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The new Ukrainian parliament at first glance

What will it look like?

July 24, 2019 - Valerii Pekar - Articles and CommentaryBlogs and podcasts

Election day, Kyiv 21 July 2019 Photo: OSCE Parliamentary Assembly (cc) flickr

Ukraine: The European frontier – a blog curated by Valerii Pekar.

The final results of the 2019 Ukrainian parliamentary elections have still not been declared, but the picture is already clear: President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s party, Servant of the People, has received 56 per cent of all mandates, the pro-Russian Opposition Platform 10 per cent, former president Poroshenko’s party European Solidarity and Yulia Tymoshenko’s Batkivschyna party both received almost 6 per cent while the new liberal party Holos, led by rock star Vakarchuk, mustered 4.5 per cent. The turnout was close to 50 per cent. What will the new parliament look like?  

There are many new faces, but this significant change is not the first time. When the previous parliament was elected in 2014, 56 per cent of its members were newcomers. Many Ukrainian voters failed to remember this, and again considered the renewal of the parliament as a panacea against corruption and violation of internal regulations. Unfortunately, this is not the case.

For the first time in many years, there is a very high concentration of power. This is not only an opportunity but also a responsibility. This concentration of power will only work initially.

Since the old electoral system with half of MPs elected in majority districts is still applicable during this election (recently made changes which introduces open party lists will enter into force in 2024), the largest group in the new parliament, as in the previous one, are people who came to promote their personal interests. A large part of them were elected in majority districts as candidates from the Servant of the People ruling party, because the party had just been created and had no time and resources for due diligence.

The number of dedicated reformers will be double that of the previous parliament. It will increase from 10 to 20 per cent. As before, any reform will be adopted by a complicated ad hoc coalition under pressure from local civil society and the west.

The president’s party, Servant of the People, has formed a unique one-party majority in the parliament. This is a fantastic opportunity to run the country, either forward or backward.

The opposition will be two-layered, like in the previous parliament. There will be a one-party majority and a democratic opposition, in addition to the pro-Russian opposition.

Committees are the most important tool of the parliament, although they always attract less media attention than lively plenary sessions. It is very important to have at least a few people from different factions in each committee who can really do the job. Looking at the lists of MPs, I do not feel much optimism about the formation of such committees.

The structure and the future of the largest faction, Servant of the People, should be considered separately. It will have a complex internal structure, which is a consequence of the quotas’ principle of formation (influential people and groups in the newly formed presidential team had their own quotas). This is always the case, as far as the ruling party in Ukraine was always formed situationally at the last moment (former presidents Kuchma, Yushchenko, Yanukovych, Poroshenko did the same). As a result, family friends, representatives of clans, dedicated reformers, and corrupted officials are all in one large mixed salad, as this happened at all previous elections.

What is the difference from the previous parliaments? Less direct control by the leader. For example, president Poroshenko, who liked micro-management, personally approved everything. President Yanukovych relied more on power and pressure. President Zelenskyy has no inclination towards micro-management nor to exert pressure on his comrades. Therefore, every group within this large faction will live their separate life.

In the beginning this amorphous amalgamation will try to vote in solidarity, at least to save face, but it would be difficult. Very soon factions within the faction will be formed. Then different scenarios will be possible. It could be a systemic and deep intra-party discussion on every occasion (in some democratic countries a one-party system with a strong intra-party democracy works well, as it has been for decades in Japan). But more likely, every mini fraction inside the faction will vote by itself, and then begin to trade voices, as it happened in previous years. Actual managers of the mini-faction will be the most important people, as far as they will be able to trade big packages.

Under circumstances of such high concentration of power, the government structure is a very important factor. The government can be formed in one of two ways, either political or professional. The political government means to share portfolios between colleagues and then enjoy life. In this case, the reforms can be forgotten. A professional government means to invite independent trustworthy professionals. However, such technocrats will have many demands because they have learned lessons of previous governments. But this is the topic of the next article.

In conclusion, it is necessary to emphasise that the elections were in general very democratic, honest and transparent, which nobody would have expected in Ukraine just 6 years ago. And more, this is the next step for Ukraine’s democracy, as far as every important group of voters (conservatives, liberals, leftists, pro-Russian) had its own relevant option and votes did not go towards the “lesser evil” as before; voting for rather than against something. This is a rare achievement in the region and an essential shift for the country’s democracy towards maturity.

Valerii Pekar is a co-founder of the Nova Kraina Civic Platform, a lecturer at the Kyiv-Mohyla Business School and a former member of the National Reform Council. He curates a blog on New Eastern Europe titled Ukraine: The European frontier.

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