Ukraine's 2014-2019 Parliament: Total recall before snap elections

Author : Natalia Lebed

Source : 112 Ukraine

During the last five years, Ukrainian Verkhovna Rada has adopted about 700 laws, 1,300 decrees
10:16, 17 July 2019

Verkhovna Rada
Iryna Gerashchenko Facebook

“I wonder why wasn’t the parliamentary immunity lifted from the MPs,” said Bohdan Petrenko, deputy director of the Ukrainian Institute for the Study of Extremism. The remark concerns the last Thursday in the Rada (which was the last day the MPs of this convocation could vote, - ed.) when the parliamentarians immediately adopted two resonant bills: on chemical castration of pedophiles and on the new Electoral Code. The castration bill has been waiting for its turn for two years, and the code bill has been frozen for four years. However, changes in electoral legislation can still be vetoed by the president, but even if this does not happen, the main innovation of the code - the proportional system and open lists - will be tested for the first time not in the next regular elections (that is, in 2023), but in 2028.

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Let us talk about working capacity, which the Verkhovna Rada of the 8the convocation decided to demonstrate in the last day of its work. Unfortunately, not all the cadence of the parliament was accompanied by such strong activity. Although, in general, for nearly five years, Ukrainian MPs adopted about 700 laws and 1,300 decrees. Among them are dozens of long-awaited progressive decisions, as well as hundreds of scandalous lobbying amendments.

We have asked four experts to assess the Rada’s activity, two have evaluated it as positive, and two had rather a negative position. Therefore, we believe that, in general, the parliament could be marked "five", according to a ten-point system.

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Total Recall

The current Rada was chosen in the fall of 2014. The war in the east was in full swing, and Maidan (Revolution of Dignity) still lived in the memory of society. Therefore, it is not surprising that quite a few public figures, journalists, people associated with revolutionary events, as well as volunteers, combatants, people, who at that time had passed the front, got into the parliament. The contingent of the parliament of the eighth convocation is undoubtedly its business card. Although the number of positive characters (at least at the time of the election, they were perceived as positive) did not turn into the quality of parliamentarism.

Most of its term, the Verkhovna Rada has been working de facto without having a parliamentary majority, which gave President Volodymyr Zelensky a reason to dissolve it. The European Ukraine Coalition, created by all factions of the parliament, except for the Opposition Bloc, existed from the end of 2014 to the beginning of 2016.

However, the parliament managed to do several crucial things. For example, to officially call Russia as the aggressor, and recognize Crimea and Donbas temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine. The current Parliament also approved amendments to the Constitution concerning the course towards European integration and NATO membership. And most importantly, it adopted the package of laws on the implementation of the Association Agreement with the EU. After that, Ukrainians received the right to travel to Europe for 90 days without having a visa.

A lot of innovations are connected with the current parliament. These include state financing of parties, open state registries, public procurement mechanism, and electronic declaration of income. Also, deputies legalized de-communization, increased quotas for Ukrainian songs and cinema, regulated the use of the state language in public space. In addition, they tried to introduce decentralization, medical and educational reforms. Plus, they created several new state institutions, including those that are called upon to fight corruption, namely, the State Bureau of Investigation and the Anti-Corruption Court.

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Although the latter exists only on paper, and the revalidation of general courts is failed. Also, the MPs began an unsuccessful re-certification of the police. They could not lift their own immunity, although the Constitutional Court allowed it a few months ago.

The socio-economic sphere is also failed. The MPs did not create effective antitrust laws, did not introduce transparent conditions for the business and did not deal with offshores. And after the loud and resonant scandal in Ukroboronprom state defense concern, they did not dare to make this sphere more open. No one even tried to do something with the tax reform and the reform of the state customs service. And the priority for the privatization has not yet been elaborated. In general, parliamentarians did not create an economic basis so that Ukrainians did not emigrate from the country, and did not raise the standard of living.

Finally, the people's deputies of Ukraine have not developed an effective mechanism for the return of the occupied territories of Donbas and Crimea.

But the behavior of some MPs was really amusing. Recall, at least, a curiosity with MP Oleh Barna, who took then Prime Minister Yatsenyuk in his hands and tried to take him away; or MP Nadia Savchenko, who showed Prime Minister Groysman the middle finger, and later planned to blow up and shoot the Verkhovna Rada; or Iryna Lutsenko, who swore from the rostrum of the Verkhovna Rada. There were also enough fights, obscene cues, and traditional piano voting.

But there were, probably, bright periods in the work of the parliament. Above-mentioned Bohdan Petrenko and political analyst Dmytro Sinchenko tell about it.

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Advantages of the Rada of 8th convocation

“Populism could be witnessed in the Rada’s work, although this is not only a problem of this convocation but a distinctive feature of Ukrainian politics in general,” said Bohdan Petrenko. “What did I like about this Rada? It showed social elevators, that not only politicians might become the MPs. Perhaps these social elevators did not work out exactly as we would like them to, and the wrong people got into them, but this Rada included the representatives of the Maidan, representatives of the anti-terrorist operation, etc. They were probably not entirely effective, but their membership showed at least that the Ukrainians had learned how to change power."

"I really like in this parliament that it was able to resist the president of Ukraine when he was trying to usurp power. Regardless of how we treat the MPs, we should note: when martial law was introduced (and this was done without proper objective reasons ), the parliament resisted this and put an end to the question of whether the holding of presidential elections could be delayed because of this, that is, did not give the president the opportunity to carry out a mini-constitutional coup,” the expert adds.

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“The negative aspect is that the population’s mistrust of the Verkhovna Rada was not overcome and a positive attitude towards the parliament was not formed... I would not assess this parliament either positively or negatively, instead of assessing the changes that have occurred in the public consciousness. The population has ceased to fear the authorities, and has begun to learn how to choose it,” Petrenko summarizes.

“A lot of ideas, initiated by the “new faces” have been implemented. This is an educational, healthcare, administrative, and corruption reforms – there are enough results of this Rada’s activity,” Dmytro Sinchenko is convinced.

Disadvantages: unprofessionalism, weakness, and distrust

“The Eighth Verkhovna Rada leaves the political scene on a wave of hatred and mistrust. And even the desire for revenge from ordinary people,” Vadym Karasiov, director of the Institute of Global Strategies, claims. “Even if we consider some positive developments, this Parliament would be remembered as one of the worst, and, perhaps, the worst in the history of the Ukrainian parliamentarism.”

We have asked whether the current Verkhovna Rada is worse than the convocation, led by the communist majority, Karasiov replied that "with the communist majority, they proclaimed Ukrainian independence. Artists, philosophers, directors, and mangers were MPs of the previous convocations. These people did not have clearly expressed pro-European sentiments, but they were professionals, loved their country and did not seek for enrichment."

“The parliament, which came under the sign of Donbas war, is radical,” Ruslan Bortnyk, the director of the Ukrainian Institute for Policy Analysis and Management, said.

“The disadvantages include the entire socio-economic bloc — reforms in healthcare and education, budgetary issues — all of this had a negative social effect, and as a result of such “reforms,” the situation became even worse. Anti-corruption or judicial reforms were completely ineffective. There were also criminal things, like renaming of churches and attempts to ban TV channels,” he states.

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Bortnyk emphasizes: in spite of the fact that Ukraine is a parliamentary republic, its parliament "was at best the third or fourth body in the public administration system - after the president, the government and the judicial system and security forces. The degradation of parliament is a consequence of the degradation of the entire government system, for the weak parliament was not accountable to the government, but it did everything that it wanted in the socio-economic sphere. "

"This parliament was weak due to its terrible corruption. Despite high social expectations and the promises made by the leaders of the Maidan in 2014, the practice of piano voting was an everyday thing," the expert adds.

Bortnyk’s verdict is pessimistic: “Unprofessional, but extremely ambitious people came to Rada to come to parliament to realize their plans, but these plans were not healthy. By and large, the parliament fell a huge number of random people who, having come to power lost their sense of reality and tried to either realize their painful political fantasies or openly enrich themselves.”

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And his forecast for the future is just as pessimistic: "And the next Rada would face the same risks that were faced by their colleagues. The new parliament might become just the apogee of populism. And if all this is multiplied by unprofessionalism, then it will look like a child with explosives. The new composition of the Rada will be one of the least predictable and most dangerous for the Ukrainian statehood."

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