Today, Ukraine celebrates Constitution Day, the day when Kuchma locked the MPs inside the Rada’s assembly hall until they voted the Constitution into law. It was a laborious process, and in these years Ukraine went from a presidential model to a semi-presidential model, then back to presidential, then back to semi-presidential now. Poroshenko today pledged his allegiance to the semi-presidential model, and I expect him to live up to that pledge.
Which brings us to the topic of our certain Constitutional amendment, concerning decentralization. Western observers can read the table of comparison here, courtesy of the Venice Commission, but the real reason I decided to go back to it was the fact that I did some of my own research yesterday, and had come to the conclusion that some Ukrainians are entitled fuckwads. They get handed what is essentially the French décentralisation with serial numbers filed off, and they still bitch that it’s, apparently, ‘not enough’, ‘not real’ and ‘Poroshenko usurping power’. In fact, a lot of the changes are more or less lifted out of the French model, with ‘regions’ as an umbrella term for the primary administrative divisions of the country, prefects as representatives of State in a check and balance role, and the territorial community (the hromada) being the cornerstone of the new model. There is, of course, the issue of how well this system is going to work in Ukraine, a semi-feudal land of local strongmen and former kolkhoz directors, but the alternative is even worse. Both alternatives, in fact: former kolkhoz directors in a unitary state is something I can live with, but former kolkhoz directors in a Bosnia and Herzegovina-like federation? No chance in hell.
The subject of most debate, of course, is the clause that says the President can disband disobedient local councils, if said councils breach the Constitution or national law. This is something not lifted from France, and in a country such as Ukraine, there is justifiable fear that this clause will be abused, if not by this President then by some future. Personally, I’d say its inclusion is understandable in the wake of the recent rebellion and war, and if occupied Donbass gets back, it would be handy for the government to keep a lid on it in case local authorities want to start another ‘Novorossiya’. Yes, sadly, this is a possibility, an all too real one seeing how most local councils in Donbass will be yielded to Opposition Bloc supporters or local strongmen with strong ties to Russia (or, worse, strong ties to separatists). Former Party of Regions stirred this war up; they started and spun Donbass separatism in the first place, and even if Russia hijacked that, there is no guarantee they won’t try that again at some later date.
However, I also agree that the President disbanding local elected bodies is a bit extreme, as well as possibly engendering abuse. Luckily, the Venice Commission seems to be in agreement with me, with their opinion amounting to this:
11. It seems fully justified that the President of Ukraine, in his or her capacity as guarantor of the constitution and of local self-government, should have the power to intervene – more rapidly and efficiently than the Verkhovna Rada – when the self-government bodies overstep their constitutional and legal competences and pose a threat to the sovereignty, territorial integrity and security of the state. The President’s power,however,should be limited to suspending – as opposed to terminating – the powers of the self-government bodies, and Item 81 and Article 144 paragraph 3 should be amended accordingly. A short deadline should be put to the Constitutional Court to decide the matter.The self-government bodies should immediately resume their powers in case the Constitutional Court ruled that the President’s suspension decision was unconstitutional and the interim authorized government official should immediately cease his or her functions. In the opposite case, new local elections should be immediately called by the Verkhovna Rada. This should be explicitly provided for in the Constitution.
This would actually be better than outright ‘terminating’, so I hope this is changed accordingly in the final draft of the amendment. Venice Commission also raises an important point that the Cabinet and the Prime Minister should have a say in dismissing the prefects (as they will have a say at appointing them in the first place), and I hope that’s changed too.
But more or less the Commission is pleased, and so am I. What I’m exceptionally pleased about, however, is that the Commission does not limit itself to simple criticism; instead, it offers possible solutions and corrections, and this is more than I could expect from most Western observers.
This is how it should be done. This is helping.
Read it all, it’s a fascinating read.
A very positive development.