code was promised by this convocation while there was still a coalition agreement of the "European Ukraine" majority, which sank into oblivion with the resignation of the then Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk two years ago. In the first reading, the code was only adopted in November 2017. And to date, the document saw about 4,500  amendments. In this connection, it is not surprising that Parubiy believes: the Rada will not vote for the Electoral Code until October.

According to the analyst at KyivStratPro, Taras Semenyuk, the adoption of the Electoral Code will become a kind of a test for the maturity of the Ukrainian political elite. "Voting for this code can be called the main challenge for deputies, since it can confuse cards to parties claiming to get into the Verkhovna Rada of the future convocation," he said.

One more litmus of readiness of the Ukrainian parliament to reform is the change in the composition of the Central Election Commission. Most of the current members of the Central Election Commission have a seven-year term of office. But, as UNIAN wrote earlier, the president (not without scandals) introduced to the Verkhovna Rada the list of applicants for posts in the CEC only in February this year. People's deputies claimed they had intended to review these nominations and vote for them until the end of the spring-summer session of the parliament. However, the issue was not put on the agenda until the last moment. As a result, the decision was not made. "I am convinced that the issue of creating and updating the CEC should be the first issue of the next meeting of the Verkhovna Rada. This is our task, with which we must begin work," the speaker said, sending the parliament for the summer holidays.

Now the vacation is over and everyone would like to see the actual vote. However, even now we can predict some problems. For example, the Opposition Bloc already says that if a pro-government majority is formed in the Central Election Commission exclusively by the people of the president, such a CEC cannot be considered legitimate. "The CEC needs to be formed according to the quota principle," said the faction co-chairman Yuriy Boyko. "Our faction is the third largest in parliament. Therefore, we should have two nominees for the new Central Election Commission. If the president wants to form his majority, then this is the path to illegitimacy of this body."

Amendments to Constitution

"Another important issue is the introduction of amendments to the Constitution regarding the lifting of parliamentary immunity. This is a good and interesting story before the elections, but it is unlikely that there will be 300 votes to amend the Basic Law," said Taras Semenyuk.

Indeed, while previously, parliamentary battles were unfolding around the issue of which of the bills on depriving deputies of immunity - presidential or parliamentary – should be taken as a basis, then after the Constitutional Court recognized both documents as constitutional, it is now only about the vote.

We should recall that the presidential offer says that the Rada should exclude from the current version of the Constitution the rule that "people's deputies cannot be prosecuted, detained or arrested without the Verkhovna Rada's consent." At the same time, the norm remains that people's deputies do not bear legal responsibility for the results of voting or statements made in parliament and its bodies, with the exception of responsibility for insult or slander. In addition, it is proposed that this law will be effective from January 1, 2020, that is, for the future convocation of the Verkhovna Rada.

The parliamentary bill is not globally different from the presidential one. However, it comes into force from the day following the day of its publication.

According to the procedure, after the verdict of the Constitutional Court, the deputies must first approve any of these projects, at least, with 226 votes. And at the next regular session of the Verkhovna Rada, 300 people's deputies must make a final decision and put an end to this debate.  

According to Parubiy, it is now difficult to name concrete dates when deprivation of deputy immunity will be on the agenda. "But, I think that the issue of immunity will be considered in October-November," he said.

Another change in the Basic Law, proposed by the president more recently, is of a more fundamental nature. It is about consolidating the Euro-integration and Euro-Atlantic course of Ukraine in the country's Constitution. Theoretically, at this session, nothing prevents deputies from sending a draft of such changes for study to the Constitutional Court of Ukraine. But will there be enough political will? Indeed, on Monday, a proposal to consolidate such a course in a memorandum between the leaders of the factions was already voiced at the Conciliation Council of the leaders of parliamentary factions.

Read alsoUkraine parliament publishes amendments to Constitution on Ukraine's path to EU, NATO

According to the People's Deputy from the BPP, representative of the permanent delegation of Ukraine to the NATO PA, Iryna Friz, "we are offered another 'rake' - to sign a piece of paper that will not have any legal force." "The Memorandum is a hybrid action to level out the more effective mechanism of the foreign policy lever against revanchism in 2019," she said.

But the consolidation of these ideas in the Constitution is "a test of the true pro-Western attitudes of politicians in Ukraine."

Political scientist Olesya Yakhno-Belkovska agrees with this idea, according to which the memorandum on the invariability of the Euro-Atlantic course is simply an excuse. "After the elections of 2019, the parliament can offer another memorandum, or not pay any attention to any memorandums, since they have no legal force. Changing the Constitution (even if there are a number of revanchist politicians) will not be so easy (300 votes are needed)," she is convinced.

Most scandalous issues

However, to the most scandalous topics that the Verkhovna Rada is facing it is necessary to attribute issues other than the changes to the Basic Law or the new rules of the game in the electoral process.

Vivid discussions should be expected in the course of consideration of the law on language. "After the Constitutional Court overturned the so-called law of Kolesnichenko-Kivalov, there is a legislative vacuum that we must fill," the Speaker said.

Another topic that cannot be ignored is a formal extension of the law on a special order of local self-government in the occupied regions of Donetsk and Luhansk regions. The "special status" ceases to be effective in October 2018.

In the opinion of experts, the fundamental issue for the legislative decision remains the continuation or cancellation of the moratorium on the sale of land. "There is a lot of populism in this topic, so it will be loudly used in the election campaign, both by representatives of the authorities and representatives of the opposition. But the main question remains the public interest. Will the deputies work for its benefit rather than for their own rating?" says Taras Semenyuk.

"The plans for the session look really good, but they address only a small amount of very resonant issues. In addition, the deputies have repeatedly failed to include significantly less irritating bills on the agenda, while now they're talking about changes to the Constitution," says political expert Taras Chornovil.

According to him, based on the results of the first day of the new session, we can conclude that the Verkhovna Rada has resumed its work but not the deputies. "Voting is going incredibly tight. It's horrible. I am convinced that it is necessary to take two cardinal steps to change the situation," he said.

First, it is about abolishing the constitutional norm, according to which all decisions of the Verkhovna Rada should be taken by an absolute majority from the constitutional composition (226 votes) and be vote, basically, by a simple majority. These 226 votes should be used for a narrow range of issues.

"This would save us from conscious sabotage and decisive influence from ordinary truants," Chornovil is convinced.

According to him, this surely carries certain risks. But in order to minimize them, there is a procedure for the president's veto on the laws.

Secondly, it is about linking the statistics and responsibility of the deputies not to registration in the electronic system and their signatures, but to actual participation in voting.

"The principle is this: the deputy is obliged to vote on all issues that are put forward – they should press the button," he explained.

This, in Chornovil's opinion, on the one hand, will stop the practice of registering in the Verkhovna Rada in the morning and leaving the hall, and on the other hand, it will demonstrate to the voter the position of the parliamentarian on each of the issues brought to the session hall.

However, in order to adopt such changes, the deputies need to be registered in the Rada, to vote and support them. And this is a matter of discipline.

Margarita Andreyeva

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