“Man’s word is his bond” ‒ these words describe the draft law on the impeachment of President by Volodymyr Zelensky, one of his election promises. Well, striking the iron before it gets cold is a quite acceptable approach for a politician. Moreover, against the backdrop of the dissolution of the Verkhovna Rada and the opportunity in a short time to pack into the new Parliament as many loyal people as possible. So far, the Rada has not considered too much from the initiative of the president-elect ‒ in less than a week the presidential draft was not included in the agenda.
Hello and goodbye!
Already in the first days of Volodymyr Zelensky’s presidency, a paradoxical situation developed. On the one hand, the triumphal inauguration speech was accompanied by approving shouts and applause of supporters under the Verkhovna Rada building and a solid rear with more than 73% of those, who voted for a new face in Ukrainian politics. On the other hand, the active part of society, those from that quarter of the votes that went to Zelensky’s opponent, immediately set about trying to remove the new President from his post.
On the first day, on May 20, a petition was made on the need to adopt a law on the impeachment of the President. Less than half of signatures from the required for consideration of the document 25 thousand was collected so far. However, there is plenty of time for signing ‒ almost until the end of the summer. However, the other petition “For the resignation of President Volodymyr Zelensky”, filed two days later at the website of the head of the state, is doing much better. The required 25 thousand signatures were scored quickly, in less than two days. When there were around 60 thousand signatures, it was indicated that the collection of signatures is completed, the petition is pending.
However, the requirements of the dissatisfied with the current President of Ukraine are unlikely to be fulfilled. Often, such activities are similar to a hole in the head, although the reaction of the authorities to the petitions is obligatory.
Nevertheless, it is necessary to dwell in more detail on the legislative initiatives providing for the removal of the President from office. One of them was initiated by Mr. Zelensky himself. On May 29, a bill № 10340 “On a special procedure for removing the President of Ukraine from the post (impeachment)” was registered at the Verkhovna Rada. Ruslan Stefanchuk, the presidential representative in the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, assured that this promise was fulfilled, and no one has such a draft law. What is the peculiarity of this document?
Proposals of the sixth President
In fact, the President had mentioned the election promise somewhat late, and during the inauguration, he altogether avoided the issue of impeachment. At the same time, he immediately announced the dissolution of the Parliament. Many experts are convinced: the decision is illegal because the newly elected head of state was guided solely by political motives, so there are no legal grounds for dissolving the Verkhovna Rada. In any case, the final word on this matter should be said by the Constitutional Court before the end of June. If it declares dissolution unconstitutional, then the early elections on July 21 aren’t going to happen. And this option does not seem impossible, although there are assurances that the electoral process can no longer be stopped.
In fact, there are few novelties in the presidential bill on impeachment. According to lawyers, its 80% copied from the regulations of the Verkhovna Rada. In addition to parliamentary regulations, the impeachment procedure is spelled out in the Constitution of Ukraine. It is used only if the President is accused of committing treason or another crime.
“There is a legal and political side of the medal,” says Ihor Koliushko, the Chairman of the Board of the Center for Political and Legal Reforms, on the air of UR-1. “I’ll start with a political one. Presidential candidate Zelensky promised this bill and it is right that he fulfills the promise. But he also promised much more, and much more relevant. This is done to divert public attention from the first unsuccessful steps of the President: hardly constitutional Decree on the early termination of powers of the Parliament, hardly legitimate Decree on appointment of the head of the Presidential Administration. So to make everyone stop talking about it, he introduced a bill on impeachment. From a legal point of view, this document gives nothing. All conditions of impeachment are defined in Article 111 of the Constitution. The President of Ukraine is one of the most protected in the world.”
At least 226 people’s deputies, that is, the parliamentary majority, have to initiate the procedure of distrust to the President. The Special Temporary Investigation Commission (STIC) should conduct an investigation into the signs of a crime, according to the results of which the Supreme Court (SC) should approve the corpus delicti, and the Constitutional Court (CC) should confirm the entire procedure. And only after that – three-quarters of the constitutional composition of the Verkhovna Rada (that is 338 people’s deputies) must vote for impeachment. Such unanimity should not wait for any composition of the Parliament. The procedure is so unlikely to succeed that it has never been tried.
“The impeachment procedure is very risky,” Yulia Kyrychenko, a constitutional lawyer, a board member at the Center for Political and Legal Reforms, confirmed to Opinion. “Even in relation to Yanukovych, they didn’t resort to it in due time. Preliminary consultations were held, and it became clear that they could not get 338 votes. And what to do in the case when there are conclusions of the courts, and in fact, the President cannot be dismissed? Therefore, the main problem is those three fourth of the deputies.”
However, if the presidential bill did not take into account the requirements of the Constitution about the possibility of impeachment in case of accusing the President of treason or committing a different crime and the requirements created for the investigation of the STIC as part of a special prosecutor and special investigators, as well as taking a decision on removal of the President from the post by three quarters of votes from the constitutional composition of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, then it would be considered unconstitutional.
“Obviously, given the Constitution, the bill № 10340 does not solve the problem of the need for an early termination of the powers of the President of Ukraine in case of his dismissal from duty or escape (Yanukovych’s precedent),” Iryna Pavlenko, the expert of the National Institute for Strategic Studies, explained. “All these innovations are possible only after making the appropriate changes to the Basic Law.”
The presidential bill has changed the dependence of the possibility of impeachment on the presence in Ukraine of the Law “On Temporary Investigation Commissions, Special Temporary Investigation Commission and Temporary Special Commissions of the Verkhovna Rada” (after declaring it unconstitutional, since 2009 there is no such law). That is, in the bill of the President, unlike in the Regulations of the Parliament of Ukraine, there is no reference to a non-existent law, which made the impeachment procedure unrealistic for implementation.
“Also in the new bill there are requirements for the defense counsel(s) of the President to ensure the protection of his rights, freedoms and legitimate interests during the impeachment procedure,” Iryna Pavlenko continued. “Also there is a possibility of terminating the impeachment procedure if the accused President voluntarily resigns.”
Ihor Koliushko considers the norm to be contradictory, when, after the commencement of the impeachment procedure, President resigns and the procedure stops. There is no reason for this. If the President is really to blame for something, then he can no longer simply resign and evade responsibility. After all, after the impeachment, he loses the life title of the President, benefits and the like. And with the resignation, he keeps it all.
Alternatives are offered
However, one more bill on impeachment № 10339, registered in the Verkhovna Rada on the same day as the presidential one, will not give the head of state the opportunity to avoid responsibility. Its author is Oleksii Honcharenko, deputy chairman of the Block of Petro Poroshenko deputy faction.
“Its title is the Draft Law on the Special Temporary Investigation Commission of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine on conducting an investigation of treason or another crime by the President,” Mr. Honcharenko told to Opinion. “I have prescribed the whole procedure ‒ how the commission is formed, that it consists of people’s deputies, one special prosecutor, and three special investigators. The STIC must provide the results of the work within two months.”
Oleksii Honcharenko is not sure that the current composition of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine will be able to pass this draft law. So, what is the future of the presidential bill?
“It needs refinement,” political analyst Serhii Taran assured Opinion. “I do not think that the current composition of the Verkhovna Rada will accept it. During the election campaign, parliamentarians are unlikely to vote together for bills and demonstrate a majority, whereas they will have to go to the Parliament from the side of the opposition. Perhaps, there will be attempts, but the chances are small.”
Meanwhile, the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine plans to adopt a law on the STIC and the Electoral Code before the elections.
“Since more than 4 thousand amendments have been made to the draft Electoral Code, in practice this will mean that the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine will enter into a long (one and a half to two months) procedure for its consideration,” Iryna Pavlenko told. “At this time, the Parliament will not be able to proceed to the consideration of other bills. That is, until the day of the extraordinary elections to the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, scheduled for July 21, 2019, the consideration of bills on impeachment cannot even begin. However, the Speaker Parubiy assured that the presidential bill will be considered as an extraordinary one, although the probability of its adoption is extremely low.”
On June 4, people’s deputies did not include Zelensky’s bill on the impeachment of the president on the agenda of the session. There were only 110 votes in favor.
Together with immunity
Volodymyr Zelensky does not intend to limit himself to an impeachment document. The immunity of people’s deputies is also bugging him. Ruslan Stefanchuk reminded that a draft law, which cancels people’s deputies’ immunity, is in the Parliament. According to him, it would be fair if they could manage to pass the two upper mentioned bills together. From the populist perspective, this is about parity matters. In fact, everything is not so simple.
“Deputy immunity is a component of parliamentary system, a European norm,” Serhii Taran explained. “The question is that our deputies often abuse it, use it for other purposes. Fully abolish it means one step back away from Europe. Unfortunately, in our country, this question is subject to absolute populism. No one even understands what it is and why it is needed. Therefore, we should now talk about immunity reform, so that deputies use it to protect them from political persecution, and not to conduct business.”
Ukrainian politicians have been speculating for decades on the parliamentary immunity. No election can do without promises to deal with it once and for all, but they never get around to the abolition of immunity. It is not excluded that they will be firing only blanks towards the immunity.
“To abolish parliamentary immunity, it is necessary to amend the Constitution,” Yulia Kyrychenko noted. “This is a completely different order, at least 300 votes. Immunity cannot be lifted with a passed law. It’s a lie.”
Under what circumstances the President should be removed from the office? Famous Ukrainians shared their thoughts with Opinion.
Serhii Saveliy, Honored Journalist of Ukraine:
“The impeachment procedure is applied when the interests of the state and the people are betrayed, and it can lead to a loss of independence; robbing people for the sake of one’s own ambitions and close clans; disgusting public mocking of the country and the people, whom you serve; non-fulfilment (without objective reasons) of promises made during elections; ignoring the state, legal language of the people, whom you serve; neglecting the religious traditions of the people, whom you serve.”
Natalka Poklad, a writer:
“Impeachment of the President should happen for a clear violation of the Constitution, in particular, for changing the direction of the state’s development; for flirting and trading with the aggressor for personal enrichment; involvement in any corruption scandal, covering up for corruption schemes and participation in them; for any immoral behavior, became known to society.”
Serhii Shyshkin, Honored Artist of Ukraine:
“When the President violates laws and even the Constitution, which he must defend, he should definitely leave. And if the President is not responsible for his own words, who is held accountable then?!”
By Viktor Tsvilikhovsky