Coalition stresses

January 3, 2015

At the end of last year, (last week), an entry was published about the budget that is (but isn’t) for 2015.  In short, enough was done to allow the government to enter 2015 technically within the letter of the Ukrainian law, and also providing the IMF with enough grounds to return to Ukraine on 8th January.

The budget was passed by a vote of 233 MPs.  Not a particularly robust number, but enough, after the promise to revisit and amend the budget prior to 15th February.

That so many MPs present did not vote for the budget, to be blunt, is fair enough.  Amendments were orally accepted on the day of the vote, to what was already acknowledged as something far from perfect.  All MPs were asked to vote on a document that contained none of the orally agreed changes, for there was no time to change the document and resubmit it before the vote.  Thus, it is very difficult to be overly critical of MPs who did not vote for a non-existent definitive budget document.  Indeed it is as easy to be critical of MPs who did vote for budgetary document that did not exist.

Whatever the case, enough was done to meet the requirements of political expediency on that particular day – which is no way to govern a nation of course.  Yes there is a war on-going in eastern Ukraine, but that is not a universal excuse for the trashing of procedure and protocol at every juncture for the sake of political expediency – and it is certainly no way to set a political foundation for reforming a nation.

It is clear from the current budget – as notional as that may be until 15th February – that the necessary butchery of Naftogaz Ukraine is not going to occur in 2015.  It is also clear from the budget that the much touted decentralisation of certain powers to the regions is not going to occur in any meaningful way during 2015 either.

Indeed, amongst many other important issues, it seems unlikely that 2015 will see the RADA MPs successfully vote to remove their immunity (seemingly they being lost somewhere in the gap between non-liability and inviolability) either.

The problem with several major proposed reforms (as well as meeting some of Ukraine’s (now ratified) obligations under the EU Association Agreement) is that the Constitution requires changing to accomplish it.  Changing the Constitution will not be easy – even with a coalition Constitutional majority.  Amendments will have to be submitted, debated, undoubtedly submitted to the Venice Commission for review (either by those “for” or “against” any specific changes), and eventually, perhaps, garner a constitution changing vote count in the RADA sometime before the end of 2015.  October at the earliest – prior to 2016 if the winds blow favourably.

However, it is the issue of holding together a constitution changing majority – and therefore the current coalition – that returns us to the 2015 Budget vote, when looking forward.

Little has been stated anywhere, that amongst those that did not vote through the budget (that isn’t), was Yulia Tymoshenko’s Batkivshchyna Party in its entirety.  Not a single vote from a Batkivshchyna Party MP was cast in favour of the 2015 budget – despite the ramifications for Ukraine had it failed to pass with regard to the IMF returning.

It has to be noted, of course, that a quick count around the RADA prior to the vote will have informed Batkivshchyna whether there was enough MPs willing to vote through the budget without their help – thus allowing for a “principled position” to be adopted without detrimental effect to Ukraine.  Has there not been, perhaps the Batkivshchyna position may have been different.

Such a ploy is often seen at UN votes.  It is not unusual to see “Nation X” vote in a way that would seemingly be far from in its political leadership’s interest – though voting in such a way would curry favour with powerful nations from which it may gain concessions – in the full knowledge that the issue will be subject to a veto, and thus the favourable perceptions can be presented, whilst the implications never impacting.

However, it may also be that Ms Tymoshenko is struggling to suppress her inherent  populist nature.  It may be that simply being part of the rank and file, albeit the leader of the smallest party in parliament, is simply not good enough for her ego.  As has been written here many times historically, in Ms Tymoshenko’s world, people work for her, or against her – but not with her.  At some point she will inevitably default to populist type, and claim to be “the voice of the people”.  By extension, the coalition majority will then either be “for” her, or “against” her – and thus “for” the people, or “against” them.  The consequence, perhaps, Batkivshchyna leaving the coalition.

Therefore, as giant reforming legislative leaps are not going to happen tomorrow – and neither should they be expected to, if they are to be of a quality that will serve the nation in the years and generations ahead – can the majority coalition, that will require all Batkivshchyna votes to be a Constitution changing majority, keep Ms Tymoshenko (and Batkivshchyna) within the coalition until the year end at least,  which is probably the earliest we can seriously expect any major legislative leaps to occur?

Naturally, the war in eastern Ukraine and constitution changing aside, there are a great many small but necessary steps Ukraine can and should take, whilst dealing with the biggest reform issues methodically and sensibly – though accomplishing even small genuine reform steps is going to require continued and sustained political pressure from the west.

A question for the beginning of 2015 however, is how to interpret the Batkivshchyna (Ms Tymoshenko’s) actions/inactions during the vote for the budget at the conclusion of 2014?  A principled position knowing it would not effect the outcome of the vote, or a sign that Ms Tymoshenko simply cannot control her ego for much longer?

Though there are clear strains between President Poroshenko’s block and Prime Minister Yatsneiuk’s People’s Front, they are perhaps far more manageable behind closed doors than they actually appear.  Perhaps we should be looking toward any possible coalition unraveling, and the potential loss of a constitution changing majority, elsewhere.


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