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An empirical look at reform progress and parliamentary voting – Ukraine

April 12, 2017

In view of a few, less than encouraging recent entries that run very much contrary to ambitious statements and undertakings by the Ukrainian government to the IMF (notwithstanding those undertakings to be accomplished within a time frame that will simply not be achieved even with the best political will) several friends in Brussels have emailed the blog regarding the momentum (or not) of continued reform during 2017.

Perhaps such inquiries are understandable when reading official communiques and statements pushed under their noses appears, prima facie, to rub against what often appears here.

To be honest the blog has its limitations – mostly due to the dull thinking of its author, but also due to the fact that generally but one entry each day appears – and more often than not, it is an entry that is not the headline news of the day.  It can thus portray a warped or contrarian view if not read as part of a broader reading list.

Ruminations about policy, administration, structure and process, yes – churning out journalism or attempting to portray a news site for the masses, no.

So, an attempt at answering the question of just how glacial will reform in Ukraine be for the rest of the year?

Naturally time would be lost should Prime Minister Groisman (and Cabinet) face and lose a vote of “No Confidence”, as the protracted horse trading surrounding a new PM (and Cabinet) would undoubtedly occur at the expense of almost all else.

However, while a vote of “No Confidence” there may well be, Prime Minister Groisman will almost assuredly survive it.  Whether that will be a spur for a Cabinet reshuffle remains to be seen – perhaps the biggest question being is there any willing, capable and suitable candidates to replace current ministers if such a reshuffle was considered?

Whatever the case, the speed of reform under Prime Minister Groisman and current Cabinet is certainly slower than it was under former Prime Minister Yatseniuk and his Cabinet – in part because much of the “low hanging reform fruit” (and some difficult reform) was legislatively addressed under the previous government.  Much of what is now required is going to be “difficult” as wiggle room circumventing and/or compensating vested interests is now very much smaller.

Further many political eyes are already upon elections 2 years hence with pre-election electioneering clearly underway by some.  Passing necessary but unpopular legislation becomes less appealing.

If Ukraine reenters the commercial money markets by year end as expected, IMF leverage will be reduced.

Vested interests are already clearly pushing back most noticeably by the hijacking of votes and questionable amendments despite clear parliamentary violations when doing so.

Thus the changes to structures and processes upon which effective reform depend, at least those changes submitted by Cabinet for parliamentary vote,  are hostage to both the transparent and opaque forces that (sometimes rightly) rally against.

A most recent example would be the circus that surrounded the second parliamentary reading of Law 5336-1 which sought to codify changes to the structure and appointment processes of the Constitutional Court and “learned” judiciary therein.  Having been voted through on its first reading, the law was then subjected to a staggering 747 proposed amendments prior to any final vote to become statute.

Needless to say, there was no successful second reading and thus no legislative framework for reform of the Constitutional Court structures and processes.  (As always much disagreement will have to do with “power” and who decides who decides what within any new structure or process for a supposedly independent body from that of the body politic.)

Whether a reader chooses to believe this was a deliberate act of sabotage or whether the initially passed legislative text was so woeful (as Ukrainian legislation often is) as to require such a quantity of proposed amendment is perhaps a matter to ponder, but it brings this entry to where it was headed – an albeit less than nuanced look at parliamentary voting patterns and the policy areas that are more successful than others in terms of parliamentary success.

That by extension may help illuminate the more likely (and less likely) spheres for continuing UKrainian reform for friends in Brussels – or not.

Disclaimer:  As wary of statistics and opinion polls generated in Ukraine as the blog is, some results are more easily verifiable than others – such as parliamentary voting which is a matter of public record and therefore fairly simple to corroborate (given the time and will to do so).

According to a recent survey, Prime Minister Groisman (and Cabinet) manages to see 20% of its legislative proposals become statute.  Ergo 80% fail.  (Former PM Yatseniuk (and Cabinet) managed to get 36% of proposed bills to become statute.)

The current government’s greatest support comes from Arseny Yatseniuk’s People’s Front which has witnessed 79% of its MPs vote in favour of PM Groisman led initiatives.  This followed by Mr Groisman’s own party with 73% of its MPs having voted in the affirmative.  65% of  Samopomich MPs, 60% of Radical Party MPs and 50% of Ms Tymoshenko’s Batkivshchyna MPs also tend to vote along governmental lines.

Unsurprisingly,  OppoBlock 19% and 27% of assorted anti-government parliamentarians have voted in support of current legislative change.  (Of 49 successful Bills, OppoBlock did not cast a single vote in favour for 26 of them.)

So which ministries have been the most successful – and are they thus likely to retain sufficient support for continued reform?

Perhaps unsurprisingly considering the hitherto nod to external assistance, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has a 50% legislative success rate in the Verkhovna Rada under the premiership of Mr Groisman.

The Ministry of Regional Development has a 38% legislative success rate, followed by Ministries of Education and Culture with 33% and the Ministry of Defence with a 31%.   The Ministry of Infrastructure manages a 25% legislative success rate.

The Ministry of Finance has a 51% success rate – but has also probably been the Ministry (together with the NBU) to garner the most external lobbying/diplomacy behind its proposed statute.

Fairing nowhere near as well are the critical ministries Economic Development and of Social Welfare with an approximate 20% success rate.  That said they are both ministries that submit far more legislative proposals than those listed above (perhaps with the exception of the well lobbied Finance Ministry).

The poisoned chalice that is the Ministry of Health is about to have its time in the legislative spotlight in the immediate future.  Perhaps the Ministry of Justice later this year too.

So does this help identify where continued reform (and just as importantly reform consolidation) is most likely to occur?

Well perhaps, but much of the policy low hanging fruit required to be set in statute will have already been harvested, and the required legislation submitted by those such as the Ministry of Health (which retains a toxic civil service staff) remains for the most part untried.

To be sure most decentralisation legislation, and that enabling ties to European institutions and/or participation in European programmes will continue to garner support, but it is the purely domestic reforms that trample upon existing vested interests and blatantly corrupt schemes that remain far from certain and which are, for the most part, more critical to the economy and relevant to the Ukrainian voting constituency.

Oft woeful legislative text aside that deservedly receives scrutiny and rebuttal , does any of the above shed much light on the speed or quantity parliamentary reform successes and failures ahead for 2017?  Maybe, but probably not.

What inquiring friends in Brussels can be sure of is that it remains a long, slow, and meandering road ahead and new external leverage will have to be found if the most urgent and difficult issues are to be dealt with effectively.

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