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Controlling everything: Why does Ukraine's president need new powers?

Author : Natalia Lebed

Source : 112 Ukraine

Under Zelensky, the concentration of power began from the moment when the rest of the factions dutifully agreed for the way how the Servant of the People divided the parliamentary committees
23:13, 19 December 2019

Volodymyr Zelensky
Open source

“Zelensky will quit this staff any time,” says his father. “Staff” means the presidency. But in reality, Zelensky-junior does not quit. Moreover: we together with our experts have found signs of authoritarianism in the rule of the sixth president.

Related: Ukraine’s parliament adopts new Election Code with Zelensky’s amendment

How it all began

"Under Zelensky, the concentration of power began from the moment when the rest of the factions dutifully agreed for the way how the Servant of the People divided the parliamentary committees, retaining their chairmanship almost everywhere - contrary to written and unwritten traditions," says Bohdan Petrenko, deputy director of the Ukrainian Institute for the Study of Extremism.

Petrenko is right: the first complaints about the sole control of the state by the president and his party began immediately after parliamentary elections. The one-party-majority did not want to share power either in the distribution of leadership seats in the committees of the Verkhovna Rada or during the formation of the Cabinet.

Thus, all the positions significant for government control were taken by the Ze!Team, and the political scientists, interviewed by us, use the words “totalitarianism” and “usurpation.”

“We will not have totalitarianism, because it is built on a certain ideology. For example, on the communist or on the ideology of Juche,” says Taras Berezovets, director of the personal and strategic consulting company Berta Communications. And “usurpation is when something happens contrary to the law, contrary to the Constitution, but for now everything is legal,” adds Vadym Karasiov, director of the Institute for Global Strategies.

Related: Zelensky's decentralization: New districts and prefects

Direct violations of the law have not occurred yet. Only the rewriting of laws follows the president’s wish.

“Terror researcher Dmytro Olshansky writes that in order to maintain his rating, the country doesn’t have to do well, it’s necessary to organize terror in it so that the population doesn’t leave the threat of danger,” says Bogdan Petrenko. “But these are general thoughts because if you return to Ukrainian realities, one can state one thing: every president who came to power in one way or another tried to strengthen his influence on events.”

“The most striking case of this was Viktor Yanukovych, who actually rewrote the Constitution for himself. Of course, in this context, we can recall Ukraine’s second president Leonid Kuchma, but the fact is that under Kuchma, under Yanukovych, and under other presidents we had this phenomenon which has now completely disappeared - the parliamentary opposition,” Petrenko assures.

Sole sovereign

In addition to a completely "domesticated" government, President Zelensky has full control over the Prosecutor General’s Office and the head of the Security Service (SBU). In addition, the ruling force carried out a semi-successful attempt to secure the president’s right to appoint the head of the State Bureau for Investigations.

The attempt was, therefore, semi-successful because the parliament voted as Zelensky wanted and changed the law on the State Security Committee, but subsequently, the Constitutional Court recognized this procedure for appointing the head of the State Bureau of Investigation (SBI) as unconstitutional.

Related: Zelensky appoints new Permanent Representative of Ukraine to UN

Commenting on the situation with the SBI and its head, Vadym Karasiov notes: “The consolidation of power in the hands of the president s obvious, as well as the strengthening of the presidential vertical - through the institution of prefects, for example. The same applies to the subordination of the SBI to the president.”

"In European countries, supreme sovereignty belongs to the parliament, while in our country the supreme sovereig, like in other post-Soviet countries, is the president," Karasiov states.

Political scientist Kyrylo Sazonov is particularly pessimistic about the future, he believes that "President Zelensky is not going to usurp power because he has already done it."

When the prefects are not perfect

We have already written that, according to the legislative initiative of Zelensky, the posts of chairmen of the Regional State Administration will be abolished "on the ground,", and instead of governors, prefects will be put in charge of the "presidents." Moreover, there will be more prefects than the heads of regional state administrations.

The prefects are endowed with very broad powers - up to the temporary removal from office of the elected mayor or head of the community. This has not really happened yet, Sazonov rightly says.

Resistance on the ground could theoretically hold back the appetites of the power team. Parliament is already perceptibly disoriented. And in the future, if amendments to the Constitution are adopted regarding decentralization, one more blow will be inflicted on its positions. Political analyst Ruslan Bortnyk emphasizes this.

Related: Zelensky signs law extending special status of Donbas until the end of 2020

“And the parliament, meanwhile, is the president’s only rival today, because it has an opposition,” Bortnyk notes.

Opposition wanted

The great misfortune of today's parliamentarian is that the Verkhovna Rada does not have strong and active opposition. "The desire to strengthen its influence will always be present and it will always be limited by the presence of the opposition. But in the case of Zelensky this desire will be limited only by the internal opposition," Bohdan Petrenko states.

“Another limiting factor,” he continues, “is that Zelensky has a short bench. Without this, we would have had local elections with almost the same result as the parliamentary elections. But Zelensky has no ideology, not a party in the classical sense. That is why the Servant of the People suffers from centrifugal phenomena began because where there is no external opposition, the internal is born. It is thanks to it that we will not have a dictatorship.”

Related: From Game of Thrones to Zelensky: Ukraine top Google search queries in 2019

Now Zelensky “resembles Putin, because he controls the entire power vertical - from the city council to his own chair. These are very risky games because the head of state is completely deprived of critical thinking - his close associates report only good things,” Kyrylo Sazonov says.

At the same time, he assures, even if Zelensky wants to “reform something,” this will not be easy. "When the president leaves power, his entourage loses everything. Therefore, Zelensky’s entourage will put pressure on him to do everything possible to extend this sweet life. But it’s too early to talk about it, everything is developing too fast and may end earlier than his first presidential term.”

Related: Zelensky offers parliament to approve decentralization without Donbas special status

But at the same time, opponents of Zelensky might remain calm. “There is not the slightest reason to talk about any mass repressions (for example, against participants of the Maidan),” says Ruslan Bortnyk.

Related: Zelensky offers parliament to approve decentralization without Donbas special status

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