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Ukraine's new legislation on opposition: Key points

Author : Natalia Lebed

Source : 112 Ukraine

Almost every convocation of the Verkhovna Rada tried to adopt its own law on the opposition, but none of such attempts was successful
21:26, 23 July 2020

Verkhovna Rada
Zoya Shu/112.ua

Halyna Tretyakova, a well-known MP from the Servant of the People faction, voiced some new scandalous statements. This time she states that the salaries of the MPs do not correspond to their needs. And also announced the creation of a law on the opposition. Tretyakova noted that the deputies from the pro-government faction are now working on a relevant document. For, according to her, the parliament demands changes not only in the opposition but also in the coalition. What exactly is meant here is unknown, because Deputy Tretyakova is known for her ability to clearly formulate thoughts.

But after looking into the context, one can guess that it is most likely a block of responsibilities that the majority will be asked to take on. Tretyakova calls this "a large organizational part" of the coalition agreement, which will allow "to establish cooperation between the MPs and avoid fights and negative phenomena in the parliament." All this taken together will be a "big parliamentary reform," which, however, has not yet been written out. We will remind that earlier deputy chairman of the Verkhovna Rada Ruslan Stefanchuk also touched upon the topic of the bill on the opposition. According to him, the document will be submitted for discussion by the Rada in September-October this year. That is, with a delay of about a year. Indeed, in the team of President Volodymyr Zelensky, the need to adopt a law on the opposition was announced even before the early elections in 2019.

A bit of history

In the English parliament, the official opposition has existed for a long time: at least at the time of Queen Anne, who reigned in the first decades of the 18th century, it already existed. However, the history of Ukraine is known to everyone: until 1991, we had no opposition at all. But even after Ukraine gained independence, the state of affairs did not improve much, therefore, in the thirtieth year of the existence of our sovereign state, the relations between the authorities and the opposition still remain "unformed." In other democratic countries the parliamentary opposition functions successfully, even without being "spelled out" in the legislation, since the very principles of the functioning of the parliament are sufficient there. But in Ukraine, it is better to write down all agreements on paper.

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Therefore, it is not surprising that almost every convocation of the Verkhovna Rada tried to adopt its own law on the opposition, but none of such attempts was successful. The only legal act that for a short period (2008-2010) defined the rights of opposition factions in the Ukrainian parliament was the Rules of Procedure of the Verkhovna Rada. A section titled "Parliamentary Opposition" appeared in this document in the 2008 edition. There, the procedure for the formation and termination of the activities of the opposition, as well as its rights, was spelled out.

It makes no sense to dwell in detail on what has already lost its legal force, therefore, we will only note that the opposition then was considered a faction that consisted of more than half of the MPs who were not included in the coalition.

Also, the Rules of Procedure provided the opposition with the right to demand the convocation of an extraordinary session of parliament or an additional plenary session if such a demand was supported by at least 150 MPs. The opposition faction or associations had the right to raise the agenda items of the session without a vote. The opposition could apply for representation during the distribution of leading positions in the Verkhovna Rada and its bodies. And also - to create an "opposition government", endowed with the right to monitor the activities of the Cabinet of Ministers and other executive bodies, to control the development and implementation of the state budget and the like.

It continued until in the fall of 2010 the Constitutional Court returned the Constitution of Ukraine in the 1996 edition, and the parliament did not "fit" the corresponding changes in the Rules of Procedure to this decision. Four years later, in 2014, the status quo changed again: the country returned to the 2004 Constitution again. It was logical to expect that the Rules of Procedure with provisions on the opposition would playback, but this did not happen.

The next time the issue of legalizing the Ukrainian opposition was raised in 2015. But then the Verkhovna Rada rejected Bill No. 0948 with a very simple and frank motivation: the majority MPs did not want to strengthen, in particular, the Opposition Bloc. Finally, after 2015 and until mid-2019, that is, until the end of the eighth convocation of the Verkhovna Rada, no one returned to this issue.

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Opposition’s point

Naturally, the representatives of the opposition stand for finally their "legalization" issue. Another question is who, in fact, should be considered the opposition. Political scientist Yevheniy Bulavka wittily notes that we have, obviously, three and a half oppositions. These are the Opposition platform – For life, European Solidarity, Holos faction, which has matured to opposition quite recently, and the Batkivshchyna faction, which still cannot decide whom to support.

So, with the exception of Batkivshchyna, the factions welcome the adoption of the law on the opposition. "In our country, each change of power can lead to a 180-degree reversal of the entire course followed by the country, to the complete leveling of the achievements of the previous government, and an excessive concentration of power may be accompanied by the persecution of the opposition,” MP from the European Solidarity faction Oleksiy Honcharenko states.

Yaroslav Yurchyshyn, a member of the Holos faction, also supports the idea: "A law on the opposition is necessary, but a law that will stimulate the development of parliament and increase competition," he says.

The representative of the Opposition platform – For life faction, Antonina Slavitskaya, gives three arguments for the adoption of the relevant law. “First, it will protect the opposition itself,” she says. “Regardless of what name it bears today and under what flags it holds. Secondly, the majority, knowing that there is a legitimate controlling force next to it - the parliamentary opposition - it will begin taking a more responsible attitude to his actions, at least one wants to believe in this, as well as the fact that the official presentation of the opposition will increase competition within the parliamentary walls. Thirdly, the free functioning of the opposition, without attacks on it from the majority and without infringing on rights, will benefit Ukraine as a whole, its authority, and the like. This way we will be able to demonstrate that we are a democratic state not only in name.”

Interestingly, at the end of July 2019, then chairman of the Servant of the People party and future speaker of the Verkhovna Rada, Dmytro Razumkov, said that the new government plans to adopt a law on the opposition, but such a law is not a priority and must be developed first. Actually, the process has started only now, and this is logical, because, rejecting other bills, the pro-government faction is obliged to show what it offers itself.

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Expert opinions

“Zelensky initiated elaborating the law on opposition a year after the elections. But better late than never. However, the important thing is the essence of this document. Because the law on the impeachment of the president was written in such a way that it is impossible to implement it in practice, formally this is correct, but in fact, it is a mockery,” Andriy Zolotariov, head of the Third Sector center, notes.

There is a possibility that we will just get a simulacrum of the opposition law,” he sums up.

It will not be a simulacrum, but a document addressed not to the current, but to future generations of parliamentarians, says the deputy director of the Ukrainian Institute for the Study of Extremism Bogdan Petrenko: “If the law is adopted, then its main provisions will probably be spelled out in such a way as to implement them to the Verkhovna Rada of the next convocation has begun. That is, this law is unlikely to lead to a redistribution of powers of parliamentarians. By the way, in addition to the Verkhovna Rada committees, the opposition should have its representatives in other government bodies - for example, in the CEC, in the Antimonopoly Committee, in the Audit Chamber. But everything that will limit the functions of the current majority will be addressed to the next convocation.”

“Perhaps the whole point is in the desire to regulate the opposition that would arise after the local elections, which the Servant of the People is likely to lose (at least at the level of individual councils). But this is only if the law concerns not only parliament. In short, you need to see this document,” adds Petrenko.

The fact that the document is being written by the authorities for itself (in case it suddenly loses its leadership position) is also noted by Yevheniy Bulavka. “The law on the opposition could remove many controversial issues. And take into account the peculiarities of Ukraine, because each state builds its own relations between the government and the opposition. But in our case, I think, it is not so much about the desire to protect the opposition, but about the need to secure itself the government and the pro-government majority from problems against the background of the rating, which is falling.”

Bulavka argues this: “I do not expect to see any result from this law, in the sense that the opposition's opportunities will be increased and expanded. Unfortunately, we have completely moved away from the practice when public organizations, lawyers, etc. are involved in writing a law. Specialists can be outside parliament. And it was it would be good if a third party wrote out the law on the opposition.”

But since we do not observe a third party in the work on the project, it is unlikely that the commanding team will write a document that will at least in the slightest affect its interest. In any case, Zelensky will definitely not remember how much they "offended" the opposition in 2019, when, after the parliamentary elections, the opposition did not get the leadership of the committees of the Verkhovna Rada, although this has always been an unspoken tradition.

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“The opposition will not make a nice gesture to redistribute the committees. The law will be addressed rather than the next Verkhovna Rada. Because it is very likely that the current parliament will fulfill its term, and Zelensky is already trying on the opposition's toga. Because today you are in power, and tomorrow you are no longer,” notes Andriy Zolotariov.

Any law has no reverse effect,” recalls Bogdan Petrenko. "Parliamentary committees are distributed, and the new law will not change this. If the government wants to correct mistakes, then it must do it now, and not try to influence the situation that will arise sometime after it, that is, at the end of the current cadence. Because then a new majority will come and again will redesign everything for themselves."

“The opposition, of course, must have rights and be presentable in the eyes of the people who voted for it,” he continues. “After all, what is democracy? This is the rule of the majority, taking into account the position of the minority. concentrated in the same hands, and so that there is no such thing that internal, and not external, oppositionists act as big opponents.”

Petrenko adds one more useful thing: it would be possible not to write out a separate law, but simply to observe the rules of the Verkhovna Rada. Failing which it is imperative to synchronize two documents.

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