“Decentralising” the coalition – A centrifugal force? Ukraine

October 8, 2015

Way back in November 2014, almost immediately after the Verkhovna Rada election winners had taken their oaths, this blog opined that there would be new Verkhovna Rada elections in the Spring of 2016.

At the time that prediction was based purely upon historical precedent.  In short, looking back at post-Maidan 2004 Ukrainian parliamentary history, every perceived “western leaning” coalition parliament has become more and more unworkable by the third session, and more or less ground to a stalemated halt by the forth session.  Occasionally the parliament has limped on for a while unproductively, but more often than not early Verkhovna Rada elections have followed.

Naturally historical precedent relates to circumstances somewhat different to those faced by Ukraine since March 2014 and the overt and aggressive Kremlin actions taken in all forms, not to mention a far more mobilised and cohesive civil society – however should any truce take hold in eastern Ukraine it seems likely that the political coalition cohesion will suffer if a “hot war” becomes a far “cooler” war militarily.

The Radical Party as expected when under investigation for numerous criminal incidents, has already left the coalition in order to be able to claim political persecution.  It could hardly remain within the coalition and claim political persecution when investigation into nefarious incidents occurring throughout 2014/15 are all beginning to reach the public realm as prosecutions begin.

The only immediate issue for the ruling coalition was the minor effect this has on reaching a constitution changing (300+ votes) majority for “decentralisation” and assorted other votes that require constitutional change – MPs and Judges immunity repeal, changes relating to the Prosecutor General remit, ratifying The Rome Statue etc.

However with the Opposition Block (possibly soon to be renamed the Party of Peace and Regional Development) supporting the constitutional “decentralisation” amendments, the loss of the Radical Party was no loss to be blunt.

Although it will be difficult, requiring party whips enforcing discipline and attendance (not a single MP expected to vote “for” being sick, lame, lazy or abroad on the day) when the “decentralisation” amendments require a constitutional majority, there is a possibility of forcing the vote over the finishing line, thus allowing for “decentralisation” legislatively (rather than practically) outside of the occupied Donbas in a politically timely manner.

It would be fair to anticipate this timely manner to be entirely politically expedient, and thus immediately prior to the New Year holidays.  The last week of the current session would seem favourite before the Verkhovna Rada closes for a few weeks and there is therefore nobody to demonstrate against within the building.

Undoubtedly matters are to be dragged out over the “Special Law” and “electoral issues” regarding any elections in the occupied Donbas – if they ever take place.

Any legislative fiddling with the “Special Law” and electoral issues pertaining to the occupied region would require a simple and attainable 226 majority to get through the Verkhovna Rada which is entirely doable.

The reasons for the Opposition Block supporting the “decentralisation” amendments are several and to understand them it is necessary to look at the as yet unplayed Kremlin card (that all no doubt are aware of).

Whether or not the “local elections” within the occupied Donbas go ahead, and under whatever law and circumstance, at some point The Kremlin is going to call for Verkhovna Rada elections due to the fact that these regions whilst remaining part of Ukraine, have no MPs to represent them in the Verkhovna Rada.  At some point this Kremlin demand will materialise – and be supported by most western governments as democracy would expect these regions to have MPs in the national legislature.  How could democracy promoting western governments refuse to support such a Kremlin call?

Although it seems highly unlikely that any political parties that rise from within the occupied Donbas will pass the national 5% threshold for the proportional representation vote, it is possible that some first past the post seats could fall to (Kremlin vetted and supported) “republican” candidates.

Whether any such candidates (if successful) would actually take up their seats within the Verkhovna Rada is a different matter.  There may be a Sinn Fein position taken not to sit in the seats won, for any successful MPs would have to swear the oath to Ukraine for a start – but more importantly, it would depend much more upon whether the Kremlin sees more propaganda mileage in a “principled refusal” to take up seats, or have their puppets within the Rada building.

As it seems extremely unlikely any national 5% threshold would be passed by any political parties rising from the occupied Donbas, the Opposition Block that once counted the region as an electoral stronghold will see the opportunity to retake its voter base (and its oligarchic assets) that was decimated by the illegal annexation of Crimea and the invasion and occupation of parts of the Donbas.  A more focused Kremlin outreach to those within the Opposition Block behind the curtain is entirely predictable prior to it playing the “national representation” card.

Thus once the “decentralisation” amendments are passed, the Opposition Block will be seeking early Verkhovna Rada elections – as will at some point The Kremlin, and a democracy promoting “West” will have no choice but to agree with the region being without MPs in the national legislature.

With a Cabinet of Ministers shakeup due imminently, and Ms Tymoshenko never slow to try and force her way up the political pole, it seems highly likely that she will try to put linkage between the Batkivshchyna support for the “Decentralisation” amendments with her becoming Prime Minister – Arseniy Yatseniuk’s days clearly numbered one way or another.  The only question is when and where he then goes – Presidential appointment as EU Ambassador perhaps?

Any such Tymoshenko overture will undoubtedly be dismissed as surely as it will be made.

Firstly it will be dismissed because she leads the smallest coalition party, secondly because she would swiftly alienate western support and international institutions like the IMF (again), and thirdly, to be extremely blunt, her grotesque populism and gargantuan ego have never once served Ukraine well be it politically, economically or socially.  If the 25th October local election results are a litmus test that somehow gives her ego encouragement, she would then be likely to leave the coalition (if the truce holds so as not to be seen to play to the Kremlin efforts for destabilisation).

With the Radical Party already out, should Batkivshchyna also leave, Samopomich may become an even more unpredictable partner (should Ihor Kolomoisky’s courting of it pay dividends) and the Opposition Block being exactly what its name states (most of the time), things will eventually grind to a halt – and as expected they are already becoming more difficult and more strained as historical precedent would predict.

It may also be that the continually assimilating Solidarity Party will look at the local election results as a litmus test and see political benefit in being far more forceful within the coalition caring not if it collapses in the anticipation of gaining in any early Verkhovna Rada elections.

All of these things, individually or several acting in concert, are likely to keep the blog prediction of November 2014 that there will be early Verkhovna Rada elections in 2016 alive and well.  That being so, and whilst on a constitutional amendment course, perhaps it may be worth considering making the Verkhovna Rada tenure shorter than is currently stated?  Perhaps elections every 3 years?  History would infer it is a reasonable suggestion.


Perhaps decentralisation of power to the periphery and local governance will prove to be the centrifugal force for this sitting Verkhovna Rada.

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