A Certain Constitutional Amendment

Finally rifled through that Constitutional amendment our Chocolate Leader unveiled yesterday. Now you can, too, courtesy of Rada vice speaker Oksana Syroid, but it’s all in Ukrainian so let me voice the key points for you:

– instead of powiats we still have raions, but oblasts are called ‘regions’ in some cases. The lowest level of the local government is the hromada (Ukrainian for ‘community’);

– the hromada is now THE basic unit of local government: it exercises ownership over municipal property and it is in charge of its own budget and taxes. Raions and oblasts are only in charge of raion and oblast budget, not the taxes;

– local councils are more or less unchanged, though they are elected under a first-past-the-post system now (a system long reviled in Ukraine because how handy it is for local strongmen); however, the state executive power in the region is now represented by a lone prefect;

– prefects have basically an oversight role; they’re supposed to make sure local governments work together, and watch that they do not violate national laws or the Constitution in doing so. In special circumstances he is responsible for the local governments working with military and law enforcement authorities; i.e. what daimyo Moskal does now as Governor General of Luhansk. Prefects also issue acts, which are obligatory to follow in the region; it doesn’t say how much power those acts actually have;

– the entire passage about the Prosecutor’s Office being in charge of local oversight is gone; it is the prefect’s job now, apparently. Prosecution is also in for a lot of reform, but that’s an aside;

– prefects are appointed by the President after their candidacy is put forward by the Cabinet. A more reasonable system than the previous one, when everyone down to raion level were appointed by the President alone;

– all passages related to Regional State Administrations is gone, but one thinks prefects are going to have at least some kind of office and staff. Nothing as large or powerful as RSA was, though;

– Kyiv mayor is still not the Kyiv prefect. However, the amendment says that executive authority in Kyiv and Sevastopol (which never had elected mayors) is subject to additional laws, so one can only hope;

– Sevastopol’s status is gone, though; the Constitution now stipulates only Kyiv’s status as the capital. Actually, the entire passage about Ukraine being comprised of a list of oblasts is gone now, which hints at a major administrative border redrawing “taking historical, economical, ecological, geographical and demographical features and ethnic and cultural traditions into account”. Instead, it says that ‘Autonomous Republic of Crimea and oblasts are regions of Ukraine’, one may think ‘region’ is an umbrella term they came up with now;

– the President has the power to disband local councils in emergencies and in cases outlined in the Constitution. This is the most questionable part of the amendment, but it is borne out of recent experiences, when most local councils in Donetsk and Luhansk supported the separatists and their referendums. It also allows the President to keep a lid on newly-elected local councils in Donetsk and Luhansk, probably with a battalion of troops to descend on their pro-Russian asses if they so much as contemplate another ‘Novorossiya’;

– back to executive powers, local executive is now created by the hromada, not from the state. This is probably similar to how Crimea had it: its Council of Ministers was created and responsible to Crimea’s parliament. I may be wrong, but it certainly has similarities;

– the head of hromada is the head of the local executive, though;

– passage about city districts being organized by local city councils is gone;

– and yes, there is an entire passage about local councils stirring up separatism or breaking the Constitution: they are immediately disbanded, and the Constitutional Court then decides whether they should be disbanded permanently. Then Rada votes to disband them. In the meantime all local government in lieu of the disbanded council falls to a temporary state representative (i.e., again, what Donbas governor-generals pretty much do now);

This actually raises a point that, if the President can disband local councils for breaking the Constitution, any breach of national law, no matter how minor, could be considered breaking the constitution and thus grounds for disbanding the council. I can’t really say how realistic this particular scenario is, given that resistance from local councils is a problem, but I can see where this particular norm came out of.

And that’s more or less all; there are passages about local elections, but they’re generally uninteresting, so I left them out. On paper, this looks nice; however, as was already said, the President disbanding local councils raises some uncomfortable points. It depends on the President, perhaps; I know this sounds like whataboutism, but don’t other, more successful, countries have similar emergency powers? Of course, a power is only emergency when it is used in emergencies, not around the clock.

You could make a case that reformation requires decisive action, even if it is to disband uncooperative local councils. You could also make a case Poroshenko wants to be another Putin; I find that unlikely, but I’m biased, don’t you know it. You could also make a case that renaming governors to prefects does nothing (absent the entire regional state administration governors have). I don’t know, I basically read the comments and lost the will to argue anymore.

It depends on your point of view, perhaps. As it is now the amendment may equally succeed or fail, depending on your criteria on success and failure.

But, as the saying goes, if you don’t take risks, you don’t drink the champagne.

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A Certain Constitutional Amendment

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