Zelenskyi says he dissolves Parliament and other key statements of inaugural speech

zelenskyi inauguration

Volodymyr Zelenskyi at the inaugural ceremony in the Verkhovna Rada. Photo: president.gov.ua 

Ukraine

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy was inaugurated today on 20 May. In his inaugural speech, he called upon the Cabinet of Ministers to resign and announced he is dissolving the Parliament. Here are the key points of his speech.

Zelenskyy calls on diaspora to return to Ukraine, promises citizenship

During the campaign, the Zelenskyy team promised to return Ukrainian migrant workers back home. Now Zelenskyy called on the Ukrainian diaspora to return to Ukraine:

“Today I address all Ukrainians in the world. There are 65 million of us… I address all Ukrainian on the planet. We need you very much. For everyone who is ready to build new, strong and successful Ukraine, I will be glad to grant Ukrainian citizenship. You must go to Ukraine not as guests, but back home. We are waiting for you. Don’t bring foreign souvenirs, but please fetch your knowledge, experience, and mental values,” read President Zelenskyy in the Rada.

Ukraine is among the top-5 world countries with a shrinking population. According to estimates, in December 2017, Ukraine’s population numbered 42.4 million people, not taking into account occupied Crimea. About 8 million economic migrants are believed to live in other countries, with over half of them in Russia. Stopping Ukraine’s population decline is a major challenge which yet had had no solution.

Announcing difficult decisions on Donbas to “stop the shooting”

In the Donbas section of the speech, Zelenskyy declared the establishment of a ceasefire in the Donbas as his number one task:

“And our top-priority task is a ceasefire in the Donbas. I was often asked to which lengths I am ready to go to stop the fire. A strange question. And at which lengths are you ready to go for the lives of your nearest and dearest? I can assure: I am willing to do everything so that our heroes not perish anymore. And I am certainly not afraid to make difficult decisions, I am ready to lose my popularity, my ratings, and if it will be necessary, I am to lose my post without hesitation for peace to be established. [But] without losing our territories,” Zelenskyy said. “History isn’t just. We didn’t start this war. But we are those who have to end it. And we are ready for the dialog. [Switching to Russian:] And I am sure, that an excellent first step towards the beginning of this dialog will be the return of all Ukrainian captives.”

This part of the speech might be an address to Russian President Vladimir Putin to resume negotiations.

Ceasefires were regularly negotiated causing temporary de-escalations in the Donbas. The talks between Ukraine and Russia were held in two formats – the Normandy Format involved heads of Ukraine and Russia or foreign ministers of the countries, and at the Minsk talks, Ukrainian representatives negotiated with the representatives of both Russia and its Donbas occupation authorities.

“Empowering the powerless”

Zelenskyy outlined his strategy of returning the Donbas and Crimea back to Ukraine:

“Our next challenge is returning the lost territories. Truth be said, I guess this wording is not fully accurate. Because we can’t lose what is already ours. Both Crimea and the Donbas are our Ukrainian lands, where we lost the most important thing – people.

“And we should return their consciousness today. This is what we have lost. In all these years, the authorities didn’t do anything for them to feel as Ukrainians, to know that they are not alien, they are ours, they are Ukrainians, President Zelenskyy said.

This shows that the President assumes that the Ukrainians who live in the Russia-occupied regions have powers to bring their provinces back to Ukraine.

Such an approach may be fruitless, the example of Georgia shows. The two Russia-occupied Georgian provinces, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, didn’t become any closer to Georgia in 11 years which have passed since the 2008 Russian invasion, despite the Georgian “State Strategy on Occupied Territories: Engagement Through Cooperation” which has been implemented since 2010.

Calling on the Cabinet to resign

Zelenskyy started the “government” section of his speech from criticism:

“Undoubtedly, besides war, there also are many hardships which make Ukrainians unhappy. That is shocking utility rates, humiliating salaries and pensions, painful prices, non-existent jobs. That is health care, the improvements in which are mostly discussed by those who have never stayed with a child in an ordinary hospital. That’s the legendary Ukrainian roads, which are built and repaired only in someone’s vivid imagination,” he said.

Here, the new president continued denying that the government had had any successes. In fact, Ukrainian average salaries have returned to pre-war levels, the Ukrainian economy continues growing despite the war, and as for the roads, about 6,800 km of were repaired in Ukraine over the past three years.

And despite Zelenskyy’s denial of progress in health care reforms, his own health care advisor Yevhen Komarovskyi earlier wrote on Facebook, “I am a supporter of the current strategic course to conduct the healthcare reform.”

Then President Zelenskyy called on the Cabinet to resign:

“And I can’t understand our government which only shrugs their shoulders saying, ‘We can’t do anything.’ False. You can. You can take a sheet of paper and vacate your seats for those who will think about the next generations, not about the next elections. Do it. People will appreciate it,” Zelenskyy said.

According to the Carnegie endowment, Ukraine has made more reforms than in the previous 25 years, meaning that the current government is one of the most successful in Ukrainian history. There is so far no other reason for it to resign than the desire of the new president.

Dissolving the Verkhovna Rada

After his call to the Cabinet, Zelenskyy proceeded to the parliamentarians:

“Your applause is somewhat selective. Does not everyone like what I say? Wrong, because it’s not me who’s saying, but the people of Ukraine,” he said.

He asked to adopt laws on the abolishment of deputies’ immunity and on criminal responsibility for illicit enrichment, and the Electoral Code. As well as he asked to dismiss the head of the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU), the Prosecutor General and the Defense Minister. And added:

“That’s far from all you can do. But that would be a good start. You will have two months. Approve these important laws and decisions. Pin all the medals on yourselves. Win nice points for the snap parliamentary elections. I am dissolving the eighth convocation of the Verkhovna Rada,” Zelenskyy stated.

In the parliamentary-presidential Republic which is Ukraine, the Verkhovna Rada holds more powers than the President, who is mostly limited to foreign policy, state security, and the army.

According to the Constitution, the President can dissolve the parliament in three cases:

  • when the Rada didn’t form the coalition of deputy factions within a month (after the newly-elected parliament started working or after the previous coalition was officially dissolved);
  • when the Rada didn’t form a new Government 60 days after the previous Cabinet was dismissed;
  • when the Rada can’t start its plenary meetings during 30 days of its session.

The parliamentarian coalition ceased to exist three days ago when the People’s Front faction left it, and now the parliament should have a month-long “dissolution immunity.” Moreover, the Parliament can’t be disbanded “in the last six months of the term of the powers of the Verkhovna Rada,” according to the Constitution.

The wording “last six months of the term of the powers” is ambiguous and can have at least two interpretations. The most obvious is six months before the next parliamentarian elections, i.e. the immunity period has started on 27 April, another interpretation considers the five-year term since the beginning of the Rada’s powers, and it gives 27 May.

Nevertheless, the Rada should have dissolution immunity since it has a month to form a new coalition. However, Zelenskyy’s team team believes that the coalition didn’t exist since 2016 when three minor factions left it.

Meanwhile, Natalia Bernatska, secretary of the Central Electoral Commission, told journalists after the inauguration of Zelenskyy,

“According to the norms of the current legislation, if the electoral process has started, no court decision can’t stop it. Just as the decree [on Rada dissolution] will be published, from the next day we will be in the electoral process.”

However, it is unclear what would be the ground for the electoral process if the Supreme Court will invalidate the presidential decree.

We will be probably witnessing a legal battle between Zelenskyy and the Rada in the nearest future.

Update:

PM Volodymyr Hroysman has accepted Zelenkyi’s game and announced his resignation, saying,

“The Government resigns only before the newly-elected Parliament, not before the newly elected President, but I have decided for myself to resign on Wednesday [22 May] just after the regular meeting of the Government.”

The resignation of a prime minister causes dismissal of the entire government under Ukrainian legislature.


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