Tag Archives: Ukraine

Ukraine – Parliament Declares Martial Law

On Monday, November 26th, the Ukrainian parliament approved presidential decree “On Institution of Martial Law in Ukraine.” The measure was passed with 276 votes in favour during an extraordinary session of parliament. The decree was put forward by President Poroshenko on advice of the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine in response to Russia’s seizure of three Ukrainian naval vessels and 23 sailors in Kerch Strait on Sunday.

Before the martial law was approved, the President was forced to compromise on a number of points. First, the initial decree requested that martial law be introduced for 60 days. Lawmakers only agreed to 30 days. It came into effect at 9am on November 28 and will be in place until December 27. Initial proposal also suggested that martial law would be introduced on the entire territory of Ukraine. But per the approved law, it will cover only 10 regions and territories along the Russian boarder, the Sea of Azov and the Black sea.

Second, lawmakers insisted on the relaxation of the proposed limits on the rights and freedoms of citizens. To reassure the citizens, the Parliament voted not to debate the martial law proposal in closed session but instead the debate was televised on national TV. On his website, the President insisted that the decree was proposed mainly as a security measure and assured that he did not intend any restrictions to citizens’ rights. The President also noted that neither partial nor full mobilization was envisioned unless the conflict escalates further.

Finally, during the Parliamentary session, lawmakers demanded assurances that introduction of martial law will not affect the holding of presidential elections early next year. Only 5 minutes after the Parliament voted in favour of martial law, it approved a law officially setting the date of the next presidential election for March 31, 2019.

These recent political events generated two main concerns. First, of course, comes the issue of security, territorial integrity, and independence of Ukraine. Russia has denied any wrong-doing. However, other countries and international organizations have supported Ukraine. During a press conference, NATO’s chief stated that “there is no justification for the use of military force against Ukrainian ships and military personnel” and demanded that ships and sailors be immediately released. Concerns about what the attack and declaration of martial law could mean for the security in the region are high. President Poroshenko was careful to insist that “martial law does not mean declaring war. It is introduced with the sole purpose of boosting Ukraine’s defense in the light of a growing aggression from Russia.” He also noted that it did not mean that Ukraine either gave up or was not amenable to diplomatic solutions to the crisis, insisting that Ukraine will continue to comply with the Minsk agreement and all other international obligations.

Second, what impact will the introduction of martial law have on the political situation in the country, especially on the upcoming presidential elections? The opposition has accused the President of using martial law to divert public attention from his failing popularity. Some even expressed concerns that martial law will allow the possibility of postponing or cancelling the election complete. According to opinion polls, only 5-10 percent of citizens were ready to vote for him in the last couple of months. Less than 15 percent trusted the President. However, other presidential candidates have similar low levels of support and trust. For instance, 75 percent of those surveys did not trust Yulia Tymoshenko, one of the main candidates running for president next year.

The next couple of months will be critical for Ukraine and its President. On the one hand, it will be important to secure territorial integrity of the country and avoid escalation of the crisis. On the other hand, the President will need to ensure that he keeps his word and that free and fair elections do take place as scheduled on March 31, 2019. In the words of the recent Foreign Policy dispatch: “Martial law is a test. Will Ukraine’s democracy pass?”

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.

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


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


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.


[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


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.