Law on all-Ukrainian referendum: What's wrong with Zelensky's promise?

Author : Natalia Lebed

Source : 112 Ukraine

Verkhovna Rada supported presidential draft law No. 3612 on the referendum: 255 MPs voted for it
13:54, 27 January 2021
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky

Volodymyr Zelenskyy introduced it to parliament on June 9. In 2020 and designated as urgent. On June 18, the Verkhovna Rada supported the bill as a basis. And along the way, she rejected alternative bills: No. 2182 (by Yulia Tymoshenko) and No. 3177 (by Vasyl Nimchenko). After that, the deputies began to make amendments before the second reading of the bill. There were over a thousand of them.

The presidential document says that citizens will be able to resolve issues of national importance themselves, amend sections I, III, XIII of the Constitution, abolish individual norms or laws in general, and change the boundaries of the country's territory.

Thus, at the all-Ukrainian referendum, it will be possible to change the sections of the Constitution of Ukraine On "general principles", on "elections and referenda", on the procedure for amending the Basic Law, as well as redrawing individual laws.

But all other sections of the Constitution remain intact for the plebiscite - "Rights, Freedoms, and Duties of Man and Citizen", "Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine", "President of Ukraine", "Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine", "Prosecutor's Office", "Justice", "Territorial Structure" etc.

It is forbidden to raise questions at a referendum that contradict the Constitution of Ukraine and international norms (in particular, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the 1950 Convention), including those aimed at abolishing the independence of the state and violating its territorial integrity.

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The results of the people's expression of will at the all-Ukrainian referendum do not require approval by any state body. A referendum is considered valid if at least 50% of citizens included in the State Voter Register took part in the voting. The decision made at it comes into force 10 days after the publication of the results.

If the question was not supported in the referendum, then it will be possible to re-submit it only in a year. But the adopted decision can be changed no earlier than three years from the date of its adoption and exclusively through an all-Ukrainian referendum.

The bill also prohibits holding a plebiscite at the same time as regular or early national elections. Also, an all-Ukrainian referendum cannot be appointed in the event that a military or state of emergency is introduced in Ukraine or in some of its localities.

The document also provides for the possibility of electronic voting at the all-Ukrainian referendum. And the development of the appropriate procedure is entrusted to the Central Election Commission. Actually, you can also vote for a referendum online - to support the relevant initiative, it is enough to use an electronic digital signature.

Who initiates the referendum?

An all-Ukrainian referendum might have three initiators. These are 1) the president, who appoints a plebiscite regarding amendments to the three above-mentioned sections of the Constitution; 2) parliament, if it comes to changing the territory of the country; 3) the people - on all other issues. If the initiative comes "from below", the head of state should hear society and announce a referendum. But only when a number of conditions are met.

In particular, in order to initiate a referendum, the country's population must form an initiative group. Such a group must consist of at least 60 citizens of Ukraine who, on the day of its formation, have the right to vote. And it is created at meetings of citizens in which at least 300 voters participate, and to which the CEC sends its representative.

Related: Parliament passes law about all-Ukraine referendum

During the aforementioned gatherings, the substantiation of the position on the issue of an all-Ukrainian referendum on a popular initiative and the wording of the question to be submitted to the referendum should also be substantively presented. Then, within 7 days after the meeting, the authorized representative of the initiative group submits to the CEC the documents of the meetings signed by the chairman and secretary of the meeting.

Therefore, for initiators, the countdown begins 60 days, during which they must collect signatures of at least 3 million citizens of Ukraine who have the right to vote, and at least 100 thousand signatures must be 2/3 of 24 regions and the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the cities of Sevastopol and Kyiv, that is, from 18 administrative-territorial units. The collected signatures will need to be submitted for verification to the CEC, which will then adopt a relevant resolution and hand it over to the president.

Having received all the documents, the president announces the date for the referendum - it should fall on the last Sunday of the 60-day period from the date of the promulgation of the presidential decree. At this stage, the CEC is again included in the game, which forms district commissions and the like – in a word, it operates according to a mechanism similar to the one used during elections.

It is important that the referendum is preceded by the registration of political parties and public organizations as supporters or opponents of the referendum issue. This is necessary for a balanced representation of the arguments "for" and "against". Citizens should receive comprehensive information about the essence of the issue that is being submitted to the referendum, and it will come both from those who support the plebiscite and from their opponents.

But what about those parties or public organizations that do not speak out for or against the issues submitted to the referendum? They can also join the public oversight of the referendum process without having the status of supporter or opponent.

Zelensky's bill also provides for the possibility of campaigning (or counter-agitation) on issues submitted to a referendum. Moreover, such campaigning concerns not only the stage when it is necessary to urge citizens to come to the referendum but also the stage of collecting signatures.

A mandatory requirement for any type of campaigning is the creation of an initiative group fund registered as a group of supporters or opponents of the referendum issue. All expenditures on campaigning should be carried out exclusively from these funds. However, citizens of Ukraine can also join campaigning for or against the referendum, but on a voluntary basis, that is, without spending their own funds.

Related: Ukrainian leader stages referendum show in late appeal to voters

And finally, one more important point. According to the document, only one issue can be submitted to the all-Ukrainian referendum. For this provision, the bill has been repeatedly criticized. They say that organizing a plebiscite is not cheap. So why should you limit yourself to just one question? On the other hand, there is a fear that an excessive number of questions will alienate the voter, who simply will not come to the polling station. Therefore, in this moment, a golden mean is needed, experts say.

Weak points

Political scientist Kyrylo Sazonov draws attention to the fact that the collection of signatures in at least two-thirds of the regions of Ukraine and at least 100 thousand in each of the regions complicates democracy. That is, "it is impossible to hold a referendum through local efforts, for example, in Kyiv and Odesa," he says.

Let us note that this is what local referendums are for - to resolve local issues. And it would be logical to consider the mechanism for holding local referendums in a package with an all-Ukrainian referendum, but the authorities do not offer such an option. And this really narrows down the concept of democracy, which Volodymyr Zelensky spoke about at the beginning of his cadence.

In addition, Sazonov draws attention to one more point: the Verkhovna Rada can, if it wishes, stop any plebiscite. Because even the collected 3 million votes and the presentation of this issue by the president to the parliament does not guarantee that the parliament will give the go-ahead.

"Collective sabotage, for which there is no real responsibility and cannot be. So if the people's deputies do not like the topic of a referendum (for example, recalling a people's deputy by voters), the question will freeze. This moment needs to be worked out," the expert advises.

Related: Belarus to hold referendum on constitutional changes, says Lukashenko

But, besides the fact that the Verkhovna Rada can block the submission of this or that issue to a referendum, it may not implement its result. This was already the case in 2000 when the referendum held on the people's initiative had no legal consequences due to the parliament’s evasion from approving its results.

Experts believe that the draft law on the referendum will primarily serve one purpose. One of the first questions raised on it may be the special status of Donbas. After all, here we are not talking about violating territorial integrity, but about changing the principle of functioning of a part of our territory.

He also notes that “with this bill, the authorities are trying to shift responsibility onto the people. this will mean that our leaders are not striving for history."

Political scientist Bogdan Petrenko says the following about this: “The authorities do not want to take on unnecessary responsibility. But the stratum of patriotic passionaries constantly presses on it. It is narrow, this stratum, but very active. And it is she who draws red lines to the authorities. And so just as the government shifts responsibility for unpopular decisions in the economy to the IMF, so in politics, it can shift the responsibility to the referendum participants.”

This version is also supported by the fact that on the eve of the vote, MPs from the Servant of the People faction were threatened with expulsion from it if they sabotaged the vote. This was reported by the Livy Bereh outlet with reference to its informants.

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"Friends, I inform the group that today received a command not to vote for the president's programmatic promise on the law on the referendum. This is a watershed. For everyone who does not vote, the question of exclusion from the Servant of the People faction will be raised," chairman of the faction David Arahamia noted.

And although it is difficult to imagine a mass exclusion from the parliamentary faction, it is obvious that the issue of a referendum for the head of state is very acute. Whether this is connected with Donbas, or with the desire to strengthen the rating, which is falling, it will become clear in the near future.

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