Ukraine – Presidency in turbulences

This post first appeared on on 4 March 2014

The recent weeks have seen overwhelmingly fast-paced developments in Ukraine. After months of protests, the conflict between government and protesters escalated and resulted in the deaths of at least 88 people. Government and opposition agreed on the return to the 2004 constitution which curtailed presidential power, yet parliament later moved to oust the president and installed the speaker of parliament as acting head of state. This post will give a brief overview of the developments and explain what changes were introduced with regard to the presidency.

Return to the 2004 constitution

Following the Orange Revolution, parties agreed to amend the Ukrainian constitution of 1996 (before then the country had operated under an amended version of their Soviet constitution). For the most part, these amendment concerned the role of the president. After having been a prime example of a president-parliamentary system under which the prime minister and government was subordinate to the presidency, the 2004 amendments transformed Ukraine’s political system to a Premier-presidential system. In 2010, president Yanukovych and his Party of the Regions reverted these changes by having the Constitutional Court – now staffed with the president’s allies – declare the changes unconstitutional.

The agreement between president and opposition of 21 February included to once again return to the the 2004 version which was confirmed by parliament on the same day. As can be seen in the table above, the differences largely concern presidential power in government formation and dismissal as well as the president’s power to annul government acts. However, the president retains his powerful presidential veto. Given that an absolute 2/3 majority is needed to override a veto but only a relative majority to adopt a version that includes the president’s amendment, the presidency can still dominate the legislative process without much effort.

Ousting of Viktor Yanukovych from the presidency

One day after the signing of the aforementioned agreement, parliament surprisingly decided to oust president Yanukovych from office even though it appeared that he would agree to step down by the end of the year and clear the way for early presidential elections. While many media outlets reported that Yanukovych had been impeached, this is not quite correct as parliament failed to follow the procedures laid down in Art. 111 of the Constitution (unaffected by the 2004 amendments). These require that an absolute majority of deputies establishes a special investigatory commission. Following the investigation a 2/3-majority of all deputies must then bring the case to the Constitutional Court or the Supreme Court (depending on what the president is accused of). Only if the respective court confirms the constitutionality of the procedure and the allegations can parliament impeach the president with a 3/4-majority of its members.

Results of the vote to oust Viktor Yanukovych from the presidency

While the Ukrainian parliament passed its decision to remove Yanukovych from office with 73% of its members (and with unsuprising absences on the part of Viktor Yanukovych’s ‘party of the Regions’), the vote was thus not an impeachment of the president in the constitutional-legal sense. Admittedly, the actual relevance of this violation is decreasing by the minute – even though Russia uses it as part of their argumentation not to accept the new regime – and will likely be dismissed as a ‘procedural error’ once a new president is elected.

Speaker Oleksander Turchynov as acting president & elections on 25 May

On the same day, parliament also elected the former deputy Prime Minister Oleksander Turchynov as its new speaker. Pursuant to Art 112 of the constitution Turchynov then took over the role of temporary head of state. As acting president Turchynov is forbidden to exercise a number of powers, in particular he cannot:

– convey public addresses to either the Ukrainian people or parliament
– dissolve parliament or set a date for early parliamentary elections
– propose new ministers of foreign affairs and defence, or make appointments to the constitutional court or National Bank
– grant pardons

Parliament also scheduled new presidential elections for 25 May (given the limited powers of an acting president to dissolve parliament this is the necessary precursor to early parliamentary elections). Potential candidates include former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who was released from jail on the same day as the ousting of president Yanukovych, yet whose candidacy is seen with much scepticism among Ukrainians. UDAR-chairman Vitali Klitschko (read more about his presidential ambitions here) might have better chances. His decision to refrain from being part of the new government led by Arseniy Yatsenyuk was widely interpreted as a move to keep clear of any blame the government might attract over the necessary but painful economic reforms and thus start into the presidential race as a ‘fresh’ candidate.

[N.B.: The post previously stated that a 2/3 majority was needed for the final impeachment vote whereby in fact 3/4 are needed. Thanks to Justin Grove for pointing this out.]

Why Eastern Europe’s politicians are all atwitter & How to ride the waves of the tweetosphere

Politics and social media; why Eastern Europe's politicians are all atwitterFollowing the great success of my rankings of tweeting presidents and prime ministers in Central and Eastern Europe last year, I have now written a new post on the topic (an updated summary if you will) for my department’s research blog. In the process of writing, I also thought a bit more about how to make waves in the ‘tweetosphere’ – read my reflections below. Continue reading

Workshop on Research Interviews at UCL SSEES


Conducting Research Interviews: A Student-Led Methods Workshop
12 February 2013, UCL SSEES

On 12 February 2013, my colleague Erin Saltman and I will be holding a workshop on research interviews at UCL SSEES. The workshop is aimed at postgraduate research students who are either in the early stages of their research projects and plan to use research interviews or who are currently using interviews as part of their research. Continue reading

Tweeting politicians in Central and Eastern Europe, Russia & Ukraine – Part 2: Prime Ministers

Tweeting Politicians in Central and Eastern Europe_Part 2 Prime Ministers

Last week, I presented a ranking of tweeting presidents in Central and Eastern Europe, Ukraine and Russia. In the second part in my article series on tweeting politicians in the region, I look at tweeting prime ministers. Keep an eye on the SSEES Research blog where I will be posting a summary of my rankings and a few further thoughts in January next year. Furthermore, make sure to follow me and this blog on twitter (@pres_activism) to keep updated. Again, for the sake of this article I include Russia & Ukraine in the term ‘Central and Eastern Europe’. Continue reading

Tweeting politicians in Central and Eastern Europe, Russia & Ukraine – Part 1: Presidents

Tweeting Politicians in Central and Eastern Europe - Part 1: Presidents

Since Barack Obama’s use of twitter and other social media has been cited as one of the reasons for his succesful campaign in 2008, more and more politicians (or their PR advisors) have discovered the power and advantages of delivering short, 140-character messages to their supporters. The digital revolution has also not left politicians in Central and Eastern Europe unaffected. In this two-part series of blog articles I will therefore survey whether and how politicians in CEE use twitter – and who you should follow. Continue reading

Newsflash – Ukraine, Hungary, Kosovo

President Viktor Yanukovych has submitted a draft law to parliament which foresees the ban of party membership for civil servants. According to the draft, civil servants would have to suspend their membership during the time of their service. Furhtermore, civil servants who are registered candidates for the election to the Verkhovna Rada would be forced to take an unpaid leave during the electoral campaign.

The head of the Hungarian constitutional court, Peter Paczolay, called on the drafters of the new constitution to restore the full powers of the court. During a meeting with president Pal Schmitt, Paczolay said that there was no reason to uphold the current restrictions to the court’s powers to review laws passed by parliament. The governing parties had lately restricted the court’s power to review budget-related legislation; the drafters of the new constitution now proposed that the power of the court should be restored once the public debt is below 50 per cent of the GDP.

The highest court of the Republic of Kosovo ruled last’s month presidential election to be void. Following a complaint by opposition parliamentarians, the constitutional court investigated claims about irregularites during the vote. It is the second ruling concerning the head of state of Kosovo within only six months. Former president Fatmir Sejdiu resigned after the court declared that serving as party leader during his presidency violated the constitution.

Ukrainian president vetoes amendment bill on public procurement & publishing industry

Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych has vetoed the amendment bill ‘On amending some laws of Ukraine to improve the procedure of procurement of state ordered publishing industry products’. The bill introduces changes to the laws on publishing and public procurement.

Yanukovych justified his veto with the fact that the changes to the amendments would allow public authorities to conclude contracts for publishing products without following procurement procedures. Furthermore, the law foresees that public procurement procedures shall not apply when the state buys books. According to the president, this would give way to corruption and the waste of public funds. Furthermore, the changes contradict Art 42 of the Ukrainian constitution (protection of free competition).

Also, Yanukovych declared that an implementation of the bill in its current state might attract further criticism from the European Commission and the World Bank. These had repeatedly pointed out that the Ukrainian economy was suffering from severe problems in the area of free market competition, especially with regard to the exhaustive list of goods and services purchased by public authorities following non-competitive procedures.

Ukraine: One year (and 3 days) of Viktor Yanukovych

On February 25, 2010, Viktor Yanukovych was inaugurated as the fourth president of Ukraine. One year (and three days) have passed since then – time for a brief evaluation of his presidency up to date.

Most of the reviews of president Yanukovych’s first year published over the weekend were rather negative. Nearly every newspaper and media outlet had its own expert to say how Yanukovych was introducing ‘Neo-Soviet Rule in Ukraine‘ or ‘took an authoritarian path in his first year‘. But does it really look that bad? Unfortunately, it does. Ukrainian politics may not have taken a purely autocratic turn in the last year but instead of a continuation of the (partly imperfect) politics of democratic reform commenced by the Orange Revolution there has been a return to practices that made Yanukovych the winner of a forged presidential election in 2004. The fact that Yanukovych holds the highest ratings of politicians in Ukraine might be surprising to some but is indeed the direct result of his policies.

During his first year as president, Yanukovych has managed to re-arrange the polity and return to a pre-2004 state. After appointing more loyal judges to the Ukrainian constitutional court, the court suddenly decided that the constitutional amendments introduced in 2004/2005 were unconstitutional and that, thus, the constitutional in its original form was in place again. These amendments however, seen as great progress in the democratic development of the former Soviet republic, stipulated an independence of the prime minister from the president and laid the foundation for a healthy political competition and significantly increased the power of parliament. Now, as the president has again the power to deliberately fire the prime minister and appoint a new one, the political system rather resembles a presidential than a semi-presidential one; and Yanukovych made use of his newly won prerogatives. While a new prime minister was still installed before the constitutional court’s decision, last December Yanukovych exchanged nearly half of the government over night in the course of his ‘administrative reform’. Having regained the influence of the ‘old’ presidential office Yanukovych also managed to get rid of other obstacles. When constitutional scholars and opposition politicians declared that the constitutional court’s verdict had effectively been a constitutional amendment which would require early parliamentary elections, the president had the constitution amended and set dates for parliamentary and presidential elections by organic law. A constitutional complaint filed by a group of deputies has little chances of success.

But why is Yanukovych so popular among the majority Ukrainian population (we should not forget that there are people who oppose quite rigidly)? First and foremost, Yanukovych has been able to present himself as a ‘man of action’. By vetoing several bills (1, 2, 3) – seemingly under popular pressure – and promising improvements, Yanukovych could show that he understands the needs of the people by simultaneously blaming the government for deficient policies. This, together with implementing other (questionable) populist policies such as a the introduction of a dress code for (female) employees of the government ministries and the abolition of luxury cars for government officials lets him appear as somebody who takes on the big problems of the country. The fact that of all things former prime minister Yulia Timoshenko is currently tried for fraud only reinforces the image that the president’s measures are already taking effect. Furthermore, one could argue that many Ukrainians whose country has been hit hard by the financial crisis currently have other things to worry than perfectly Western-democratic politics.

One year is certainly not enough to evaluate the long-term effects of Yanukovych’s presidency. There is still a chance that Ukrainian politics come closer to a Western-Central European ideal and that authoritarian structures in the begin of the term might result in higher political stability towards its end (even though the chance of the latter is rather small). Until then, Ukraine probably remains in the category of the ‘odd’ countries where government officials will soon drive Skoda instead of Mercedes but the president still takes his helicopter to work.

Ukrainian MPs challenge constitutional amendments

53 deputies of the Verkhovna Rada, the Ukrainian parliament, have submitted a request for judicial review with regard to the recent constitutional amendments to the constitutional court.

The amendments passed by parliament on February 2, 2011, concern the dates of parliamentary and presidential elections. After the Ukrainian constitutional court declared the 2004/2005 amendments of the constitution unconstitutional, it is not clear whether this necessitates early parliamentary elections as several politics of the opposition and legal experts argue. According to the amendments, the next general elections will be held on the last Sunday of October 2012 and the next presidential elections on the last Sunday of March 2015.

Ukrainian president vetoes law simplifying city planning

Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych has vetoed the law “On the regulation of city planning activity” and submitted propositions for its change to parliament. The law had previously been criticised by several groups as abolishes mandatory public hearings and assessments of the environmental and architectural impact for urban development construction projects.

The law was initially passed on January 13, 2011; it is very likely that parliament will approve of the presidential amendments instead of overriding it.