The Eonconmist review

January 21, 2010

The Economist has an excellent article in review of Ukraine’s modern political history

The Swing analysis between the 2004 presidential election, 2007 Parliamentary election and last Sundays vote shows that there has been little overall movement in voters support/allegiance in Ukraine. Whilst in theory the election could be close much of it depends on the split of secondary alternative support from Minor candidates who did not make it into the final round ballot.

Ukrainian banker turn presidential candidate Oleh Tihipko (Whom two of my good friends in Kyiv who work in the banking sector voted for) spent over 100 million dollars in his campaign with much of his support coming from Kyiv and the Eastern and Southern regions of Ukraine. Dnepropetrovsk being his strongest region. (See voter distribution maps below).

The real issue and problem with Ukraine finding its stability, was its decision to retain the soviet style presidential system. Had Ukraine adopted a parliamentary model as did all other Soviet Communist countries (Estonia and Latvia in particular), that are now part of the EU, Ukraine would have been much further down the track to being a stable independent nation.

Viktor Yushchenko has consistently opposed Ukraine adopting European values and European models and a parliamentary system of governance. His dismissal of the parliament in 2007 which caused seven months of political and civil unrest, was primarily aimed to prevent moves afoot to remove the president from power. In 2008 he again sought to undermine stability in Ukraine’s parliament following attempts by the Tymeshenko government to reform Ukraine’s constitutional structure and consider a parliamentary model.

In 2004/5 as part of the agreement to hold a third round re-run ballot Ukraine took a significant step towards a parliamentary system but left in place as a compromise a president with significant and counter productive powers in place. Power that would only work provided the president and parliament were reading from the same page or even the same  book.

In 2007 the Parliamentary Assemble of the Council of Europe recommended that Ukraine become a full parliamentary democracy in line with other EU states.

Viktor Yushchenko instead has proposed that Ukraine take a backward step and revert to a presidential autocracy where the President would appoint the government and have absolute power and control over the Parliament and the courts.

Ukraine is at a cross roads, It needs to relay the foundation stones and rebuild it’s democratic structures. Adopting a European parliamentary system along the lines of Estonia and Latvia would be the best option.

As long as Ukraine retains the soviet style presidential system it will continue to falter and suffer ongoing power struggle and conflict of authority between the president and the people’s democratically elected parliament.

Carrousel of clowns: Fresh Parliamentary elections to follow Presidential contest

November 27, 2009

In what has been a full on news day for Ukraine it has become obvious that Ukraine will face another fresh round of Parliamentary elections in the new year.

Party of Regions, Viktor Yanukovych has indicated that they aim to secure both the presidency and the prime-ministership once the Presidential election is over. Effort will be made to form a new coalition to appoint a new government. If that fails the newly elected president will seek ways to dismiss the parliament and hold fresh elections.

Any possibility of meaningful long term constitutional reform will fall by the wayside as Ukraine becomes a one party state.

This is what’s at risk the most. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Yanukovych may soon forsake the ideal of Ukraine adopting a European Parliamentary system in favor of short-term power and control.

Yulia Tymoshenko has conceded as much.Parliamentary elections should not allowed to proceed without first addressing the fundamental issue of constitutional reform and the completion of Ukraine’s transition to a full European parliamentary model of governance.

As long as Ukraine remains subservient to the whim and will of the president wit will continue to falter as politicians sercombe to temptation and power. This all makes the current Presidential election look more and more like a revolving carrousel of clowns.

Yushchenko’s proposed Constitutional reform rejected

October 23, 2009

The Ukraine Parliament has overwelmingly rejected Victor Yushchenko’s proposed Constitutional Reforms

Yushchenko’s has proposed that Ukraine revert back to a soviet style presidential autocracy where the President would have absolute power of Ukraine’s parliament, the courts and the executive government. If implemented Ukraine would no longer be a democratic state. 

Ukraine’s Constitution can only be amended with the support of two-thirds majority (300 or more) of the parliament.

48 out of 450 members (11%) of Ukraine’s Parliament voted to support the president’s proposed reforms.

Parliament votes to remove Immunity

October 20, 2009

Ukraine’s Parliament has voted 390 out of 438 taking the first step to amend Ukraine’s Constitution and remove parliamentary immunity and limit Presidential immunity.

Under the provisions of Ukraine’s current constitutionUkraine’s President is the only person who has absolute immunity. Members of parliament currently have the same immunity as that afforded toJudges.

The proposed amendments means that the President can not be arrested or detained without the consent of the parliament. If the president is found guilty of an offense he automatically loses office.

Members of Parliament will no longer  be able to claim immunity from criminal liability.  They can not be arrested or detained without the consent of the parliament or a court order. They can be prosecuted.

The proposed amendment also removes a members of parliaments liability for defamation for actions and statements made within the parliament.  This brings Ukraine’s constitutional provisions in line with other western democracies.

This should put an end to the political debate about parliamentary immunity even though not one member of parliament has ever been prevented from being prosecuted.

Viktor Yushchenko has campaigned to have Parliamentary immunity removed but in his proposed constitutional amendments he has retained immunity for Judges and the President.

The proposed amendments will be referred to Ukraine’s Constitutional Court for review and will need to be represented to the Parliament for adoption in February 2010.

The main problem with the proposed amendment is that it leaves the President exposed to vexatious litigation. A requirement of 60% or two-thirds of the parliament should be required before the president can be detained or loses office would be better.

An earlier proposal to remove immunity from Ukraine’s Parliament only, which did not include the President and Judges, received only 206 votes and as such was defeated.

Extract from Ukraine’s current Constitution

Article 80 

People’s Deputies of Ukraine are guaranteed parliamentary immunity.People’s Deputies of Ukraine are not legally liable for the results of voting or for statements made in Parliament and in its bodies, with the exception of liability for insult or defamation.People’s Deputies of Ukraine shall not be held criminally liable, detained or arrested without the consent of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine.

Article 105

The President of Ukraine enjoysthe right of immunity during the term of authority.

Article 126

The independence and immunity ofjudges are guaranteed by the Constitution and the laws of Ukraine.
Influencing judges in any manneris prohibited.
A judge shall not be detained orarrested without the consent of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, untila verdict of guilty is rendered by a court.

Putting out Fire with gasoline Yushchenko’s Constitutional Reforms Anti Democratic

October 1, 2009

Viktor Yushchenko continues to push for his Constitutional reform.

If implemented it would spell the end to Ukraine as a democratic state. Instead of being a democracy Ukraine would become a Presidential autocracy.

Holding an open public debate where Yushchenko’s version of constitutioanl reform is the only item up for discussion is not the way to go about seeking reform

Yushchenko can not legally change Ukraine’s Constitution without the support of the Parliament.

Ukraine’s Constitution can not be amended before the next Presidential election. 

The Parliament is the only body that can amend Ukraine’s Constitution.

In accordance with Chapter XIII: Ukraine’s Constitution can only be amended with the consent of no less than two-thirds of the constitutional composition of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine.

In addition amendments to Chapter I — “General Principles,” Chapter III — “Elections. Referendum,” and Chapter XIII — “Introducing Amendments to the Constitution of Ukraine,” can only be amended by the parliament of Ukraine on the condition that it is also approved by an All-Ukrainian referendum designated by the President of Ukraine.

Any proposed Constitutional amendment also requires review by Ukraine’s Constitutional Court and can only be finally agreed to at the next regular session of the Parliament following the date in which the Parliament first gave its consent. The next regular session is not until February 2010 and it is highly unlikely that Ukraine’s Parliament will agree to any amendments prior to the Presidential elections in January 2010. The earliest any reforms can be considered would be September next year . So what’s the rush and should there not be other alternative options?

Yushchenko knows he can not change the Constitution without the support of the parliament. So why is he pushing his reform package? The reason is simple Yushchenko hopes to sell the notion that his proposed Constitutional reforms are the solution to Ukraine’s problems. They are not.

Yushchenko versus Yatseniuk

Yushchenko currently has less then 4% support. His main rival at this stage is Arseniy Yatseniuk, Yushchenko needs to boost his support to such an extent that he can match or prevail on Yatseniuk to withdraw from the race. Yushchenko hopes that Yatseniuk’s support will transfer across and that the combined vote will put him ahead Yulia Tymoshenko and progress into the final face-off against Yanukovych.

As long as Yatseniuk and Yushchenko run against each other neither will progress to the final second ballot. Each one can only survive if the other withdraws.

Parliament versus President

Yushchenko seeks to play off the Parliament against the President in the hope that he will attract enough support from those who want to see Ukraine have a strong President. The problem is Yushchenko is not a strong President and he will most likely not be elected to enjoy the powers he now seeks. The powers he advocates will be invested in who ever wins the 2010 election.

So Yushchenko is playing a game of Russian roulette and he is hoping that the battle between the President and the Parliament will set him aside and give him a lift up. It’s a big gamble and one that is built of straw. This strategy requires the country to come close to breaking point and the people of Ukraine being fooled into thinking that Yushchenko’s proposed reforms are the solution to Ukraine’s problems.

Proposed reform would exacerbate the problems and divisions in Ukraine. 

If anything Yushchenko’s proposed reform would exacerbate the problems and divisions in Ukraine. Yushchenko’s reforms are not democratic and will not resolve the conflict and divisions between the Office of the President and then Parliament. If implemented they would bring Ukraine to closer to breaking point and eventually possible civil war.

Presidential autocracy versus democracy

Yushchenko wants Ukraine to take a backward step and become a Presidential autocracy where the President would have absolute power and absolute control. the president would have absolute power over the courts, the government and the parliament. The parliament would have limited authority and if it is not to the President’s liking he can dismiss the parliament without limitation or just cause.

Yushchenko’s undemocratic Senate

Yushchenko’s proposed senate is the only safeguard but it will not be a democratic. The Senate has an inbuilt bias towards Western Ukraine at the expense of Eastern and Southern Ukraine. The Senate’s mandate will be based on Ukraine’s regional Oblasts with each Senatorial region electing the same number of Senators. Zakapattia with just over 300,000 constituents will elect three senators the same as Donetsk with 2.6 million constituents. The undemocratic representation will create cause for resentment not unity.

Yushchenko’s Senate can not be held accountable as it can not be dismissed. One third of the Senate will face election every two years with the same set of voters electing all three Senators by a first-past-the-post voting system. It is easy to see resentment escalating to the point where the system will be denounced outright by Eastern and Southern Ukraine who will feel cheated and denied a fair equal right of representation.

President’s impeachment impossible

The fairness of the proposed senate is further diminished by the fact that the senate is the only body that can seek to impeach the president, made even harder by the requirement that the President can only be impeached if found to have intentionally committed a crime. Given that the President holds absolute immunity the chances of the President being convicted of a crime is virtually impossible short of determined civil unrest and a peoples uprising.

Yushchenko’s President would have more power then the Russian Tsar.

More discussion

NISS: Yushchenko on the rise – Yatseniuk losing support.

September 20, 2009

A recent public opinion poll published in Kyivpost has Yushchenko listed at 7.1% (Significantly greater then all other polls). Yushchenko, who is still in single digits, is behind Yanukovych (21.7%), Tymoshenko (14%) and Yatseniuk (10%)

The poll was conducted by the National Institute for Strategic Studies (NISS).

This poll is very much out of sync with all other public opinion polls. If it is to be believed than it shows Yushchenko picking up ground at the expense of Yatseniuk who has dropped to just 10%. Both Yatseniuk and Yushchenko are vying for the same electorate base. Under Ukraine’s two-round “first-past-the-post” Presidential voting system Yushchenko would have to out-poll both Yulia Tymoshenko and Yasteniuk to survive the first round of voting.

It needs to be mentioned that since 19 November 2000, the National Institute for Strategic Studies has been subordinated to the Office of the President of Ukraine and the Institute’s current director, Yuri Ruban, was appointed in 2005. This says a lot about the credibility of the poll.

Kyivpost also published another NISS poll indicating that a majority of Ukrainians support Yushchenko’s proposed Constitutional reforms and a Presidential-Parliamentary system. All are lacking credibility and should be viewed with caution

Parliamentary reform: What Ukraine should not do

September 11, 2009

Back in June the Venice Commission reviewed a draft legislation on Parliamentary Elections proposed and submitted by the Ukrainian Parliament Committee on State Building and Local Self-Governance.

The system proposed in the draft law provides for 450 parliamentarians to be elected under a form of proportional representation that uses territorial election districts, including a foreign territorial election district where ballots are cast by out of country voters. Under the proposed system, most members of parliament will be elected from national lists, with the mathematical possibility for individual political party candidates to be elected within an in-country territorial election district from a territorial list.

The proposed model, as commented in the Venice Commission’s report, is very convoluted, complex and over engineered. It seeks to reinstate a “hybrid representative model” which is extraordinary and unnecessarily complex in its implementation.

Under the proposals put forward Ukraine’s parliament would be made up of a representatives elected from a single party list but with the allocation of a proportion of the list being determined by local regional elections (the exact boundaries and composition not yet decided) . The system is so complex I do not think it is worth trying to unravel and explain in detail. It is a good example as how Ukrainian politicians try to manipulate the system to deliver a solution that is not a solution.

Hybrid systems do not work. They create a distortion and inequality of the representative model which in turn distorts the balance of representation by creating super-sets and sub-sets of mandates. Those elected on a National List will hold a separate and significantly different mandate then those elected by the regional local list. This system did not work in the old parliament prior to the reforms of 2004. The proposed system, as complicated as it is, will also fail.

The temptation to try and manipulate and over engineer Ukraine’s parliamentary model must be resisted – its a fools paradise and in the long run will not work

Yes there is merit in adopting and establishing local multi-member proportional representational electorates – but the hybrid mix of different mandates in a single house Parliament has no merit or justification. If Ukraine believes they need National representatives to complement local representatives then they are best to adopt a bicameral system with one house elected on the basis of local representation (preferable the lower house) and the second house (Senate) elected on a national basis.

The main criteria in assessing any representative model is that each elected position MUST be equal in representation and must be based on sound democratic principles. Each local electorate MUST return the same number of representatives elected on the same quota percentage and where possible have the same number of constituents (+/- 5%).

Ideally each local electorate would return either 5, 7 or 9 members of parliament and be elected by a system of “Single Transferable vote” preferential proportional representation using the Meeks method of counting the vote. What ever number they settle on each electorate MUST be the equal and on the based on the same quota percentage for the system to work at its best. (See previous post – Principles of a good, workable and democratic representative Parliamentary model)

The proposal of creating a “Foreign representational” electorate is another foolish reaction to a problem that does not exist. The number of Ukrainian foreign voters is marginally small. If need be foreign voters should be able to cast a vote for the local regional electorate in which they were previously registered or lived, there is no need to create a special electorate to accommodate their needs.

Need to fix the date for elections

The other change that must be made and has been overlooked is the need to fix a set date for elections. This provision of having elections set for the last Sunday of the last month of the term of office of the Parliament, as we have seen with the current presidential elections, is not effective or desirable. A fixed date say last week in October would be a better option. Any preterm election could have their term cut short to ensure that the October date is the cut off point. Presidential elections if they are to continue should also be brought into line with the adoption of a similar fixed date.

Hopefully the legislation as proposed will not see the light of day and Ukraine will stop trying to over-engineer the outcome of elections and concentrate more on winning public support based on a fair and equal electoral model.