The chaos be­gins

The Ukrainian Week - - CONTENTS - Ro­man Malko

What to ex­pect in the new par­lia­men­tary sea­son

A new po­lit­i­cal sea­son has started in Ukraine look­ing more like a new front in the war of pol­i­tics. The up­com­ing fall, win­ter and spring will be very hot for the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion cam­paign. So will be the sum­mer and the prepa­ra­tion for the par­lia­men­tary elec­tions in Oc­to­ber 2019. Any­thing not linked to the elec­tions will be sec­ondary.

Elec­tions in a coun­try at a hy­brid war, with some can­di­dates play­ing on the side of the en­emy al­though it’s hard to know ex­actly who does so, are a risky game. Bet­ting on the wrong can­di­dates will cost Ukraine the loss of in­de­pen­dence. This time, it’s not just about a like­able can­di­date beat­ing an un­like­able one, or not. In fact, there isn’t much choice at all. Ukraini­ans will have to choose be­tween the greater and the lesser evil.

The first days of the Par­lia­ment’s work af­ter the sum­mer break il­lus­trated this. MPs are al­ready busier cre­at­ing pre­elec­tion chaos and tur­bu­lence than ac­tu­ally do­ing their work. Yu­lia Ty­moshenko al­ready sees her­self as pres­i­dent, adding anx­i­ety with rhetoric about a Poroshenko-led oli­garch con­spir­acy, ul­ti­mate rob­bing of the coun­try, prom­ises of putting ev­ery­one be­hind bars and con­fis­cat­ing from the rich af­ter her vic­tory. The Op­po­si­tion Bloc’s Yuriy Boyko has not yet felt as pres­i­dent. Yet, he sud­denly started lob­by­ing for an Elec­tion Code with open-list vot­ing and voic­ing the Krem­lin’s the­sis of re­turn­ing the oc­cu­pied Don­bas in a non-vi­o­lent man­ner. Olha Bo­ho­mo­lets is reg­u­larly at­tack­ing re­form­ers from the Min­istry of Health, crit­i­ciz­ing them for “un­pro­fes­sional ac­tions and an­tipeo­ple poli­cies.”

MPs have al­ready il­lus­trated this chaos by start­ing this Par­lia­ment ses­sion with a failed at­tempt to vote for its agenda. Mean­while, they have a long trail of cru­cial bills left from the pre­vi­ous ses­sion which they failed to vote be­fore the break for dif­fer­ent rea­sons. Plus, new ones are pend­ing as well, adding to the mount­ing pres­sure. While ev­ery MP and fac­tion has an own vi­sion of their pri­or­i­ties, one cer­tain pre­dic­tion is that the dis­cus­sions of even the small­est amend­ments are likely to trans­form into ma­jor bat­tles. These will in­clude bat­tles for the Cen­tral Elec­tion Com­mis­sion, the Elec­tion Code, the lan­guage, MP im­mu­nity, the sta­tus of the Don­bas, the bud­get and more.

All this might even re­sult in some blood­shed in and around the Rada — pos­si­bly from noses in­jured in clashes. This is not be­cause the MPs will sud­denly ex­pe­ri­ence spikes of ac­tiv­ity and love for prin­ci­ples. Quite on the con­trary. They don’t have a po­si­tion. All they have is the in­ter­ests of the groups they are part of. The key in­ter­est is power, prefer­ably un­lim­ited. Since the size of the power pie is not chang­ing while the num­ber of those with ap­petite to bite it is grow­ing, their chances of get­ting there are shrink­ing. This means that from now on, they will view ev­ery­thing through the lens of its elec­toral value, a PR op­por­tu­nity, a chance to score some points, in­flu­ence votes, use vot­ers and fake re­sults. Adding its own price to the process will be the art of com­pro­mise and of mak­ing deals as the core el­e­ment of pol­i­tics.

One as­pect of this price is the change of the elec­tion law and the cur­rent Cen­tral Elec­tion Com­mis­sion staff. With­out these the elec­tions can’t be fair or le­git­i­mate. Those in power may in the end reach some sort of a com­pro­mise on the Cen­tral Elec­tion Com­mis­sion — the sit­u­a­tion has reached an ab­surd point now and Ukraine’s in­ter­na­tional part­ners are de­mand­ing a so­lu­tion. The Elec­tion Code re­form is in a worse po­si­tion. Half of the Par­lia­ment com­prised of the MPs elected through the ma­jor­ity or first­past-the-post sys­tem is openly hos­tile to the abo­li­tion of the mixed elec­toral sys­tem and the in­tro­duc­tion of open lists. This is a mat­ter of po­lit­i­cal death or sur­vival for them, as well as of deputy im­mu­nity and wind­fall prof­its.

The im­mu­nity is­sue trig­gers equally heated de­bates and spec­u­la­tions. Two draft laws spon­sored by the Pres­i­dent and MPs are wait­ing to be re­viewed by the VR, both ap­proved by the Con­sti­tu­tional Court. The Pres­i­dent’s bill abol­ishes MP im­mu­nity start­ing with the next con­vo­ca­tion — it has bet­ter chances of pass­ing the vote. The one spon­sored by MPs abol­ishes the im­mu­nity im­me­di­ately and is of a more pop­ulist na­ture. Will the Verkhovna Rada have 300 kamikadze MPs to vote for it? Even for good PR ef­fect? The key rea­son why most MPs are un­likely to vote for any of these bills is to avoid giv­ing the Pres­i­dent a boost in the elec­tions. He would re­ally like his bill to pass, so that would give him a bonus to brag about in the up­com­ing cam­paign.

The bill on in­clud­ing Ukraine’s as­pi­ra­tion to join the EU and NATO into the Con­sti­tu­tion, spon­sored re­cently by the Pres­i­dent, might be eas­ier to get by. But this would, too, help the Pres­i­dent. There­fore, it is hard to think of what the friendly fac­tions will want the Pres­i­dent to give them in re­turn for sup­port­ing his bills. The price tag may in­clude con­ces­sions in re­for­mat­ting the sys­tem of gov­er­nance and trans­form­ing Ukraine into a par­lia­men­tary repub­lic. Pres­i­dent Poroshenko is against this, yet he is hop­ing to win the sec­ond term in of­fice. His part­ners in pol­i­tics — per­ma­nent and sit­u­a­tional — re­ally like the idea of a par­lia­men­tary repub­lic, so they will cer­tainly lobby for it.

Another cru­cial is­sue is the law on the state lan­guage. Many rank it as a pri­or­ity one. The prob­lem is that there are cur­rently five dif­fer­ent bills at the VR and each one sets out de­tails and pri­or­i­ties dif­fer­ently. Add to this the up­com­ing pe­riod of flirt­ing with dif­fer­ent vot­ers, and get pop­corn to watch the re­sult­ing cir­cus.

Then comes the ex­ten­sion of the law on the spe­cial sta­tus of the Don­bas which should either be voted in Oc­to­ber or shelved till af­ter the elec­tions. No­body can say what’s best now, not even those in the top of­fices. This is­sue is ex­tremely sen­si­tive and can ruin any­body’s rates be­fore the elec­tions. It’s also the is­sue of top im­por­tance. The war in Eastern Ukraine and ev­ery­thing around it is one of the few top­ics that still has the ca­pac­ity to mo­bi­lize the frus­trated vot­ers ready to run away as far as pos­si­ble. The other two are how to over­come cor­rup­tion and to sim­ply make ends meet.

Va­cant po­si­tions in many of­fices and nu­mer­ous of­fi­cials in the act­ing sta­tus give more space for ma­nip­u­la­tions. So does yet another in­crease of gas price. The bud­get for the next year full of elec­tions, too, is an ex­cit­ing game of milk­ing the pub­lic cof­fers.

De­spite all this, it makes per­fect sense to ex­pect those in power to go back to their self-preser­va­tion in­stinct and wisdom to avoid steer­ing the coun­try into a dead end be­fore it is too late. This is vir­tu­ally the only hope that re­mains. The same in­stinct should also work for the so­ci­ety which by now has pre­sented its fi­nal trump cards — the in­ten­tion to ig­nore pol­i­tics and in­dif­fer­ence. Pre­tend­ing that the big­gest in­trigue of the up­com­ing elec­tions is who will lament “we’ve lost it all”, Yu­lia Ty­moshenko or some­one else, af­ter April 2019, is too sim­plis­tic. The stakes of these elec­tions and their af­ter­maths are far higher than that.

WHILE EV­ERY MP AND FAC­TION HAS AN OWN VI­SION OF THEIR PRI­OR­I­TIES, ONE CER­TAIN PRE­DIC­TION IS THAT THE DIS­CUS­SIONS OF EVEN THE SMALL­EST AMEND­MENTS ARE LIKELY TO TRANS­FORM INTO MA­JOR BAT­TLES. THESE WILL IN­CLUDE BAT­TLES FOR THE CEN­TRAL ELEC­TION COM­MIS­SION, THE ELEC­TION CODE, THE LAN­GUAGE, MP IM­MU­NITY, THE STA­TUS OF THE DON­BAS, THE BUD­GET AND MORE

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