Debate at the stadium, medical tests, challenges, provocations – it all is only a part of what the people willing to lead the country had to face this year. But do we need… a president? Opinion made an attempt to answer this question with the help of experts.
Does modern Ukraine need a president?
During several weeks, the whole attention of the Ukrainians is focused on the election of the president of the country. However… do we need this position? The experts’ opinions were divided. For example, Dmytro Sinchenko, the head of the public organization Association of Political Sciences, emphasizes that when more than one people answer, no one answers.
“Therefore, the position of the president in Ukraine is the implementation of the main governance principle. The position of the legitimate generally elected head of state is, first of all, a Ukrainian tradition. Our state was successful only with this form of government. Secondly, any country in war needs a president as a Commander-in-Chief. Responsibility is not shared, it is a personal quality, so the parliament or any other collective body of power cannot cope with the duties and functions of the head of state.”
But Liliia Brudnytska, the expert of the Center for Structural Politics “Choice” advocates the elimination of the position of the president, stressing that it imbalances the system of power.
“Even the Constitution of 1996 contains hints that this position will rather disappear in due course: a limited range of powers, lack of the presidential vertical of the power and an accent on representative function. With the political reform of 2004, the president’s functions were limited, but the possibilities for maneuvering and concentration of power were expanded – the president could become the sole ruler through the coalition. The presidents did not just want to be good faces of the state, they began to duplicate the authorities. What is NSDC? It is basically an advisory body under the president of Ukraine, which duplicates the power unit of the Cabinet of Ministers. What is the Reform Council? It is the expert meeting without responsibility, but with its influence. Each president believed that he had too little power, and each of them tried to expand it directly or indirectly: by duplicating various authorities, or indirectly – through blackmailing.”
Yurii Shulipa, the director of the international union “Institute of National Politics”, is convinced that for the time being, we must maintain the presidential post and the existing form of government. According to the lawyer, such changes are unacceptable in the conditions of war.
“In Ukraine, according to the Constitution, the President is the Supreme Commander. There are bodies subordinate to the President: Prosecutor General Office, SSU, military intelligence, armed forces, and most importantly – NSDC. NSDC provides the coordination and cooperation of the armed forces and law enforcement agencies to protect the national security and territorial integrity from Russian aggression. The presence of the president provides opportunities for operational interaction and coordination of all power and militarized structures.
Ukraine has been in the state of forced defense against the external and internal Russian aggression for more than 5 years. In the conditions of Russian military, political, economic and humanitarian aggression, when a part of the sovereign territories is temporarily occupied by Russia, Russia is waging a treacherous bloody war against Ukraine, changing the form of government from parliamentary-presidential to purely parliamentary is unacceptable under any circumstances.”
Is there a need for the parliamentary form of government in Ukraine?
A lot of representatives of the authorities, both in previous years and this year, delivered messages on the transition to parliamentarism. Thus, full support for this idea was expressed by the Minister of Internal Affairs Arsen Avakov. He assured that he has always advocated the elimination of the dualism of state functions.
“The president should not deal with everything – from energy to diplomacy. Even this parliament, in my opinion, is ready to support the parliamentary republic. The parliamentary system is more comfortable for everyone. In the next five years, in my opinion, it is an almost inevitable construction. If this, God forbid, does not happen, we have bad development prospects. The main break is not even the lack of structural reforms, but the dualism of power.”
By the way, then the words of Avakov were sharply criticized. The political scientist Valentyn Bushanskyi called it dangerous and such that will be willingly supported by Medvedchuk and Putin.
“I think that having heard such an opinion of Avakov, Medvedchuk was very happy. After all, the idea of a parliamentary republic for Ukraine is the main idea of Medvedchuk, which is always supported by Putin. The discussions about what is best – presidential, parliamentary or mixed republic are largely far-fetched. After all, in fact, any system can work successfully. The issue is not that there is one specific and the best model of state governance, but it is about how the selection process of politicians and highest state officials to the system is carried out.”
But the current president Petro Poroshenko assured a few years ago that the current form of government is the most optimal:
“I do not see any reason to question the form of government fixed in the current version of the Constitution. The parliamentary-presidential model is one of the consequences of the Revolution of Dignity, as well as an indicator of our involvement in European political culture.”
Dmytro Sinchenko explained that the parliamentary form of government is not characteristic of Ukraine and, moreover, may be harmful to the state at this stage.
“We can recall the lessons of history when the Ukrainian People’s Republic was a parliamentary republic, headed by the Central Rada. The activities of the CR led to the loss of our independence in its infancy. At first, the parliamentarians could not declare independence, then they could not create an army, and then they could not keep control over their territory.
In the days of independent Ukraine, the idea of transition to a parliamentary form of government was promoted only by the pro-Russian forces – the Communist Party and the Ukrainian Choice of Medvedchuk. And it is not surprising, because Ukraine with a parliamentary form of government is easier to conquer.”
The expert Liliia Brudnytska has quite a different opinion. According to her, in Ukraine, unlike in Russia, self-governors do not “take root”, and the position of the president is unnecessary and harmful in many cases.
“Historically, we are between two civilizational regions, in Ukraine, unlike Russia, self-governors simply do not take root. We have such a mentality: as well as each nation who is on the edge of the civilizational conflict, we think critically and are hardly ready to be under the Tsar, Hetman or any Sacred. Even as a part of the Soviet Union, Ukraine remained rebellious and, in fact, never fully subdued. Therefore, we do not need to copy anyone but rely on the ‘collective mind’ of the parliament, where the interests of all groups of society are balanced. It may be objected to me that the current parliament has become what it has become. I will answer: it was the supporters of “strong hands” and power ambitions that turned the Verkhovna Rada into the symbiosis of a kindergarten and a madhouse. We need to move to a parliamentary republic because the experience of 28 years has shown the uselessness and harmfulness of the presidential post in the form in which it is understood by all Ukrainian presidents.”
Are there any prerequisites for such changes?
According to Dmytro Sinchenko, the only prerequisite for the transition to a parliamentary form of government may be the election of an incompetent or inadequate president, who instead of defending the interests of Ukraine will begin… to give them up.
“And, unfortunately, this probability also exists. Some statements of the probable aspirants for the highest position in the state testified that they may betray Ukraine and dare to collaborate with the enemy in this or that form. Of course, if you choose between a harmful president and his absence, the absence is better. But re-election is a simpler and more effective way to solve this problem, with the simultaneous appointment of the Acting Chairman of the Verkhovna Rada. We already had such an experience in 2014, and it was quite successful.”
Liliia Brudnytska sees only one scenario for such changes in the country.
“In the current realities, it is possible only in one scenario: the one who wins the elections, cancels the presidency at the inauguration, the Rada votes and organizes early elections. Or adopts a referendum law and implements constitutional changes through a plebiscite. There are more than enough prerequisites.”
Yurii Shulipa believes that despite any prerequisites, the issue of changing the form of government can be discussed only after Ukraine becomes a member of NATO and the EU and the acquisition, the formation of political culture.
“Ukraine can only afford classical parliamentarism under the umbrella of military security within NATO and the umbrella of economic security within the European Union. It is worth considering that in many ways, including politically, Ukraine ceased to be a colony of Moscow only from February 20, 2014, after the victory of Euromaidan.
The real Ukrainian parliamentarism is very young, by historical standards, it is still an infant. This is, in fact, the youngest parliamentarism in Europe. The infancy of the Ukrainian parliamentarism, the internal and external Russian aggression, the underdeveloped economy, a high degree of corruption and unscrupulousness of the people who influence the formation of the parliament, do not provide opportunities for raising the issue of the transition to a parliamentary form of government at the official level.
The formation of the Ukrainian parliamentarism should take years, it is necessary to create parties of the new formations on the basis of the ideology of democracy and the development of universally recognized values of developed civilized countries.”
What are the risks and benefits?
Dmytro Sinchenko believes that there are no benefits, but we must strengthen the presidential position.
“As for me, on the contrary, we need to strengthen the presidential position, making him the direct head of the executive power – the government. At the same time, it is necessary to provide clear procedures for the removal from power of the president who has lost the trust of society, for example, by committing a crime or betraying Ukraine. We need a quality law on impeachment, which has long been under discussion, and which still cannot be adopted.”
But the parliamentary form, according to the expert, may bring troubles.
“The parliamentary form of government limits the president’s ability to make operational decisions for the defense of the country, it provides for the dependence of the head of state on the interests of deputies and their financial and industrial groups, complicates the process of reforming the country”.
But Liliia Brudnytska is convinced that a parliamentary form will help to balance the interests of different groups of the population. However, there are still some risks. At least because the parliamentary system in Ukraine is still immature.
“Especially the last convocation. However, when necessary, the Verkhovna Rada, even such as we have, shows a surge of responsibility, as it was with the martial law. The fact that there were party switchers and the corrupted votes is only a partial truth. Everyone who worked in the Verkhovna Rada at least during one session, knows that important decisions aren’t made without the balance of interests of various groups. What these groups are is a separate question – the deputies and fractions are just as people choose them. Therefore, we may lose the pace of reforms, but we will gain their reasonableness and proximity to the Ukrainian realities. Instead, the Prime Minister will represent Ukraine instead of the President, and he will not manipulate, will not get caught up in the ‘board games’, but instead lead more mundane conversations and raise economic issues. In the end, such representatives of the country are treated more seriously, and the results are more tangible”.
Text by Dmytro Zhuravel