On 21 April, comedian Volodymyr Zelenskyy won a landslide victory at the runoff round of the Ukrainian presidential elections.
Days after the elections, a video address was shared on social networks in which Zelenskyy blamed the Central Electoral Commission (CEC) in not giving him the Bulava – a 750-gram gem-incrusted golden-plated silver mace which is one of the symbols of presidential power:
“Someone is hiding the mace from me. I will explain what is happening: the CEC is delaying the official announcement of the results so that the Verkhovna Rada could delay the date of the inauguration. So that the inauguration takes place after 27 May. Why? So that President Zelenskyy would not even be able to think about dissolving the parliament,” said Zelenskyy.
Zelensky is talking about the legal six-months term when the Rada can’t be dissolved prior to the October regular parliamentary elections; however, it, in fact, starts from 27 April, not 27 May, as Zelenskyy’s team counted it. However, the CEC acted within the law; Zelenskyy had no reason to attempt meddling into its work. His statement reflects his ongoing populist rhetoric about the “old system” consistently putting spokes in his wheels.
Later when the CEC declared the results of the presidential vote, Zelenskyy and his team switched to blaming the Parliament, which approves the date of the inauguration. Zelenskyy urged the Rada to set the inauguration date on 19 May, was seen by many as inappropriate, as it is commemorated as the Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Political Repressions.
Finally, on 16 May the Rada voted for a resolution setting the inauguration of the President-elect for 20 May.
Days after the runoff round of the elections, members of the Zelenskyy Team started talking that they can’t fulfill the promises Zelenkyi used as slogans of his campaign, since they are outside the scope of presidential powers. This gives rise to assumptions that Zelenskyy wants the parliamentary elections to be held quickly, as with time his electorate will inevitably get disenchanted, garnering less support for his (so far, virtual) political force.
What are the legal prerequisites for the dissolution?
Article 90 of the Ukrainian Constitution foresees gives only three situations in which the President can dissolve the Parliament:
- when the Rada didn’t form the coalition of deputy factions within a month (according to Article 83, 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 of Ministers was dismissed;
- when the Rada can’t start its plenary meetings during 30 days of its session.
Meanwhile, “Powers of the Verkhovna Rada can’t be prematurely terminated by the President of Ukraine in the last six months of the term of the powers of the Verkhovna Rada or of the President of Ukraine,” the same Article 90 states.
The next parliamentary elections are scheduled for 27 October 2019. This means that the six-months Rada “dissolution immunity” should theoretically start 27 April and there are no legal reasons to dissolve the Parliament until the next regular elections next fall.
But the Zelenskyy Team is eager to do it on the peak of the popularity of the President-elect. That’s why they are going to try using courts.
Does the Zelenskyy Team have legal grounds?
Yesterday at a political show on Kolomoikyi’s 1+1 TV channel, Dmytro Razumkov, a spokesman for Volodymyr Zelensky, explained that the Zelenskyy Team believed that the Rada did not, in fact, have a coalition, despite it formally existing.
“There are prerequisites giving the president the opportunity to dissolve Parliament. They are very clear and spelled out in the law. One of these prerequisites is the lack of a coalition, and in my opinion, there is no coalition today,” Razumkov said.
If the Supreme Court would rule that there was no coalition, then, in theory, it may lead to recognizing that the Parliament should have been dissolved a long time ago. However, no such precedent occurred before and it is hard to predict the legal consequences of such a decision. Moreover, even if it had to be disbanded, there had been no corresponding presidential decree.
Can Zelenskyy overcome the “dissolution immunity” in some other way? Here, judges may be helpful.
Taras Shevchenko, director of the Center for Democracy and Rule of Law, said that there can be three ways to count the date after which the Rada can’t be disbanded:
- 27 April – six months prior to the parliamentary election day, since the elections will be carried out on 27 October;
- 27 May, since the Rada came to power on 27 November 2014 and has the formal term of five years;
- 14 June, according to judge Pavlo Vovk, who said that the date should be counted not from the day of the MPs being sworn in, but from the day of the first Rada session.
The last date was criticized by Yuliya Kyrychenko, manager of projects on Constitutional law at the Center of political-legal reforms, as a manipulation.
Parliament fights back after appointing inauguration date
Meanwhile on Friday, 17 May, former PM Arseniy Yatseniuk’s party People’s Front left the majority parliamentary coalition “European Ukraine” which was created on 27 November 2014. It united the factions of the Petro Poroshenko Bloc, People’s Front, Samopomich, the Radical Party, and Batkivschyna.
The coalition consisted of 302 MPs. Later, minor parliamentary factions of Samopomich, Radical Party, and Batkivschyna announced their withdrawal from the coalition, though there were still enough MPs remaining to keep the coalition in power.
With the withdrawal of the People’s Front, the ruling coalition has ceased to exist, which was announced by Rada Speaker Andrii Parybiy. This gives an additional month for the Rada to form a new coalition. Then, the President can’t dissolve it, as the date surpasses even judge Vovk’s overbroad interpretation of the legislature.
The presidential mace contains a hidden three-edged damask blade bearing the engraving omnia revertutur, Latin for everything returns.
Today’s breakup of the parliamentarian coalition giving to the Rada at least a month in power shows that the Rada is going to fight for its existence until the regular elections.
Now, the Zelenskyy team has switched from blaming incumbent President Poroshenko for everything to accusing the Parliament.
The strategy is simple: even if courts would not allow dissolving the Rada, blaming his predecessor and the Parliament for all possible problems can save some popular support for Zelenskyy. He has already won the presidential elections, riding the wave of hatred towards Poroshenko.