Tag Archives: Ukraine

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

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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

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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 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.

Ukraine – Key Minister Resigns

Two weeks ago, Aivaras Abromavičius, Minister of Economic Development and Trade of Ukraine, tended his resignation. Once deemed to be the “man who would save Ukraine’s economy, ” and characterised as “one of the greatest champions of reform“ by the US ambassador to Ukraine, Abromavičius accused senior law makers in Ukraine of corruption and slow pace of reform. His resignation threw Ukraine into yet another political crisis endangering much needed foreign aid and support.

Ukraine struggled with corruption well before the current cabinet was appointed. Corruption was one of the reasons for the 2014 Maidan protests that ousted the former president Viktor Yanukovych. As a part of efforts to combat corruption and to make a break from old political ways, the party of the President, Bloc Petro Poroshenko, decided to nominate Abromavičius, as one of the three foreign born ministers, to the cabinet in December 2014. Yet, more than a year later, Ukraine remains to be one of the most corrupt countries in the world and the most corrupt in Europe.

Last week, Abromavičius published an op-ed in Ukrainska Pravda, an online newspaper, calling for a completely technocratic government. He argued that it was the only way to ensure much needed economic reforms in Ukraine.

If his advice is followed, Ukraine will not be the first country to turn to a technocratic government during an economic crisis. Both Italy and Greece appointed technocratic cabinets during the recent debt crisis. Some scholars have been uneasy about the idea of non-partisan cabinets, especially in the case of new presidential democracies, arguing that they were an indicator that the presidents would be more likely to rule by decree [1]. Others, however, argued that there is nothing inherently undemocratic in having a technocratic cabinet. In fact, a cabinet of technocrats might be exactly what is needed to deal with highly technical tasks that frequently face new democracies, especially when they wrestle with economic problems at the same time [2].

If Ukraine were to appoint a technocratic cabinet, it would need to address a number of issues. First, how can the cabinet be insulated from the influence of political parties? Just because it is technocratic, it does not mean that it is automatically immune to political influence. Second, what would be the term limit for such cabinet, if any? And last but not least, getting an agreement for such cabinet from all coalition partners will be crucial. In Ukraine, like in many multiparty democracies, allocation of cabinet portfolios is one of the most important tools that presidents can use to form and maintain their coalitions. [3] The more proportionally distributed the cabinet positions are among the coalition partners, the higher is the discipline of their legislators on roll calls. [4] If this tool is taken away, Ukraine will need to think of other ways to keep the ruling coalition together.

[1] Amorim Neto, Octavio 2006. “The Presidential Calculus: Executive Policy Making and Cabinet Formation in the Americas,” Comparative Political Studies 39 (4): 415-440.

[2] Bermeo, Nancy. 2002. “Ministerial Elites in Southern Europe: Continuities and Comparisons,” Southern European Society and Politics 7 (2): 205-227.

[3] Chaisty, Paul and Svitlana Chernykh. 2015. “Coalitional presidentialism and legislative control in post-Soviet Ukraine,” Post-Soviet Affairs 31 (3): 177-200.

[4] Amorim Neto, Octavio. 2002. “Presidential Cabinets, Electoral Cycle, and Coalition Discipline in Brazil,” in Morgenstern, Scott and Benito Nacif (eds.) Legislative Politics in Latin America. New York: Cambridge University Press; Chaisty, Paul and Svitlana Chernykh. 2015. “How do presidents manage multiparty coalitions? The coalitional effects of presidential toolbox in Ukraine,” Working paper.

Local Elections in Ukraine – Results

The party of the President, Petro Poroshenko Bloc “Solidarity,” won the largest number of seats in the local elections in Ukraine. It was followed by Fatherland, Our Land, Opposition Bloc and Radical party of Oleh Liashko. The People’s Front, party of the current Prime Minister Arsenij Yatsenyuk, did not take part in the elections.

The first round of elections was held on 25 October 2015. The second round of mayoral elections took place on 15 November. The second round was held in 29 out of 35 cities in Ukraine with over 9,000 registered voters, where none of the candidates secured majority of the vote in the first round. Based on the results of the second round, some have been re-elected, including the mayor of the capital Kyiv, Vitaly Klitschko and mayor of L’viv, Andriy Sadovy.

International observers noted a number of shortcomings in the elections, including protracted tabulation of the results of the first round. Although the results of the mayoral elections were scheduled to be announced on 30 October and local elections on 4 November, neither were released on time. The observers also criticised high turnover and frequent replacement of the members of precinct and territorial election commissions, noting the negative impact of these changes on the electoral process.

Overall, the results of the elections did not change the political balance in the country. The president’s party retained its dominant position in the West and centre of the country. At the same time, the Opposition Bloc retained its influenced in the East, winning the majority of the vote in the major cities in Luhansk and Donetsk oblasts.

Even though the elections were for local representatives, the parties and the candidates were criticised for focusing mostly on the national-level issues such as security, military reform, and gas prices. These issues did manifest themselves during the elections. The polls were cancelled in some territories in the East and not held at all in Crimea. Crimea declared a state of emergency shortly after the elections, when power lines connecting the peninsula to Ukraine were cut, leaving it without power. This intensified the standoff between Ukraine and Russia and was followed by the announcement that Gazprom would be cutting all gas supplies to Ukraine.

The local elections were largely viewed as a test of popularity for the policies of the ruling coalition. Although the coalition parties managed to hold on to their bases, major challenges remain. Public opinion survey conducted by the International Republican Institute before the elections showed widespread dissatisfaction with the pace of reforms and low support for the ruling coalition – only 13% of the respondents approved of the cabinet and 11% of the parliament. The president received a slightly higher approval rating with 24% of respondents supporting his actions. However, this figure is one of the lowest for President Poroshenko, who enjoyed approval rating of 63% in March 2015. These low figures are not surprising, as Ukrainians remain concerned with national security, poor economic performance, and the slow pace of integration with Europe.

Local Elections in Ukraine

On October 26, 2015 Ukraine held regional and local elections. This is Ukraine’s third election in the last 18 months. The turnout was 46.6%, just slightly lower than the showing in the parliamentary elections a year ago (52.42%), which is to be expected in the case of local elections. Over a week after the vote, the counting still continues. The final results are expected on November 4.

Due to the on-going conflict, the elections were not held in the occupied territories of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts as well as Crimea. But the most controversial election-related events took place in Mariupol, where elections failed to take place due to claims that the ballot papers were improperly handled as well as printed with errors. However, overall the elections were declared competitive, well organised, and respectful of the democratic process by the OSCE. The organisation deployed a long-term observer mission to the country just days after the start of the election campaign in September. Even though the observers endorsed the election, they did note the need for continued reform and further enhancement of the integrity of the electoral process.

A total of 132 parties participated in the election for over 10,000 mayors and 1,600 council seats in 22 regional parliaments or local councils with at least $82 million spent on the election campaign nationwide. However, one party was noticeably absent from the list. People’s Front, party of the current Prime Minister of Ukraine, decided not to take part in the contest generating speculation that the party was trying to avoid a poor electoral result.

If the speculations are true, these concerns were not unfounded. The opinion poll conducted in September 2015 showed that 56% of Ukrainians thought that the country was headed in the wrong direction. Only 20% of those polled expressed confidence in the Prime Minister, a sharp decline from 60% exactly a year ago. If parliamentary elections were held today, only 1% of respondents would vote for the party.

This is the first election to be conducted under the new electoral rules adopted just over three months ago on July 14. The law introduced a number of changes. First, the election took place under new electoral rules and the voters had to cast votes for a particular party and its candidate. Second, the law raised electoral threshold to 5%. Third, the law introduced gender quotas, requiring every party to include at least 30% of women on the list. Finally, in every city with population of over 90,000 inhabitants, a runoff election should be held if no candidate secures over 50% of the vote in the first round. As a result, runoffs for the mayoral elections will be held in a number of major cities including the capital, Lviv and Dnipropetrovsk. All runoff elections are expected to take place on November 15.

The new law has been criticised both on the grounds of a speedy adoption and limited public consultation during the process as well as due to its content. For instance, despite introducing the gender quotas, the law failed to provide any punishment for their violation, essentially making the provision optional rather than compulsory. This led experts to conclude that the gender quotas were not working so far. The law also failed to accommodate about 1.5 million internally displace Ukrainian citizens, who were unable to cast their votes during this election.

The 2015 regional and local elections in Ukraine will serve as a barometer for the performance of the ruling coalition as well as bring the attention to the issues where the reforms are still urgently needed. Please watch this space for the report on the final results as well as updates on the constitutional reform in Ukraine.

Constitutional Reform in Ukraine: Voting for Decentralisation

On 31 August 2015, Verkhovna Rada, the Parliament of Ukraine, voted on the constitutional amendments on decentralisation put forward by the President. The bill passed at first reading with a comfortable majority of 265 members of parliament voting in favour of the bill. However, the vote showed not only the cracks in the ruling coalition but also saw the return of violence to the streets of the capital. Violent clashes in front of the Parliament resulted in three dead and 90 wounded making it the deadliest day in Kyiv since February 2014.

The Second Minsk Agreement was signed on 11 February 2015 between the leaders of Ukraine, Germany, France, and Russia and established a new ceasefire between the government of Ukraine and rebel forces. Among other measures, Ukraine agreed to carry out a constitutional reform before the end of 2015. The key element of the constitutional amendments is decentralisation and adoption of a permanent legislation on the special status of Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

Although, the ceasefire has had its up and downs, the President has steadily moved toward the constitutional reform since February. The President created a Constitutional Commission in March 2015 and the draft amendment bill was submitted first to Parliament and then to the Constitution Court for review on 16 July 2015. The Court gave the green light to the bill two weeks later, on 30 July.

Although the bill passed comfortably in its first reading, it showed the deep divisions within the parliamentary coalition. Batkivshchyna party voted unanimously against the bill. Radical Party of Oleh Lyashko, which came fifth in the 2014 election with 21 of 450 seats in Parliament, left the coalition in protest of the vote. The opponents of the bill fear that the constitutional amendments will undermine Ukraine’s sovereignty. The supporters of the bill argue that these fears are unfounded and that the decentralisation reform is the only way to peace in the country.

Despite the disagreements on the constitutional amendments, the President confirmed that the existing composition of the parliamentary coalition would remain intact. The second and final reading of the bill, scheduled for December, will be the real test for the coalition, as it will require 300 votes to pass.

 

Oleksii Sydorchuk – Constitutional reform in Ukraine

This is a guest post by Oleksii Sydorchuk, PhD student at the National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy in Kyiv, Ukraine

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On July 16, the Ukrainian parliament (Verkhovna Rada) sent a draft of the constitutional amendments proposed by President Poroshenko to the constitutional court to review their conformity with the basic law. The document was the result of several months of activity by the Constitutional Commission that was created in March 2015 by Poroshenko. The draft developed by the Commission in late June was sent to the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe which made a number of recommendations. Some of them were included in the latest version of the draft.

Unlike the previous constitutional reform of 2004, the proposed constitutional changes do not deal directly with the highest state institutions – president, parliament and cabinet. Instead, they are focused on so-called decentralization, i.e. the transfer of competences and resources from central-level executive bodies to local self-government bodies. The issue of decentralization was placed on political agenda immediately after the new authorities came to power in February 2014 following the Euromaidan events. Since then it has been addressed in several pieces of legislation. The proposed constitutional changes are likely to indirectly influence the president’s powers, as well as relations between the president and cabinet.

On the surface, both the president and cabinet are to be stripped of their present competences in controlling local governments. The presidential draft envisages the liquidation of local state administrations, the heads of which are currently appointed and dismissed by the president on cabinet’s nomination. Currently, these figures dominate the decision-making processes at the regional and local levels. In their place, prefects (borrowed from French legal system) will be created. They will be appointed and dismissed in the same way, but they will have limited powers. Prefects will no longer coordinate and direct actions the local self-government bodies, but will control their activity, having the right to suspend acts of local agencies if the latter violate existing laws. According to the draft, prefects will be responsible to the president, but also accountable to the cabinet.

The president, while losing important points of influence over local governments, will obtain several new ones. Most notably, the president will get right to dissolve local councils if the latter adopt unconstitutional decisions that threaten state sovereignty, national security or territorial integrity. This provision is clearly aimed at preventing separatist-minded activities and declarations like the ones made by local councils in Eastern and Southern Ukraine in early 2014 during Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the upheavals in the Donbas region. Critics of such a provision, however, point to the vagueness of what is meant by such a ‘threat’, warning that it could give the president the opportunity to interfere into local self-government. In order to alleviate this concern, the president will have to refer the matter to the constitutional court for approval. Yet, the ability of the court to serve as independent arbiter is questionable, given its history of highly controversial and politically motivated decisions.

What has largely escaped the attention of Ukrainian observers are the possible implications of the proposed constitutional changes for relations between the president and the cabinet with regard to the regional level. Prefects, according to the draft, will coordinate the activities of regional executive bodies, which are formally subordinated to the cabinet, not the president. However, with the ability to appoint and dismiss prefects, the president will most likely not only preserve some of his influence over local governments, but also gain new ways of influencing the cabinet’s responsibilities for regional bodies through prefects. The implementation of such a provision could lead to an increase in the president’s involvement in the cabinet’s affairs at the regional level and to conflict between the two.

The preservation of double responsibility of prefects and the introduction of new overlapping spheres of competences stem directly from the existing semi-presidential form of government. In February 2014, during the last days of Euromaidan, Verkovna Rada voted to re-introduce the premier-presidential constitutional model which had been in operation from 2006 to 2010. Two months later, Ukrainian legal experts proposed further changes to the form of government and even elaborated their version of constitutional amendments which would have decreased the president’s executive powers and eliminated his influence over regional executive bodies. This proposal was, however, ignored by both president and parliament, and the idea of changing the form of government was put aside.

There are several reasons why the current constitutional process does not attempt to review the existing semi-presidential framework. They relate mostly to president who is usually the agenda-setter in the process of constitutional reform in Ukraine. On the eve of May 2014 presidential elections, Poroshenko expressed his comfort with the institution’s constitutional powers and vowed not to change them. In July 2014 he, however, did try to initiate changes to the constitution which would have given him slightly more powers, but he quickly abandoned this idea following a hostile reaction from the majority of parliamentary factions. Since then, even though his parliamentary support base has increased after the October 2014 parliamentary elections, the deputies’ reluctance to surrender their constitutional powers to president has forced Poroshenko to forego any further attempts at increasing his powers.

Moreover, during his tenure, President Poroshenko has demonstrated a much more consensual approach to handling relations with the cabinet than his predecessor, Viktor Yanukovych. In this, he has been partly aided by Prime Minister, Arseniy Yatseniuk, who has also opted for cooperation instead of confrontation in most cases. Paradoxically, the relatively peaceful coexistence of Poroshenko and Yatseniuk could also be explained by the pressure of important external factors, such as need to resist the encroachment of pro-Russian separatists in Donbas and to prevent the economic collapse of the country. Such profound threats have served as a mobilizing factor which has preserved a high level of cooperation among key political actors. However, if they lose their relevance, cracks inside ruling coalition could start to unravel.

The proposed constitutional amendments, if they are embraced by both the constitutional court and a two-thirds majority of parliament, could add another impetus to potential conflicts inside the executive branch. Therefore, without any revision of the existing premier-presidential model with its division of executive powers between the president and cabinet, even efforts aimed at decentralization could lead to undesirable consequences in terms of the relations between the two ‘heads’ of executive. If Poroshenko’s constitutional draft is supported by deputies, he could gain some competences from cabinet. In the long term the Ukrainian political system will remain vulnerable to intra-executive conflicts.

Oleksii Sydorchuk is a PhD student in political science at the National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy in Kyiv, Ukraine. His spheres of interest cover semi-presidential regimes, comparative constitutional engineering, and post-communist politics. He also works as political analyst at the Ilko Kucheriv Democratic Initiatives Foundation, Ukrainian non-governmental think tank.

Ukraine – Fight Against Corruption Year 1

On 13th July 2015, Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk attended the first US-Ukraine Business Forum in Washington D.C. Many of the comments by the Vice-President Biden revolved around the issue of corruption in Ukraine.

Ukraine’s struggle with corruption is not unique. Just in the past two weeks on the pages of this blog alone, we already covered protests to remove the president amid corruption claims in Honduras as well as President Kenyatta’s anti-corruption drive in Kenya.

The Corruption Perception Index (CPI) ranks countries on how corrupt their public sectors are seen to be, from the least corrupt to most corrupt. In 2014, Ukraine was ranked 142 out of 175 countries, taking the ‘coveted’ spot between Russia and Kenya and tying the ranking with Uganda and Comoros. Unfortunately, this ranking has not changed much in the past couple of years. According to the CPI, Ukraine has steadily remained in the bottom 40 most corrupt countries in the world and the most corrupt in Europe.

Since independence in 1991, almost every president was accused of corruption. The presidency of Leonid Kravchuk (1991-1994) was marred by corruption accusations related to the controversies surrounding the break up of the Black Sea Steamship Company. Similarly, the presidencies of Leonid Kuchma (1994-2004) and Viktor Yanukovych (2010-2014) were plagued by numerous corruption scandals. The latter was ousted in 2014 in mass protests after his decision to abandon the partnership with the EU and instead sign an agreement with Russia.

After fleeing the country, Yanukovych left behind his estate in the north of Kiev. An estimated $1 billion worth palace equipped with golf course, personal zoo, helicopter pad, gold embroiled bathrooms and a rare cars collection became a Museum of Corruption in Ukraine. It also placed an extra pressure on the new President to end the vicious cycle of bribes and mismanagement in the country on the brink of economic collapse as soon as possible.

In October 2014, the Ukrainian Parliament adopted a law “On Principles of State Anti-Corruption Policy in Ukraine (the Anti-Corruption Strategy) for 2014-2017.” The law declared that solving corruption was one of the priorities for the Ukrainian society and announced large-scale institutional changes. It took effect in January 2015.

One of the main features of Poroshenko’s anti-corruption strategy was the creation of the National Anti-Corruption Bureau. On 16th April, Poroshenko appointed Artem Sytnyk as the first Head of the Bureau, which has exclusive jurisdiction over corruption cases against government officials. However, even before the Bureau became fully operational, a number of concerns were raised. The most important one is about the independence of the body. The Director of the Bureau is appointed by the President, but can easily be removed by the majority of the Parliament, which may make it difficult to protect the Bureau from political interference.

According to the OECD, as of February 2015, Ukraine has finally alighted its criminal law on corruption with international standards. And although the changes have been made on paper, the major challenges still remain when it comes to practical enforcement of the new legislation.

The creation of the National Anti-Corruption Bureau was one of the main conditions for Ukraine to receive financial aid from the IMF. Eradication of corruption is also among the key conditions to enter closer relations and even possibly join the EU. In sum, the international community structured both economic and political incentives for the country to act on its promises to finally put a stop to the endemic illegal practices. Next year will be crucial to determine how our theories of conditionality hold up against the problems faced by new democracies.

 

Constitutional Reform in Ukraine

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In the past couple of years Ukraine struggled with a number of political and economic problems. But a year ago all of them were overshadowed by the military conflict that started unfolding in the East of the country. Since then, at least 6,116 people have been killed, 15,491 wounded and 800, 961 have been displaced. This rapidly escalating crisis in Ukraine put the issue of constitutional reform on the political agenda of the new president, Petro Poroshenko, immediately following his election in May 2014.

Every president of Ukraine since the country became independent in 1991 has been faced with the issue of constitutional reform almost immediately after assuming office. The first president, Leonid Kravchuk, had the most difficult task of constitution drafting for the newly sovereign state after assuming office in December 1991. However, it took another 5 years and another president, Leonid Kuchma, for the constitution to be eventually adopted on 28 June 1996. Since then, the constitution was reformed three times (2004, 2010 and 2014). In all three times, the main focus of the reform was on the executive-legislative relations.

This time, however, proposed changes go beyond the relationship between the president and the parliament and consider possible decentralization of power. There are always a number of important questions to address when drafting constitutional amendments. First of all, who should be involved in the process? In this respect, Ukraine is not a stranger to controversy. For instance, during the process of deliberation of the constitution of Ukraine in 1992, Leonid Kravchuk chaired the Constitutional Commission while serving his first term as the president of the country. The question of the appropriateness of his position arose in the debates in 1992, when delegates began to insist on more autonomy for what they deemed to be a parliamentary activity.

A similar concern regarding who should be involved in the consultation has been raised by the Venice Commission in respect to the recent draft of the constitutional amendments. The President submitted the initial draft of the amendments to both the Parliament and the Venice Commission shortly after his election on 2 July 2014. During the analysis of the draft, the Venice Commission pointed out that no public discussion of the amendments took place and criticized the lack of civil society involvement in the process. To remedy the situation as well as realizing the urgency of the constitutional reform, the president has signed a decree on the establishment of the Constitutional Commission in March 2015.

The second question is about the amendments themselves. To comply with the obligations under the Second Minsk Agreement, the new constitution must enter into force by the end of 2015 and provide for decentralization of power as well as adopt legislation on the special status of Donetsk and Luhansk regions. Can Ukraine learn from any other country when it comes to these provisions? If yes, which countries should we be looking at? During the recent discussion of possible reforms, Volodymyr Groysman, the Chairperson of the Ukrainian Parliament, mentioned Poland but unfortunately did not elaborate on what particular issue Ukraine could learn from the Polish experience. We know that constitutions are famously unoriginal documents [1]. But in this context, borrowing from the experience of other countries could be particularly helpful.

We will further discuss the question of the constitutional reform in Ukraine next month. Please watch this space.

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[1] Elkins, Zachary. 2009. “Constitutional Networks,” in Miles Kahler (ed.), Networked Politics: Agency, Power, and Governance.  Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

 

Russia – Putin and Ukraine: One Year Later

A live broadcast of Russian President Vladimir Putin is seen on a TV screen at a restaurant in Moscow on December 18, 2014, as Putin speaks during his annual press conference. AFP PHOTO / DMITRY SEREBRYAKOV

A live broadcast of Russian President Vladimir Putin is seen on a TV screen at a restaurant in Moscow on December 18, 2014, as Putin speaks during his annual press conference. AFP PHOTO / DMITRY SEREBRYAKOV

On December 18th 2014, President of Russia Vladimir Putin gave an annual Year-End news conference. What seemed to be a very relaxed President spent about 3 hours talking to the journalists and the Russian public about the economy, crisis in Ukraine, NATO expansion and US military bases in Europe. Putin assured his audience that economic setbacks that country was facing were temporary, mostly caused by the external factors, and were unlikely to last longer than two years.

Although not a stranger to controversy, Putin has been thrown into limelight like never before almost exactly a year ago, when unidentified gunmen took over key buildings in the capital of autonomous republic of Crimea in Ukraine. Three short weeks later, on March 18th Putin signed a bill to incorporate Crimea into the Russian Federation. Not stoping at Crimea, the crisis in Ukraine has spread to the Eastern regions of Luhansk and Donetsk and is currently on-going.

In response to Russian aggression against Ukraine, the European Union and the US instituted economic sanctions against Russia with the hope that worsening economic conditions, which President Putin so easily brushed off in his end of the year conference, will undermine his support at home. Sanctions seem to have worked when it came to damaging the Russian economy. Just this past Friday, Moody’s downgraded the rating of Russian sovereign debt to Ba1 (Not Prime), predicting a deep recession in 2015 and further contraction of the Russian economy in 2016.

The sanctions, however, seem to have had little impact on Putin’s popularity back home. Already pretty high before the conflict, Putin’s approval rating seems to have risen even higher as the crisis in Ukraine unfolded, reaching 88% in October 2014 and staying at a comfortable 85% since November 2014.

Approval Rate of Vladimir Putin (August 2014 – January 2015)

Source: Levada Center

Source: Levada Center

This result is not surprising as the historical success of economic sanctions offers little encouragement in this situation. But what motivates Putin to continue Russian military involvement in Ukraine? John Mearsheimer goes as far as to suggest that the crisis in Ukraine is a “realist” response by Putin to NATO enlargement and EU expansion eastwards. [1] However, as the former US ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul points out, both NATO’s and the EU expansion started more than 15 years ago. Thus, it is unclear why Putin would wait so long to intervene. [2]

However, the question of who started the Ukraine crisis is not as relevant as how it can be ended. From the research on authoritarian regimes, we know that, on average, dictatorships are almost as likely to survive when their economies grow as when they decline. Adam Przeworski found that some dictatorships fell after several years of continuous growth while some other died after several years of economic decline. [3] This notwithstanding, economic sanctions remain to be a necessary evil in the current situation. However, as the current ceasefire in Ukraine is hanging by a thread, it is worse asking what else can be done.

[1] Mearsheimer, John. “Why the Ukraine Crisis Is the West’s Fault: The Liberal Delusions That Provoked Putin,” Foreign Affairs, September/October 2014.

[2] McFaul, Michael. “Faulty Powers: Who Started the Ukraine Crisis?” Foreign Affairs, November/December 2014.

[3] Przeworski, Adam. 2004. “Democracy and Economic Development” in Edward D. Mansfield and Richard Sisson (eds.), The Evolution of Political Knowledge: Democracy, Autonomy, and Conflict in Comparative and International Politics (Columbus: Ohio State University Press).