Ukraine needs decentralization of power - Political Advisor to the Vice-President of the European Parliament

Ukrainian government should reform the local self-government and establish a European model with expanded powers for local communities. At the same time, President Poroshenko aims and concentration all powers in his hands.

As reported by Censor.NET, this opinion was voiced by the Political Advisor to the Vice-President of the European Parliament Yaroslav Mendus in his article for New Eastern Europe. Please see the full text below.

Read also: Poroshenko: "I guarantee that oligarchs will never have influence on Ukrainian authorities again"

Thousands of Kyivans who gathered at the historic Sophyivska Square on New Year's Eve were pleasantly surprised to see, among the crowd, President Poroshenko and his wife. The presidential couple chatted hospitably to those present, wishing them and their families all the best. As per the designs of political consultants, such a gesture by the first couple of Ukraine was meant to demonstrate a new style in the behaviour of the newly elected head of state; and to bring into focus a striking difference to the public priorities of his predecessor, Viktor Yanukovych.

The latter is best remembered by Ukrainians primarily for his luxurious private residence, Mezhyhirya, a symbol of corruption; and for pompous corteges of a dozen bullet-proof cars that twice a day - in the morning and evening - sped through the capital's streets. Public roads were cleared by the police, creating huge traffic jams and causing cursing and honking by thousands of drivers, who were forced to wait for thirty to forty minutes while "His Majesty" passed through.

In contrast, Poroshenko's cortege, like a European leader's, moves at a steady speed and makes sure to stop at red lights.

At the same time it seems that the other great passion of Yanukovych, namely with regard to concentration of all powers in one pair of hands, suits his successor's taste.

Recent events related to attempts by Petro Poroshenko to amend the Constitution to his benefit, under the pretence of European democratic standards, cannot but cause alarm in the politically active part of Ukrainian society.

However, to understand these intricacies we should refer to the dramatic twists and turns of the constitutional process in Ukraine over the past few years.

The current parliamentary-presidential form of government was established partly as a result of the political crisis in 2000-2004, and partly as a political compromise between the main participants of the presidential electoral campaign in 2004-2005.

There were two main aspects to the reforms that were voted through the Ukrainian Parliament on December 8th 2004, which provided for transition to a classical European form of government. The first and at the time largely achieved aspect was top-down: a substantial reduction of presidential powers, but also provision for parliamentary elections and functioning coalition governments.

The second aspect was bottom-up: introduction, in the near-term, of a European model of local government - vesting local communities with real, devolved powers. It was hoped that local reforms would limit the power of state administration, on regional (oblast) and district levels. However, the local state administrative bodies still remain in place, and devolved government is a fiction. The local state administrations make decisions, instead of the executive committees that are supposed to be created by local councils. Heads of district and regional administrations, appointed by presidential decree, continue to treat local councils as inappropriate appendages that prevent them from "effectively managing"; these heads answer directly to the President and the Cabinet, but not to local communities.

In practice, along with corruption and a lack of accountability, this has exacerbated the estrangement of citizens from the government, and from the citizenry's involvement in making the most important decisions at local community level.

Under devolution, this second aspect of political reform, state administrations under the President were supposed to survive with radically modified functions. These include: coordination of the activity of security agencies; control of compliance with the Constitution by local electoral bodies; and control of fulfilment of government programs.

Over the following five years all potential presidential candidates and their political parties repeated in parliament, like a mantra, that the need for expanding powers of local self-governance had increased. However, apart from those statements, nothing was done.

In February 2010 Viktor Yanukovych won the presidential election and, as early as October 1st 2010, the Constitutional Court of Ukraine annulled political reforms and re-established the Constitution of 1996. Yanukovych concentrated unlimited power in his hands. In December 2010 the Venice Commission - an advisory board on constitutional law established under the auspices of the Council of Europe - assessed the legality of this October ruling of the Constitutional Court of Ukraine as follows: "… It is clear that the current constitutional framework based on a ruling of the Constitutional Court does not enjoy sufficient legitimacy, which only the regular constitutional procedure for constitutional amendments in the Verkhovna Rada can ensure". During four years of Yanukovych's presidency, corruption became the purpose of state activity; the judicial system as an independent institution had de facto ceased to exist; and parliament was turned into a voting machine that didn't debate the presidential administration's initiatives.

As a result, in November 2013 in response to a decision by the Ukrainian government to suspend the process of signing the Association Agreement with the European Union, at first thousands and then hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians gathered in protest movements.

On Yanukovych's escape to Russia, on February 22nd 2014, the Verkhovna Rada adopted a resolution to hold early presidential elections and voted for a law on returning to the Constitution of 2004 - with a parliamentary-presidential form of government.

Then, on May 25th 2014 Petro Poroshenko won the presidential elections. But in September an authoritative weekly newspaper, Dzerkalo Tizhnya (DT), alarmingly acknowledged: "The crust [remainder] of powers inherited by the current President, according to the renewed Constitution of 2004, is not a desirable prize. The President needs [to have] Great Power. DT.UA has already written that a number of judges for the Constitutional Court notified the editor's office of talks on the possibility of annulling the Constitution of 2004 and reviving the Constitution of 1996; which will, de jure, invest the current President with the powers of Kuchma and Yanukovych".

Probably because of negative publicity, and due to a reluctance to repeat the shameful practice of illegal pressure on the Constitutional Court akin to Yanukovych, Petro Poroshenko rejected that scenario.

Instead, on June 26th the President submitted a draft of amendments to the Constitution that provided for substantial strengthening of presidential powers, retention of a rudimentary form of state administration at district level, and certain limitations of the power of local communities when compared to the current order. In addition, under the current Constitution heads of state administrations are appointed by the President on the proposal of the government, but according to the amendments these appointments are the exclusive prerogative of the President.

All that did not prevent Petro Poroshenko from stating in his communication to the Members of Parliament: "Decentralisation proposed by us is assured by the European experience. This is an antidote against federalisation, a powerful vaccine against it".

Even close EuroMaidan companions of the President - the political parties Batkivshchyna and Svoboda - did not agree with such political logic.

In the absence of a vote in the parliament on the proposed constitutional amendments, the presidential team developed a new plan to achieve the desirable monopolization of power - through the organization of early parliamentary elections.

Petro Poroshenko's results in the presidential elections (54.7 per cent) infused him with the hope that the presidential political party would manage to win the Rada elections and single-handedly form a majority in the parliament. That would open the way to the formation of presidential government and a de facto return of the powers of his predecessor. However, the results were different: The President obtained the largest faction, but it was significantly smaller than he had expected.

The new coalition consists of five political parties that do not seem to support the idea of amending the Constitution for purposes of expansion of presidential powers.

At the same time, after the New Year holidays the head of the presidential faction in parliament said: "At the next plenary meeting I expect the establishment of a temporary constitutional commission headed by Volodymyr Hroisman, the speaker of the Verkhovna Rada. It will be in full contact with the constitutional commission of the presidential administration". To that, he added that Poroshenko's political party suggests starting with changes to the judicial system.

Changes to the system of government and establishment of a European model of local self-government were among the main requirements of the revolutionary EuroMaidan. It seems that the new Ukrainian leaders, like their predecessors, believe that Ukrainians are not mature enough to organise their lives themselves. They are ready to discuss expansion of powers of illegitimate local quasi-authorities on temporarily occupied territories of Donbas, but are afraid to vest local communities in other regions of Ukraine with real powers under a European model. They forgot that EuroMaidan was not a result of the political activity of several charismatic-leader parties in the parliament, but a true expression of people's initiative. And, after the start of Russian aggression, it was dozens of thousands of volunteers who appeared to be the most effective force against a disordered army and corrupt officials.

Most of the current Ukrainian leaders are former officials of a failed government. As in the times of EuroMaidan, they are not keeping track of their employers' - the citizens' - requirements. Almost a year has been wasted, without any radical reforms. Society is outraged by a number of high-profile corruption scandals involving representatives of the new government; and tricks with state powers against the background of military intervention by Russia are causing further public disaffection.

Ukrainians are able to put the government where it belongs, but under current circumstances it would be best if it understood the situation itself and - in addition to rhetoric about the European choice - put actions in place, including the real reform of local self-government.

Источник: https://censor.net.ua/en/n322954