Blockading the Verkhovna Rada

Kateryna Malyhina

For nearly a month Ukraine’s legislature has been paralyzed. The Party of Regions (PR) is blocking the work of the Parliament. The cause is the secret letter to NATO about Ukraine’s accession to the Membership Action Plan that was signed by the Head of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine A. Yatsenyuk. The PR claims that such an action was not sanctioned by the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, and therefore lacks the approval of the Ukrainian people. As a result Yatsenyuk had no right to put his signature to such an important document. Both de facto and de jure, they are right. But what in reality stands behind such an action?

At a first glance, the Party of Regions has dual benefits. On the one hand, it has raised its credibility in the eyes of people, showing that it acts as a true opposition, which seeks to ensure that those who are in power do not violate laws. On the other hand, referring to the “desire of the Ukrainian nation” and demanding a referendum on Ukraine’s accession to NATO, the PR does not explicitly oppose NATO, but at the same time strengthens the position among its traditional voters, who had already begun to doubt the ability of the PR, to defend their interests.

However, the list of the benefits for the PR in this situation does not end here. Having failed to gain power, the PR needs to fulfill its most important current task: that is, to prevent the normal functioning of Tymoshenko’s government, but not to advocate expressly for her resignation. There are two reasons why the PR will not take this latter step. First, by distributing social benefits, she is at the peak of popularity now and direct actions will only enhance her popularity. Second, it will benefit Yanukovych to let Tymoshenko “work” now, make mistakes, and thus show that her government is unable to lead Ukraine into a “bright future.”

By blocking parliament, the PR seized the opportunity to impede Tymoshenko’s plans, while acting within the law. Tymoshenko’s government urgently needs money in order to continue its mega-project named “compensation of lost deposits in the USSR Savings Bank.” The quickest and easiest way to obtain money is through re-privatization of companies, which has already been proven to work. Why put all one’s efforts in developing the economy, when one can quickly “redistribute” everything, referring to the unfair privatization in the 90s. That is why the Prime Minister has already made attempts to dismiss the Head of the State Property Fund Valentyna Semenyuk. Tymoshenko needs her own man for such a responsible position (incidentally, Andrei Portnov from BYUT was thought to be the replacement for Semenyuk). But this turned out to be far from easy. According to Article 85 §12 of the amended Constitution, the right to appoint and dismiss the Head of the State Property Fund has been allocated to the Verkhovna Rada. And the legislature is not functioning at this time.

But as the Ukrainian saying goes, “too much of something can be harmful.” The PR cannot block the parliament indefinitely. It is also highly unlikely that the PR will succeed in forcing through its own terms–to vote on the commencement to the Membership Action Plan only after a referendum–because it cannot at present gain a majority in parliament. To further block the work of the Verkhovna Rada will soon no longer be profitable. First, while the “30 days” before the President has the duty to dissolve the parliament (according to the Art. 90 §3 of Ukraine’s Constitution) are already counting down, Yatsenyuk has already stated that he will not let the Verkhovna Rada work for half a day and be blocked again afterwards. Therefore the only possibility to start the countdown from day one is when the parliament will be fully “unblocked.” Second, if the PR continues blocking the parliament, time will start to work against it in a while. The PR will be blamed for a new political crisis. Moreover, Tymoshenko will declare once again that she has been prevented from working, which will only improve her image.

There is one more risk when prolonging the conflict. The President may start exercising legislative functions directly from his office. Indeed, Article 93 of the Constitution states that the President of Ukraine has the right of legislative initiative; and according to Article 106 the president then issues decrees and orders, which are mandatory for execution, and Article 113 indicates that the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine is still accountable to the President of Ukraine. Thus, there is a risk of introducing the “direct” presidential rule: Yushchenko would issue the decrees that Tymoshenko’s government need, bypassing the parliament. There is no question that the Party of Regions recognizes this possibility.

Therefore, it is likely that conflict will be soon resolved and the Verkhovna Rada must resume its work in the nearest future. By permitting this to happen and despite the technical defeat, the Party of Regions will still remain the winner. After all, the problem is not NATO.

First published at ХайВей// HighWay on February 19, 2008


Distinguished University Professor, University of Alberta

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