Text republished from LB.ua
The role of the Parliament in Ukraine is traditionally belittled. It is considered just a place where MPs vote and often fail the necessary reforms. That is why MPs’ work is perceived negatively. Shortly before the invasion, citizens had little or no faith in the Verkhovna Rada as an institution. Even the war did not significantly change public distrust of parliamentarians and political parties.
The true importance of the Verkhovna Rada was revealed in the first days of the full-scale invasion. At that time, Russia tried to take over our country, paralyze or completely destroy state authorities. But instead of fleeing, the absolute majority of MPs continued to work and make decisions important to the state. This became one of the foundations of Ukraine’s successful resistance.
The year of war changed the Parliament. Citizens have lost access to information about the work of MPs and cannot influence their decisions. The composition of the informal coalition changed several times. And despite the unity in the issues of war, the decisions necessary for the authorities are becoming more and more difficult to make. At the end of the year, we summarize the work of the Verkhovna Rada and highlight its greatest achievements.
How the factions and the coalition have changed
The Verkhovna Rada entered the year 2022 with an informal coalition of the Servant of the People faction with the For the Future and Trust groups. This is clearly visible from the vote for the principal financial document of the country — the Law on the State Budget. For the Budget-2022, Servants, For the Future, and Trust gave 255 out of 268 votes. The same trend was visible even after that: without the votes of the two groups, it was extremely difficult to pass any law.
But the closer the threat of a large-scale invasion came, the more MPs rallied. The declaration of a state of emergency and then martial law, general mobilization, more severe penalties for collaborationism, and changes to the budget were supported, as a rule, by representatives of all parliamentary factions. The so-called “defense coalition” was formed. Oleksandr Kornienko, the First Vice Speaker, noted at the end of March that there were fewer discussions in the parliament but the quality of draft bills became much better thanks to the joint work of the MPs.
Behind the facade of synchronous voting, the configuration of the parliament was changing. The full-scale invasion put an end to the party, and accordingly to the faction Opposition Platform — For Life. Despite the ban on this political party by the decision of the National Security and Defense Council, and then by the court, MPs nominated by it still continue to work and even formed two new groups: Platform for Life and Peace and Restoration of Ukraine with 25 and 19 MPs respectively.
The so-called Monaco Battalion appeared — a list of MPs, officials, and businessmen who fled abroad on the eve of or during the invasion. Among them, journalists named MPs Vadym Stolar, Ihor Surkis, Serhii Lovochkin, Yurii Boiko, Natalia Korolevska, Vadym Rabinovych, Taras Kozak, and even Andrii Derkach accused of financial crimes in the USA.
There were also rotations. Andrii Kostin became the head of the Prosecutor General’s Office, Olga Sovhyra was elected to the Constitutional Court, and Rustem Umerov became the head of the State Property Fund. Some MPs just resigned — like Illia Kyva or Yuliia Lovochkina. Vadym Rabinovych and Ihor Vasylkovskyi lost both their citizenship and mandate. And the traitor Oleksii Kovalev paid with his life for the decision to side with the occupiers.
New MPs appeared to replace those who were dismissed and were elected via party lists. For example, Maksym Khlapuk took the place of Rustem Umerov. But in order to replace MPs elected in single-mandate districts, by-elections are needed, which cannot be held under martial law. Since February, the Verkhovna Rada has lost five such MPs. Potentially, these are the votes that sooner or later will hinder the ability of the coalition to pass laws.
Already in September, some MPs from the opposition accused the majority that without the votes of MPs from the banned Opposition Platform, the monocoalition would not have the votes to make decisions. Olena Shuliak, head of the Servant of the People party, admitted that such cooperation really existed and that these MPs “work very constructively and support all monomajority initiatives.”
As of December, draft bills for the military and citizens are still being supported by the constitutional majority. But fundamental initiatives for the government will fail without the support of MPs from the Opposition Platform. This would have been the case with the appointment of the members of the Accounting Chamber, the introduction of a competition for the position of a judge of the Constitutional Court, the reform of urban planning rules, and even a change in the composition of the Cabinet.
How military decisions were made
Without a doubt, our people would continue the resistance under any circumstances. But the ability of a state to maintain organization and order under critical conditions is what makes the difference between success and failure in war. Therefore, the first and greatest achievement of the Parliament for the year is that the elected officials dared to gather in the first hours of the full-scale war and demonstrated that authorities work and the state is not headless.
On the morning of February 24, MPs quickly gathered for an extraordinary meeting, at which they with 300 votes supported the President’s declaration of martial law, and later — the announcement of general mobilization. Today these decisions seem banal, but the role of the Parliament should not be underestimated: without its approval, these laws would not be in place.
By meeting and voting, the parliamentarians gave the President, the executive branch, and the military the necessary freedom of action. Also, it definitely had a positive effect on the mood of Ukrainians in those critical hours, showing that the state works despite everything.
In the future, the work of the Verkhovna Rada lost a little pace and enthusiasm, but within the walls of the Parliament, there were never any problems with voting on issues related to the war.
The Verkhovna Rada has repeatedly redistributed significant funding from the State Budget to defense needs. During the year, the total amount reached about one trillion hryvnias. This, together with military support from partners and help from volunteers, made it possible to provide our troops with the means necessary to confront the enemy.
The Parliament also took care of the service members themselves: recently, MPs settled the issue of their vacations. Previously, the law did not allow military personnel to go on vacation under martial law. However, the long full-scale war demonstrated the obvious: everyone needs to rest, especially people who defend the country with weapons in their hands, have crazy workloads, and don’t see their families for months. Therefore, the permission to use 10 days of annual leave will have a very positive effect on the morale of the troops.
Despite all the internal political struggles and security risks of holding meetings, the Parliament always responds promptly to the defense needs and supports the draft bills related to the war. Thus, at least with issues related to war MPs do the work they are supposed to.
The problem of non-military initiatives
In addition to laws required for military needs, MPs adopted other important initiatives. One of them is the ban on live broadcasts of the meetings of the Verkhovna Rada while martial law is in effect. In fact, there have been no broadcasts from the Parliament since the beginning of the war, but MPs formalized this decision only in September. Even earlier, information about the dates of plenary sessions, agendas, MPs, factions, committees, and committee work disappeared from the official website.
After this decision, the public lost the opportunity to control the work of MPs. Stakeholders learn about all the decisions only after the fact from MPs’ personal Telegram channels. Under such conditions, it is impossible to influence the MPs. The Parliament has actually turned into a closed club that works in a shadow mode and can make any decision disregarding public opinion.
This is how the high-profile draft bill on urban planning reform appeared. Since it introduces significant corruption risks, the infringement of architects’ copyrights, and deprives local governments of some powers, it was opposed by the community of architects, the Association of Ukrainian Cities, the All-Ukrainian Association of Amalgamated Territorial Communities, as well as representatives of at least eighteen NGOs. What’s more, the NAPC discovered numerous corruption risks in the bill, which were not corrected by the dedicated parliamentary committee.
The bill was supported by 228 MPs from factions and groups that formed a new informal coalition: Servant of the People, For the Future, Trust, Platform for Life and Peace, and Restoration of Ukraine. A few days after the vote, a petition to the President calling for a veto on this bill was signed by the necessary 25 thousand people, and in two days — by almost 42 thousand. Never before have so many Ukrainians signed a petition so quickly and with so many signatures against a parliamentary decision. Now everything depends on the President.
The situation is similar to the liquidation of the infamous Kyiv District Administrative Court. This decision became, perhaps, the most discussed political event of the last days of 2022. More than two years ago, the public made a request to the President to do that. The President prepared and submitted a draft bill to the Verkhovna Rada in April of 2021. It lay there for 20 months until the Parliament fulfilled the request from the public.
The law is very simple in its essence, but it raises a whole mountain of philosophical questions. It resembles the amputation of an organ where under normal conditions a course of antibiotics would have been sufficient for treatment. The liquidation of the court solved the problem that was supposed to be addressed by the NABU, the Specialized Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office, and the Higher Anti-Corruption Court. These bodies were created specifically for that. Several waves of judicial reform were implemented to solve problems like that.
The inability of the entire legal system to hold the judges of the Kyiv District Administrative Court accountable and properly clean up the judicial branch calls into question the quality of these reforms. It raises questions about the effectiveness of the entire system of anti-corruption bodies and demonstrates that it works not as well as it is supposed to. Therefore, in the future, anti-corruption reform will be on the parliamentary agenda more than once again.
The problem was finally solved at least in such an ambivalent way. However, it does not mean that judges guilty of corruption should not be taken accountable.
Another decision that was adopted extremely quickly and without public discussion is the law on national communities. The issue of the rights of national minorities in Ukraine has always been extremely politicized. First of all, by Russia, but from time to time similar disputes arose with neighboring western states that are part of the EU. Therefore, as expected, the adoption of the new law was included as a requirement for joining the EU.
Ukrainian legislators have developed such a liberal draft bill that it partially destroys the achievements of the Law on the State Language: MPs decided to allow private educational establishments to violate the provisions on the use of the state language. The state once again creates a situation where part of its citizens will be unable to speak Ukrainian fluently.
We are once again returning to the times when not only the constitutional requirement for the state to promote the use of the state language is violated, but also we create unequal conditions for certain minorities. After all, the ability to obtain a high-quality higher education, access the national labor market and other public services depend on the quality of command of the state language. On the other hand, insufficient language skills prevent a person from exercising his or her rights and reduce the mobility of representatives of national minorities, which has a very bad effect on the quality of life and well-being of people in the modern world.
The war year showed that the Parliament should not be underestimated. Despite the aggression, constant shelling by war criminals, and their desire to decapitate the authorities of Ukraine, the Verkhovna Rada continued its work. The aggressor’s plan has failed: MPs meet regularly, hold discussions and make decisions. Bills needed to successfully repel the enemy almost always have enough support. At least regrinding the war, the MPs were able to establish cooperation and a common vision.
At the same time, there are significant risks of losing public control over the Parliament. The Verkhovna Rada ceased to be public and disappeared from live broadcasts. You can find out about the decisions it makes only after the fact, and it is almost impossible to revert them. On the other hand, the draft bills that society requires are not adopted for years. Others, which are heavily criticized, are adopted by the majority.
The longer the citizens have no influence on MPs, the greater will be the gap between voters and their representatives in the highest and only legislative body of the country. The reconstruction process under such conditions will be much less inclusive than it should be in a country with such a large population and territory. This will bring significant risks not only for political elites but also for the sustainability of reforms and the success of the process of reconstruction.
If the Parliament continues to work without public discussions, the system of checks and balances will be threatened. This may delay Ukraine’s accession to NATO and the EU, as well as set back the development of democracy in Ukraine for years.
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