Category Archives: Ukraine

How Do Minority Presidents Manage Multiparty Coalitions?

This is a blog post by Svitlana Chernykh based on her recent article with Paul Chaisty published in Political Research Quarterly (Online First). The full article can be found here.

Although the concept of coalitional presidentialism is not new, until recently, the question of how presidents form and manage their coalitions has been explored primarily in the context of Latin American presidential democracies. However, we know little about how and whether these theories travel outside Latin America. In “How Do Minority Presidents Manage Multiparty Coalitions? Identifying and Analyzing the Payoffs to Coalition Parties in Presidential Systems” we use original quantitative and qualitative data to analyse how minority presidents manage their multiparty coalitions to achieve legislative support in Ukraine.

Why Ukraine? With few exceptions, the country has been governed by multiparty cabinet coalitions since 1996 and thus offers rich macro-level data. Ukraine is also a difficult case with which to test institutional hypotheses. Many scholars of Ukrainian politics have questioned the applicability of notions of coalitional behavior to the country and have suggested that coalitional solutions to the problems of limited legislative support are difficult to operate in the Ukrainian context. Finally, presidential coalitions in Ukraine frequently contain cabinet parties as well as parties that do not have cabinet representation. This allowed us to explore the non-cabinet strategies that presidents used to manage the support of coalition parties.

Portfolio Allocation and Cabinet Coalition Discipline in Ukraine

In the first part of the paper, we test a now well-established hypothesis in Latin American literature that cabinet portfolio payoffs to coalition allies raise the level of legislative support for presidents. Our dependent variable is coalition discipline. It is measured as the percentage of legislators belonging to cabinet parties who voted in favour of bills introduced by the executive branch. Our main independent variable is the level of cabinet coalescence or the level of fairness in the distribution of cabinet posts among coalition members [1].

We find that cabinet coalescence has a positive and statistically significant effect on cabinet coalition discipline in Ukraine. To put it in substantive terms, an increase in cabinet coalescence by 10 percent increases cabinet coalition discipline by 2.4 percent. Thus, the dynamics of coalitional presidentialism in Ukraine are similar to those that we find in Latin America. The presidents who compose their cabinets more proportionally can expect a higher degree of satisfaction from allied parties and thus higher levels of discipline.

Managing Parties Outside of the Cabinet 

However, Ukrainian presidents also rely on the support of parties that do not receive portfolio payoffs. As the figure below shows, the number of non-cabinet coalition parties is significant in the Ukrainian case. In fact, the inclusion of non-cabinet parties was crucial in giving each president minimum winning majorities or near majorities.

Figure 1. The number of Ukrainian parties in cabinet and floor coalitions, 1996–2011.

 

How did the presidents in Ukraine secure their support? What were the motivations behind these parties’ decision to join the coalitions? To answer these questions, we interviewed 50 legislators, of whom 60 per cent were members of the coalition in 2012. We designed an interview sample and a number of structured and semi-structured questions to help us explore whether the perceived benefits of coalition membership differed significantly between members of coalition parties that had and did not have cabinet representation.

As figures 2 and 3 show, that the motivation to support the president differed between coalition parties that were members of the cabinet and those that were not. Non-cabinet coalition parties were significantly likely to identify extra-cabinet strategies such as patronage, budget payoffs, and informal favours when asked about strategies that the president used to form the coalition (figure2).

Figure 2. Percentage of non-cabinet and cabinet coalition party members who identified the importance of extra- cabinet benefits (patronage, budget resources, and informal favours) in the formation of coalitions.

We find a similar pattern when analysing the responses to a structural question, which asked legislators to choose the first and second most important reason why a political party would decide to join a presidential coalition from a list of options (figire 3). Members of the cabinet party were significantly more likely to identify policy influence and cabinet positions than the members of non-cabinet parties within the floor coalition. In contract, members of non-cabinet parties were more likely to mention budget influence and especially the informal exchange of favours than members of cabinet parties.

Figure 3. Percentage of non-cabinet and cabinet coalition party members who selected as the first or second most important reason why a political party might choose to join a presidential coalition.

Therefore, on the one hand, the Ukraine case validates extant analysis on the effects of cabinet management on legislative behaviour. This suggests that coalitional presidentialism is not simply a unique Latin American phenomenon and gives us good reasons to expect similar dynamics in other regions of the world. Given the increasing preponderance of minority presidents in new democracies, this presents the opportunity to compare a diverse range of presidential cases across other parts of Europe as well as other regions including Africa and Asia.

On the other hand, the Ukrainian case also highlights the multivariate nature of the strategies that presidents deploy to maintain their legislative support. This adds a new dimension to the extant literature, which has mainly focused on the tools deployed by presidents at the cabinet level. By distinguishing between cabinet and floor coalitions, it is possible to identify parties that are motivated to join presidential coalitions by reasons other than cabinet portfolios. This finding highlights the need to consider the entire “toolbox” of resources that presidents can use to maintain their coalitional support [2]. 

 

[1] Amorim Neto, Octavio. 2002. “Presidential Cabinets, Electoral Cycles, and Coalition Discipline in Brazil”, in: Scott Morgenstern and Benito Nacif (eds), Legislative Politics in Latin America, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 48–78.

[2] Chaisty, Paul, Nic Cheeseman, and Timothy J. Power. 2014. “Rethinking the ‘Presidentialism Debate’: Coalitional Politics in Cross-Regional Perspective.” Democratization 21: 72–94.

Ukraine – Ex-president Viktor Yanukovych on Trial

On May 4, Ukraine began a high treason trial of its former president Viktor Yanukovych. According to the Ukrainian state prosecutor’s website, Yanukovych is accused of committing “treason by helping the Russian Federation and its representatives to violate the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine.”

The so-called “trial of the century” has already held two sessions. The prosecution’s main evidence are copies of letters written by Yanukovych asking Russian President Vladimir Putin to send troops to Ukraine. In addition, the prosecutor says that it has witness testimonies, documents, and photo materials to support the case. The punishment for treason in Ukraine carries a sentence of 10 to 15 years.

However, in addition to the treason trial, Yanukovuch is also under criminal investigation in three other cases. First, the former president is accused of ordering the use of disproportionate force against the demonstrators during the so-called Europmaidan protests between November 2013 and February 2014. Second, Yunukovych is accused of having formed criminal groups. And finally, the Mezhyhirya case of illegal acquisition of property. The Mezhyhirya residence of the former president became famous when it was confiscated in 2014 after he fled the country. Later authorities discovered fleet of luxury cars and other luxury items that have stored in the the now infamous estate.

Currently leaving in exile in Russia, the president is being tried in absentia. To enable this, Ukrainian legislature had to pass a number of amendments to the Criminal Procedure Code. This, however, generated a number of controversies. Some argued that the bill is a case of selective justice and is politically motivated, drafted with a sole purpose of putting the former president on trial. Furthermore, the defence has argued that there is no legal basis for the treason trial as Yanukovych has not been presented with an official notification of the charges against him. Most importantly, however, the bill has been criticised for the potential impact it may have on regular citizens. Many argue that the amendment can lead to the dangerous abuse of power allowing the possibility of convicting a person in absentia, without them even knowing about being on trial.

In the last year alone, a number of other countries put their presidents on trail. The most high profile recent case is the impeachment and the corruption trial of the president of South Korea Park Geun-hye. Burkina Faso has also recently started a trial of its former president Blaise Compaore. He is also tried in absentia and is accused of using force against unarmed protesters in 2014, during the uprising that took him out of power. The presidents of Brazil and Argentina are also currently on trial for corruption. Thus, a quick look around the world shows that Ukraine is not the only country to have one of its former presidents on trial. However, it is one of the few countries to have a president tried for treason, in addition to corruption and excessive use of force.

The trial is an important test for the Ukrainian judiciary. There are serious grounds for bringing charges against the former president. However, it is crucial for the trial to be conducted in a fair and independent manner in order not to only avoid the verdict being challenged in an international court but also continue to further build and strengthen the judicial system in Ukraine.

Ukraine and NATO – President Promises a Referendum

In the beginning of February, in an interview with a German newspaper Berliner Morgenpost, President Poroshenko announced that he would hold a referendum on Ukraine’s membership in NATO during his presidency. Citing increasing support for the alliance among the population of the country, the President confirmed that he would do everything in his power to join the North Atlantic Alliance if the Ukrainians vote for it.

Since the beginning of his presidency, Poroshenko paid particular attention to strengthening Ukraine’s relationship with the international organisations and alliances, with a particular focus on the EU and NATO. Visa free regime with the EU was one of Poroshenko’s headline campaign promises. And although it has taken two years longer to achieve than the president had hoped, the EU seems to be set to introduce a visa free travel for Ukrainian citizens in June.

However, a closer affiliation with NATO, even though might be desired by the majority of the Ukrainian population, might be even more difficult to achieve for the president. Poroshenko, however, does not seem to be dismayed by the challenging task ahead. In the interview, the president cited a quickly rising support for the alliance among the Ukrainian population: “Four years ago, just 16 per cent [of Ukrainians] supported NATO membership. Now it is 54 per cent.”

However, even if NATO referendum will pass, joining the North Atlantic Alliance may still prove difficult for Ukraine. It has been reported that, although supportive of the country, NATO is not keen on admitting it as a new member and is cautious not to provoke Russia. A very similar situation surrounded Poland, when it joined the Atlantic Alliance in 1999 but no Russia response followed. However, Russia made its position clear on the question of Ukraine joining NATO in 2008, when it threatened to target its missile on Ukraine if it joined the Atlantic Alliance.

NATO member fees have also been the topic of the controversy recently. During the recent visit of the German Chancellor Angela Merkel to the US, President Trump reportedly presented her with a £300bl dollar bill. Whether Ukraine would be able to cover its fee membership if admitted is also a question.

Nonetheless, the question of Ukraine membership in NATO is not new. An online petition, which collected 25,000 signatures, asking for a referendum on NATO membership was previously submitted to the president in August 2015. And even though the referendum, of course, will not directly result in Ukraine joining NATO, holding a referendum would not only fulfil President’s pre-electoral promise to do so but also show the support for the alliance in the country.

Henry E. Hale – Presidential Power in Ukraine: Constitutions Matter

This is a guest post by Henry E. Hale, Professor of Political Science and International Relations at George Washington University

Some observers argue Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has been determined to concentrate power in his own hands ever since his May 2014 election and has either failed or not seriously tried to eliminate high-level corruption. Yet nearing the end of his third year in office, he clearly lags far behind where his predecessor, Viktor Yanukovych, was three years into his presidency. Indeed, Ukraine in 2017 remains a much more politically open place than it was in 2013. Why has this been the case?

While leadership styles are clearly part of the story, there is a strong argument to be made that constitutional design is an important part of the explanation. When Yanukovych first came to power, he used his fresh mandate not only to get his own person installed as prime minister (something Poroshenko also achieved) but to establish a strongly presidentialist constitution, one that signaled his clear dominance over the parliament and all other formal institutions. This signaled to Ukraine’s most potent oligarchs and other power networks that Yanukovych was the unquestioned dominant authority and complicated their efforts to challenge him; even if his opponents had managed to win the 2012 parliamentary elections, which they did not, even this position would not have put them in a position to significantly limit presidential power.

Poroshenko’s election, on the other hand, emerged partly out of the discrediting of that very presidentialist model, which with the rise of the Euromaidan came to be blamed for fostering overweening presidential power and its use of brutal force against its own people. Indeed, one of the first moves of the victorious revolutionaries, weeks before Poroshenko’s election, was to restore the constitution that had been in place prior to Yanukovych’s 2010 election. This constitution establishes a division of executive power between the president and a prime minister who is primarily beholden to parliament. Thus while Poroshenko surely would have liked to have more formal power, he was not in position to capitalize on his election win to call for a newly presidentialist constitution.

As a result, Poroshenko’s efforts to augment his own power have been limited by a constitution that leads the country’s political forces to see him as not necessarily the dominant power. While the parliament did vote to confirm his preferred prime minister, his parliamentary majority is at best fragile and does not represent a strong control over parliament, and there is a strong likelihood he could lose control of the next parliament given current patterns of public support. With parliament (and by implication the prime ministership) a major prize, Poroshenko’s opponents thus find it easier to envision a successful move against him even if they cannot capture the presidency itself. And this leads others to be more cautious about placing all their political and economic eggs in Poroshenko’s basket, which further limits his authority in the country.

My sense, therefore, is that Ukraine’s being more democratic about three years after Poroshenko than it was three years after Yanukovych is more about constitutions than about presidential beliefs or capabilities–even in a country like Ukraine, where the rule of law is weak and people frequently question whether constitutions matter at all.

American Foreign Policy and Ukraine

On 24 January, the President of Ukraine, Petro Poroshenko, appealed to the EU and the U.S. to keep sanctions on Russia. The U.S. and the EU initially imposed sanctions in 2014 in response to Russian aggression against Ukraine. Shortly before leaving office, President Obama extended the sanctions for one year, until March 2018, to signal the commitment to continue to support Ukraine. And until now, both the EU and the U.S. have promptly acted on their commitments toward Ukraine as the country has been facing some of its most challenging times.

The fears of President Poroshenko, however, are not unfounded. Following the recent presidential election in the U.S., Michael McFaul, the former US ambassador to Ukraine and Professor of Political Science at Stanford University, said it was a particularly stressful time for Ukraine and that “Ukraine was the biggest loser in the world tonight.” The statement was not surprising given the previous comments made by President Trump. In his interview with the Wall Street Journal, for instance, he suggested that there could be a shift in American foreign policy toward Russia and Ukraine, putting in question whether the U.S. will continue to impose sanctions on Russia and support Ukraine.

Even though in the last week the news has mostly focused on the recent executive orders issued by the U.S. government, the question of the sanctions remained in the media. During the recent press conference, when further pressed on the question, President Trump appeared ambiguous and noncommittal in his answer, saying “we’ll see what happens, very early to be talking about this.” The question of Ukraine, however, is likely to come up again later this week during the Senate confirmation of prospective secretary of state, Rex Tillerson.

European leaders have not changed their position on Ukraine. Theresa May, the UK Prime Minister, who has just finished her first state visit with President Trump, reaffirmed the UK’s commitment to maintaining sanctions on Russia “until it met its commitments on Ukraine.” Germany has also remained a steady ally of Ukraine through its roughest times. However, it is maintaining the support of the U.S. in the months and years to come will probably be one of the biggest challenges of the foreign policy yet to come for President Poroshenko.

Ukraine – New Political Party, Corruption, and Calls for Parliamentary Election

On 28 November 2016, Mikheil Saakashvili, a former President of Georgia and a former Governor of Odessa region in Ukraine, held a rally in support of his new political party – Movement of New Forces. During the rally, Saakashvili told around 1,000 people who turned up to support him in the centre of Kyiv that he knew “how to make Ukraine great…and we will do it together.”

Educated in Ukraine and later in the U.S., Saakashvili first came to power after the 2003 Rose Revolution. He served two terms as President of Georgia. Barred from running for a third term, Saakashvili left Georgia shortly after the expiration of his term in 2013. Today, he is wanted in Georgia on the charges of abuse of power and use of excessive force against the demonstrators in 2007.

Saakashvili renounced his Georgian citizenship in 2015 and accepted Ukrainian citizenship to become a Governor of Odessa region in Ukraine. On 7 November 2016, however, he resigned his governorship and accused President Poroshenko and his allies of supporting corrupt officials and undermining his reform efforts in the region. His resignation came just a week after the online declarations detailing the assets of around 50,000 top Ukrainian public official have been released. To the surprise of both Ukrainians and the West, the declaration revealed that Ukraine’s top officials owned millions in cash, luxury items, and properties raising questions about country’s commitment to curtail corruption.

In a recent interview with Kyiv Post, a famous Ukrainian newspaper, Saakashvili insisted that Ukraine needed to hold an early parliamentary election to get rid of its entire ruling political class. Next parliamentary election in Ukraine is scheduled for 2019. If Ukraine holds another election now, it will be its third election in the past two years. Nonetheless, Saakashvili insisted on “a real, clear threat of violence” if elections were not held, warning of a possibility of a military coup.

Some argue that Saakashvili came to Ukraine to start his second political career and was deeply dissatisfied to be only a Governor after holding a presidential post in his native Georgia. Although his motivations for coming to Ukraine remain unclear, his career offers an interesting perspective on term limits, presidents, and their future careers. In his recent book, Alexander Baturo examines why some executives willingly step down from power whereas others attempt to circumvent term limits. [1] Baturo argues that this variation can be explained by the cost and benefits of leaving office. Simply put, the executives will try to extend their tenure if the stakes of losing office are too high. These high stakes could include lucrative opportunities while in office as well probabaility of persecution once out of office. This theory would suggest that Saakashvili should have stayed in power in Georgia in 2013 given that he faced persecution after leaving office and little possibility of continuing his political career or extending his wealth once out of office. However, Saakashvili’s example shows that another possiblity for a former president who faces few benefits and relatively high costs of leaving office is to leave office and start over in another country.

[1]. Baturo, Alexander. 2014. Democracy, Dictatorship, and Term Limits. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

Erik Herron – Ukraine: Presidential Appointments and the Central Electoral Commission

This is a guest post by Erik Herron, the Eberly Family Professor of Political Science at West Virginia University

2007-ukraine-lviv-pec-jpg

How important are presidential appointments to the exercise of presidential power in transitional societies? This blog entry presents a brief discussion of the implications for presidential influence over non-cabinet posts, using an example from a single country still struggling with democratic consolidation: Ukraine.

As Doyle and Elgie (2016) have noted, efforts to gauge presidential power vary substantially. Some studies emphasize subsets of presidential decision-making authority rather than a full range of powers, others focus on statutory or constitutional authority rather than practical manifestations of power [1]. Canonical measures of presidential power, like Shugart and Carey (1992), note the importance of presidential authority over cabinet appointments [2]. While decisions on cabinet posts can be critical for stable and successful governance, appointments outside the cabinet can have a significant impact on a president’s ability to lead.

In Ukraine, appointments to the Central Electoral Commission (CEC) – the body overseeing election administration – have exerted an extraordinarily important role on the outcomes of presidential, parliamentary, and local elections. As this blog post is being composed, Ukrainian politicians are engaged in an intense debate over who will occupy seats on the CEC and the president’s team is playing a large role.

Ukraine’s CEC is regulated by the Law on the Central Electoral Commission. The commission is composed of fifteen members who are approved by the parliament upon recommendation by the president. Appointments are associated with partisan affiliations; the president is supposed to take the proposals of political parties into account during the appointment process [3]. The CEC has extensive powers over the electoral process, including the responsibility for interpreting and implementing legal provisions, forming electoral districts, managing the voter registry, and certifying the results. The CEC, and its subordinate District Electoral Commissions (DECs) and Precinct Electoral Commissions (PECs), are at the center of battles to influence election outcomes.

The importance of these administrative units became especially clear in 2004. Ukraine’s semi-authoritarian president, Leonid Kuchma, was restrained by term-limits from seeking the presidency for a third consecutive time. Instead of altering the rules, Kuchma abided by them but selected a preferred successor: Viktor Yanukovych. A growing opposition to the Kuchma regime rallied behind the strongest challenger: Viktor Yushchenko. The election campaign featured strong allegations of fraud and intimidation, including the poisoning of Yushchenko with dioxin. Yanukovych and Yushchenko were the strongest first-round competitors and faced off in the second round on November 21, 2004 [4].

Evidence of widespread fraud tarnished the second round, with accusations of ballot box stuffing and intimidation in PECs, alteration of records in DECs, and the improper announcement of falsified results by the CEC. Millions of Ukrainian citizens protested and thousands set up camp in the center of the capital city. After negotiations and a decision by the Supreme Court invalidating the second round, a re-vote was held and Yushchenko was declared the winner.

While many accounts of the “Orange Revolution” rightly emphasize the role of citizen mobilization and protests in challenging the regime, the events leading up to it also show the critical role that election administration can play in determining outcomes, especially in societies where the rule of law and democratic principles are not firmly embedded.

Research that I have conducted with colleagues about election administration underscores the importance of these bureaucratic posts in Ukraine (e.g., Boyko, Herron, and Sverdan 2014; Boyko and Herron 2015; Herron, Boyko and Thunberg Forthcoming) [5]. Figure 1 compiles the outcomes from several of our studies and shows how control of local commissions – PECs – is associated with election results. The figure displays the coefficients and standard errors showing how control of officers on a commission is associated with variation in the results. All of the models treat the performance of party/candidate i in polling station j as the dependent variable (i.e., the proportion of the vote received), but the independent variables vary. In many cases, parties or candidates have an associated “bonus” in precincts where they control commissions.

Figure 1. Comparison of Commission Officer Effects, 2010-2014

figure-1-herron

The figure shows that major competitors in 2012 and 2014 benefited from having their co-partisans present in officer positions; these candidates or parties performed better, on average, where their allies held officer posts. However, in the 2010 presidential election, the “benefit” was generally absent. The rules regarding the composition of commissions differed in 2010 and required a balance of forces: Viktor Yanukovych and Yuliya Tymoshenko, the main rivals for the presidential post, had equal numbers of commissioners and officers on each commission in the second round. While the findings on this table are preliminary and should be interpreted with caution, they generate two important possibilities for understanding the value of appointments. First, the results suggest that for some parties, controlling commissions can generate electoral benefits. This finding illustrates the value to presidents in controlling appointments, even for ancillary posts. Second, the findings suggest that when partisan appointees are balanced, the effects of controlling commissions dissipate.

The current struggle over appointments to Ukraine’s CEC takes place in a context where the ostensibly independent CEC and its subordinate units have been politicized. The current president, Petro Poroshenko, has maintained a hard negotiating stance over CEC appointments. The simultaneous end of all members’ terms provides the president with an opportunity to populate the commission with allies, potentially to his co-partisans’ benefit in future elections. The CEC’s power over election administration extends the influence of its decisions down to the front-lines. In close elections, this control could prove to be decisive and a powerful weapon in a president’s partisan arsenal. While non-cabinet appointments are not primary indicators of presidential power, they can be valuable tools to shore up presidential authority.

Notes

[1] Doyle, David and Robert Elgie. 2016 “Maximizing the Reliability of Cross-National Measures of Presidential Power.” British Journal of Political Science. 46(4): 731-741.

[2] Shugart, Matthew Soberg and John Carey. 1992. Presidents and Assemblies. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

[3] Brian Mefford’s detailed blog post (http://www.brianmefford.net/ukraine-update-920-cec-reform-recommendations/) reviews current and proposed members of the CEC and proposes reforms to the CEC law. Mefford notes that vague language in the law permits the president to adopt a hard stance in terms of negotiations. He also notes that past CEC membership has represented the parties in parliament

[4] I served as an international election observer during the second round and witnessed efforts to manipulate results in favor of Yanukovych by local electoral commissions.

[5] Boyko, Nazar and Erik S. Herron. 2015. “The Effects of Technical Parties and Partisan Election Management Bodies on Voting Outcomes.” Electoral Studies. 40 (December): 23-33; Boyko, Nazar, Erik S. Herron, and Roman Sverdan. 2014. “Administration and Management of Ukraine’s 2014 Presidential Election: A Systematic and Spatial Analysis.” Eurasian Geography and Economics. 55 (3): 286-306; Herron, Erik S., Nazar Boyko, and Michael Thunberg. Forthcoming. “Serving Two Masters: Professionalization Vs. Corruption in Ukraine’s Election Administration.” Governance.

Ukraine and the EU: The Road Ahead

Last week, President Petro Poroshenko traveled to Brussels. The trip took place just 4 days after the United Kingdom voted to exit the Union in a referendum held on 23 June. The agenda of the trip included high-level discussions of the potential impact of this vote on the EU-Ukraine relations as well as the introduction of visa-free regime for Ukrainian citizens and provision of micro-financial aid for Ukraine.

Ukraine had a long and bumpy road toward this point in its relations with the EU. The issue of the EU-Ukraine relations in one way or the other surrounded the rise and fall from power of many Ukrainian presidents. The Orange Revolution following the 2004 presdiential election probably for the first time saw Ukraine really battle between the desire to join the European Union on the one hand and align itself with Russia on the other. Although 2004 was a victory for pro-European side, it was short lived. Failing to deliver the economic reforms as well as a European future, Viktor Yushchenko was defeated in the 2010 election. Although trying to tiptoe a delicate line between the EU and Russia, Viktor Yanukovych himself was taken out of power in 2013 when he refused to sign an association agreement with the EU, despite taking all the necessary steps to prepare it.

In July 2014, the newly elected President Petro Poroshenko finally signed the Association agreement between Ukraine and the EU. Although the agreement has been referred to as a “game changer” for Ukraine, it has not been a smooth sailing for the country since then. In April 2016, in a referendum the Dutch voters rejected ratification of an integration agreement between the EU and Ukraine. The vote came on the heels of the worst political crisis in Ukraine since 2013. The crisis resulted in suspension of foreign aid as well as raised skepticism about Ukraine’s ability to solve its economic and political problems.

The appointment of the new Prime Minister, Volodymyr Groysman, and the resolution of the parliamentary crisis were welcomed by foreign as well as by domestic political actors who expected Groysman “to ease some of the rifts in the pro-European camp.” Last week, the Prime Minister was quoted saying that Ukraine will join the EU within the next 10 years. However, many worry that Brexit “has pushed Ukraine to the bottom of the EU’s priority list” at the time when the country needs Europe the most. In the midst of a continued confrontation with Russia, EU has been one of the most important and consistent supporters of Ukraine. And even though, last week the European Council announced that the EU would extend its economic sanctions on Russia until January 2017, many are concerned that a weakened alliance may jeopardies security and will no longer be able to confront Russia.

One of the key issues in the EU-Ukraine relations in the past two years has been the question of the visa-free regime for Ukrainian citizens. After coming to office in 2014, the President promised to have the regime in place by January 2015. Since then the timeline kept extending and the question is still on the agenda today. Even though the President announced last week that Brexit will not prevent the visa liberalization deal, many believe that it will postpone its implementation.

The EU had an important impact on Ukraine. However, its on-going support and willingness to further integrate Ukraine will be crucial to continue to push the country along the path of reforms.

Presidential Press Conference in Ukraine

President Poroshenko held a press conference on Friday, June 3rd to mark the second anniversary since his inauguration on June 7th 2014. This was the fifth press conference overall for the president, who was elected on May 25 2014 with a support of 54.7% of the vote, and the first since the end of the parliamentary crisis in April.

This press conference was a bit different than the previous two, which were opened with references to military actions in Donbas. This time, however, the President started his opening remarks by congratulating the journalists on the occasion of the Day of Journalist (celebrated on June 6th). He emphasized the importance of freedom of speech for a democratic society and named it “one of the main indicators of Ukraine’s true European Spirit.” [1]

The rest of the introductory remarks of the president continued to focus on the political and economic situation in Ukraine. Although the parliamentary crisis temporary stalled the reforms in the country, the President praised the country for resolving the crisis without triggering a new parliamentary election and for choosing “responsibility over populism.”

Optimistic about the ‘second wind’ that the country got after the crisis, the president went on to recount all the positive steps Ukraine had taken toward economic stabilization and European integration in the past couple of weeks. In particular, the President devoted significant attention in his opening remarks to the discussion of the judicial reform, which parliament voted for just a day before the press conference. The judicial reform is aimed at reducing corruption in the country, one of the main and most persistent problems that have plugged Ukraine since independence. The judicial reform has two main aspects. First, it aims to curb political influence on the judicial system by transferring majority of important functions, such appointment, into the hands of Judicial Council. Second, the reform limits judicial immunity from persecution. Previously, judges held full immunity from persecution, a provision, as President noted, that did not exist in any democratic country.

The President called the June 2nd vote on judicial reform a victory and one of the main achievements of his presidency. Despite the optimism, the legislation was criticized by some Ukrainian lawmakers. This notwithstanding, the vote was welcomed by the international community, including the European Union and the United States. The US ambassador to Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt, called it “a historic day” and “a big step forward on Ukraine’s European path.”

The literature on presidential public activities in the US suggests that there are two main perspectives that can be used to explain presidents’ public activity. The presidency-centred approach suggests that contextual variables, such as economic and political factors, shape presidents’ public speaking engagements. The president-centred approach, on the other hand, argues that individual presidents and their unique preferences determine the number and the timing of presidential speeches. [2]

To my knowledge there has been little systematic scholarly analyses of press conferences and public addresses of Ukrainian presidents and unfortunately, we do not have enough data yet to test these hypotheses systematically in Ukraine. However, it seems that this most recent press conference came on the heels of a number of important events. It was held a day after the successful vote on the judicial reform and literally hours after signing an agreement with the United States under which it agreed to provide a fresh $1 billion loan to Ukraine. It also follows a successful release of Nadia Savchenko, Ukrainian pilot who was held in Russia for the past two years and whose trial and imprisonment was widely covered in the media in Ukraine and abroad.

What stood out in this press conference, however, was not its timing but President’s reference to what these events meant. He said that the true meaning of the new loan from the US, for instance, was really not about the money but about the vote of confidence and trust expressed by the US and the EU. It was about the acknowledgement and support for the reforms undertaken in the country on the part of the key foreign partners of Ukraine. The current situation makes Ukraine an interesting case to test the theories of conditionality to see if the attraction of the EU as well as monetary incentives from the IMF and the US will be able to get one of the most corrupt countries in Europe on to the path of democratic consolidation.

[1] Petro Poroshenko, Press Conference, June 3 2016.

[2] Eshbaugh-Soha, Matthew. 2003. “Presidential Press Conferences over Time.” American Journal of Political Science 47 (2): 348-353.

 

Ukraine Elects New Prime Minister

On 14 April 2016, the Ukrainian Parliament voted to appoint Volodymyr Groysman to the post of Prime Minister. Groysman replaced Arsenij Yatsenyuk, who served as Prime Minister since 2014 Maidan revolution. Yatsenyuk handed his resignation to Parliament on 10 April, just two months after surviving a vote of no-confidence. The election of the new Prime Minister put an end to Ukraine’s “premiership saga,” which paralysed the country for the past three months.

At 38, Groysman is Ukraine’s youngest prime minister ever with quite a distinguished resume. At 28, he was elected mayor of Vinnytsia, becoming the youngest mayor in the country. His performance as mayor earned him high praise and a re-election for the second term. In 2014, Groysman briefly served in Yatsenyuk’s cabinet. He was later elected to Parliament on the electoral list of Bloc Petro Poroshenko and for the last 18 months served as the Chairman of the Ukrainian Parliament. Groysman is known for his ability to de-escalate conflict and negotiate compromise. But most importantly, the new Prime Minister is a close ally of the President, frequently referred to as his confidant and loyal follower.

As the cabinet reshuffle is behind us, the question on everyone’s mind is how likely the new government is to resolve political and economic problems facing Ukraine, given how unsuccessful the previous two cabinets have been. When considering answers to this question, experts have pointed out some important differences between Groysman and Yatsenyuk. For instance, although a close confidant of the president and a member of the president’s party, unlike Yatsenyuk, Groysman has no party of his own to back him up. The composition of the new cabinet is also more political and includes far fewer technocrats than the previous government.

It is important to note, however, that the expectations for the Yatsenyuk’s cabinet were initially very high. Although, he himself compared his tenure to kamikaze mission, noting that all the reforms that was necessary to adopt were bound to carry extremely high costs. Whether because of the unfavourable reforms or lack thereof, Yatsenuyk was proven right. His approval ratings plummeted to single digits in 2015. During the last opinion poll in February 2016, 73.4% of Ukrainians said that the situation in Ukraine was developing in the wrong direction. This is the highest number since October 2009.

Thus, the new Prime Minister will have a range of problems to deal with. During his acceptance speech, Groysman identified corruption, ineffective governance, and populism as three main issues that posed threat to Ukraine, in addition to war in the East. When the opposition openly expressed its discontent before the vote, Groysman simply replied – “I will show you what leading a country really means.”

A very determined statement but it might be a bit difficult to implement. Although a majority of 257 deputies voted for Groysman, only 206 of the votes came from Bloc Petro Poroshenko and People’s Front, two ruling coalition parties. The rest of the votes came from two parliamentary groups, Revival and People’s Will, as well as a number of independent MPs. This means that Groysman’s government will need to rely heavily on other parties to govern. His ability to negotiate compromise will come very handy in the current political situation in the country.