Prime minister resigns, Parliament is dismissed as Ukraine enters period of turbulence

 

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Ukrainian Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman resigned on 22 May. Previously, during the press briefing, he announced that he was ready to negotiate with the new Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy in order to create a new working agenda.

However, after Zelenskyy attacked the Ukrainian parliament and the Cabinet in his inauguration speech, Groysman decided to leave his office. Yesterday, Zelenskyy also signed his decree to dismiss the Parliament, opening the path to a period of turbulence in Ukrainian politics. Why does Zelenskyy need to dismantle the previous authorities in such a radical way and what is his goal?

According to the Constitution, the Ukrainian President is very limited in his power. The Parliament appoints the Government, and, therefore, it controls financial and economic issues, not the president. By his own presidential power, Zelenskyy can change next to nothing in the things important for ordinary Ukrainians. If there is no change, the electoral support of his newly-created party would drop significantly during the next six months prior to regular parliamentary elections in October. This logic may be the main trigger for the events taking place in Ukraine.

By his decision to dismiss the Verkhovna Rada, Zelenskyy achieves a double win: elections will take place earlier when his electoral support is still high; a new system of voting which he is pushing secures yet more seats for his party. Thus, the possibility emerges that Zelenskyy’s party will alone achieve a majority in the new parliament. In that way, the team of the new politician will have almost unlimited power in Ukraine.

However, this particular scenario, which Zelenskyy has written and is pushing, does not automatically become reality. Much depends on the reaction of the Parliament and readiness of the main political parties to create a strong opposition and prevail over the president in the upcoming elections. The fact that the parliament appointed Zelenskyy’s inauguration for 20 May, which enabled its own dismissal by the new President, shows that most of the contemporary political parties don’t oppose snap elections and tolerate the new president. However, the decision not to support the presidential bill on the new elections system shows that the Parliament doesn’t want to serve president as it was in the times of Viktor Yanukovych.

Most of the strong political parties agree on snap elections, Zelenskyy’s party likely to hold a majority

On 21 May, Zelenkyi had a meeting with heads of all political factions in the parliament. During that meeting, a sketch of the future Ukrainian parliament was painted, most likely —a pro-Zelenskyy parliament.

Meeting of Zelenskyy with leaders of Parliamentary fractions. Source: president’s web page

All political parties declared after the meeting that they accept snap elections to be held on 21 July, despite the judicial ambiguity of Zelenskyy’s decision to dismiss the Parliament and a possibility to question the legality of his decree in the Constitutional Court. Leaders of the Petro Poroshenko Bloc and People’s Front mentioned that the decree contravenes the Constitution. However, none of them said they will appeal to the court, but confirmed their participation in the elections.

Only Andriy Parubiy, Chairman of the Verkhovna Rada, wrote on Facebook that the decision of the President to dismiss the Parliament will be disputed in the Constitutional Court. However, because most of the parliamentary parties are not against the snap elections, and the process in the court may take a lot of time, the president’s decision seems to be indeed implemented.

The judicial ambiguity of Zelenskyy’s decree on the dismissal of the Parliament is easily explained. The Ukrainian Constitution names three very specific situations when the president can dismiss the parliament. One of these is the inability of the Verkhovna Rada to create a coalition within 30 days – a reason to which Zelenskyy appeals. De-facto, the coalition was gone two years ago, when three minor parties left it and only two remained. However, de-jure, the coalition ceased to exist only 5 days ago, on 17 May, when People’s Front left it as the last party. In reality, the law can be treated ambiguously, and the Parliament generally agrees on Zelenskyy’s interpretation.

On the other hand, things could be much worse if the Parliament adopted the new election system proposed by Zelenskyy. But there were not enough votes to include the president’s law in the agenda.

Zelensky’s law proposed to cancel the contemporary norm that 50% of deputies are elected by the majoritarian system. Instead, all 100% were to be elected by the proportional system. For Zelenskyy, who doesn’t have a well-built party in local districts, this would mean higher representation in the parliament. His contemporary electoral support of 37% of votes, according to the sociological group “Rating” would convert to a majority of seats if the new election system was adopted, leading to nearly unlimited power.

Zelenskyy’s second proposal was to lower the entry barrier for parties from 5% to 3%. This would lead many small parties into the new parliament and create a disunited opposition for Zelenskyy. Some oligarchic projects could also enter the parliament with a lower entry barrier, as it was in 2007 and 2010 when Yanukovych’s party used such projects for cooperation.

These two last-moment proposals by Zelenskyy are clearly against his own pre-election statements in support of open party lists. The only reason for these amendments is desire of Zelenskyy’s team to monopolize power.

Leader of Ukrainian Radical Party Oleh Liashko came to the meeting with Zelenskyy by bike. Possibly, by this he wanted to show that the new President does not act in accordance to his pre-election promises and campaign images. Source: Ukranews.com

The Government and Prime Minister do not support Zelenskyy, but they depend on the Parliament

Volodymyr Groysman could continue to work as a Prime Minister of Ukraine until the new Ukrainian parliament is elected. However, he decided to resign. During the press briefing, while announcing his decision, Groysman commented:

“After the new president was elected, I said that I am aware of the challenges and possible future threats. I invited the president and the parliament to jointly formulate the new agenda and make decisions very quickly to make Ukraine stronger… The President chose a different path, and I believe that today, with his statement, he took the responsibility for the future threats that are on the agenda.”

Previously, Groysman announced that he plans to create his own party and participate in the next parliamentary elections. He stated that he intends to change Ukraine further in the new parliament together with the team of his supporters. However, he didn’t specify who is going to be in his party and team.

Ukrainian ministers smile while, during his inauguration speech, Zelenskyy tells that “the government is our problem” and “Ukrainians are tired from experienced politicians who create possibilities for corruption.” Source: Screenshot from inauguration speech.

Groysman’s decision to resign doesn’t mean the government will collapse, though. The succession of power is clearly described in the Constitution. If the Prime Minister resigns, a new government should be appointed by the parliamentary coalition within 60 days. Until the new government is appointed, the previous ministers, or their deputies in the case of resignation, continue to be on duty.

The crisis of the contemporary Ukrainian situation lies in the absence of a coalition in the parliament to appoint a new government. Therefore, the whole country should wait several months until the end of the elections.

When Poroshenko’s Bloc has relatively low support and leads the anti-rating of parties, the only way for Groysman and his team to remain in politics is through the parliament. Groysman wants to go to elections with a governmental party separately, as an alternative to Zelenskyy. He may have good chances as he has what to show for his work in government.

Thus, the parliament has become the place defining Ukraine’s future. A dangerous situation would form if Zelenskyy’s team achieves a majority in elections.

Yet, the first decision of the Parliament not to adopt Zelenskyy’s election system is promising. In that way, Ukraine may avoid returning to 2010, when the party of ex-president Yanukovych had nearly exclusive rule in the Parliament, spending all previous foreign-exchange reserves and leading the country to collapse.

For Ukraine, as a young democracy with not yet stable institutions, it was always better to have different parties in the parliament with none holding a majority. In that way, political radicalism was impossible – unlike the prospects today’s situation beholds.

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