Things didn’t work well with the succession of power and political traditions in Ukraine. It is not surprising that each new team, first of all, grabs a broom to clean the Ukrainian house in its own way. Sometimes all the passion quickly fades away; sometimes it is spent not for the good of the country and society. No wonder Ukrainian people say, “Let it be worse, still it’s different”. The bicameral parliament is different for us but is it worse or better ‒ a question for debates.
From the very first day, Volodymyr Zelensky at the highest state position rolled up his sleeves and began to work. The presidential broom immediately turned against the Parliament, and this turned out to be a tough nut to crack. The Constitutional Court was involved, it recognized the Decree of the Head of state on the dissolution of the Verkhovna Rada constitutional. Preparations for the extraordinary parliamentary elections are taking place on July 21. Meanwhile, MPs hope to adopt the new Electoral Code.
And Zelensky’s team continues to make statements on the arrangement of the state. The next idea is connected with the bicameral parliament, traditionally voiced by the presidential representative in the Verkhovna Rada Ruslan Stefanchuk. One could ignore it, however, it seems that this is not just a declaration. According to Mr. Stefanchuk, they will deal with the issue in the Administration of the President (AP). In the case of implementation, it will require a tidy sum from the state treasury. But how long will last the fervor of Mr. Zelensky and his team to offer revolutionary statements with the goal of changing everything and everyone?
“Zelensky’s team will soon realize that we are not a presidential-parliamentary country, but a parliamentary-presidential country,” political analyst Denys Bogush assured UR-1. “And if there are elections in the fall, the President will understand that one should not insult everyone first, and then say that I’m d’Artagnan, and you are bad people.” It is necessary to cooperate with the Verkhovna Rada and the Cabinet of Ministers. We have not only the problem of corruption but also war, the economy, IMF loans. There are a lot of problems, but the new team is getting bruises, and we are watching how they learn ABC.”
A bicameral parliament is a serious thing, it envisages a change in the electoral legislation, the Constitution, and, in the end, the entire social structure. What is all this for?
New old idea
What is a bicameral parliament, why is it needed and how it works? These are even more complicated questions for the majority of Ukrainians than the electoral proportional system with open or closed lists. However, at the All-Ukrainian referendum, initiated by President Kuchma in 2000, about 83% of the votes were cast by the people for just such a model of the highest legislative body. Zelensky’s team is appealing to almost 20 years old plebiscite, although they did not make the corresponding changes in legislation then.
So, where the bicameral Parliaments are and how do they work? This form is inherent primarily in the imperial states and is preserved, not least because of tradition. For example, the British Parliament, where the upper house is the House of Lords (for aristocracy), and the lower house is the House of Commons (the representative body of the wider population). Direct lawmaking basically falls on the shoulders of representatives of the lower house, and members of the upper endorse or reject laws, adopted by the lower one.
A bicameral parliament is also inherent to countries with a federal structure (USA, RF, Germany). In federal states, one chamber ‒ the regions, the other ensures the representation of national political parties. In unitary states like Ukraine, the parliament is mostly unicameral, although in France, Italy, Poland there are two chambers.
“The danger of federalization of a unitary state lies in the trend ‒ instead of unifying the rules of the state, “sprawling” begins, which can lead to the disintegration of the country into different pieces,” warned MP Ruslan Sydorovych on his Facebook, the MP believes that the bicameral parliament is not suitable for Ukraine.
Not this should be changed
“Nobody conducts explanatory work, what distinguishes a unicameral parliament from a bicameral parliament, neither then, in 2000, nor now,” Mr. Sydorovych told to Opinion. “Most of the citizens of Ukraine do not understand its specifics when they are asked: “Do you support the idea of a bicameral parliament?” As for the referendums ‒ it is a very difficult question. I would focus more on the need for legislative settlement of local referendums. They are really necessary for local issues. The question of shifting responsible decisions from state leaders to citizens, who do not have partly all the necessary information, can only be a disguise for avoiding responsibility for making dangerous decisions.”
Why did the people in 2000 give so many votes for a bicameral parliament? Obviously, this was not only because of ignorance of the subject but also for the tempting proposal to reduce the number of deputies of the Verkhovna Rada. Although it was a different question of the referendum, all proposals were supported by the crowd. By the way, now a referendum in Ukraine is simply not possible because of the lack of relevant legislation.
The initiative to create a bicameral parliament in our country is not supported by the Vice-President of the Association of People’s Deputies of Ukraine, an expert on electoral law, Oleksandr Barabash. He does not see constructive constitutional, political, or state ideas when going to such a model of the legislature.
“As a rule, the bicameral parliament was formed naturally by uniting the countries that became federative ‒ in Germany, the United States,” Mr. Barabash explained to Opinion. “And just so that from above… What is it for? I do not understand the depths of this idea. This is either ‘excessive lawmaking’, for example, reform for the sake of reform or the idea of making Parliament even more manageable and tamed. We have already made these attempts ‒ in 1991 when the concept of a new Constitution was discussed and this idea was not supported, and in 2000 this idea was even submitted to a referendum.”
“Mr. Stefanchuk says that society does not trust the Parliament, and at the same time, as a solution to the situation, it proposes a bicameral parliament. This is absolutely not connected with those things why the society does not trust the Parliament,” Denys Rybachok, an expert at the NGO Committee of Voters of Ukraine, told to Opinion. “If we want to reform the Institute of Parliament, we need to change the rules of the work of the committees, consider the mechanisms to combat absenteeism of people’s deputies, fight “pushing buttons” system (when MPs are absent and their party mates vote for them ‒ translator’s note), which, in my opinion, should bear a criminal responsibility. To do more down to Earth things that may really help to improve the quality of the work of the Parliament. And what Mr. Stefanchuk is proposing will in no way solve these problems.”
Not just Ze-team
“There are certain advantages in a bicameral parliament ‒ it allows you to divide functions, in particular, personnel, mainly in the upper chamber,” Volodymyr Fesenko, Chairman of the board of the Center for Applied Political Studies Penta, told to Opinion. “The lower house mainly focuses on legislative work, the upper one passes laws. Presidential powers quite often are partially transferred to the top. It has its own meaning, but the main thing is a slow legislative process. It is also necessary to take into account that chambers are formed in different ways. For example, if elections are based on purely party lists, then the lower chamber is formed in this way, and the upper one, as a rule, by direct elections from the regions. There are other principles of formation; sometimes they can appoint senators without the elections.”
Who still likes a bicameral parliament now in Ukraine, except for Zelensky’s team? Does this idea find support among other political forces and their leaders? Earlier, Ihor Smeshko and Yuliya Tymoshenko, Social Justice party, in particular, had publicly expressed their opinion. Where does this interest come from?
“I think there is a desire to attach regional elites in such a parliament,” Denys Rybachok is convinced. “That is, in the upper house of the bicameral parliament we are guaranteed to get representatives from Kharkiv, Dnipropetrovsk, Odesa regions, who are likely to be not representatives elected by the people at the elections, but local feudal lords. And then you need to look at what model is proposed to the parliament, because the deputies of the upper chamber can be appointed, as it is done in France, or chosen, as in Poland. The models are different, but I am generally against the idea of a bicameral parliament. For Ukraine, it is inappropriate and irrelevant.”
By the way, there is no clear consensus in the Ze-team itself regarding extreme necessity in a bicameral parliament. Volodymyr Fesenko called attention to this:
“The proponent of bicameralism is not Zelensky, but Stefanchuk, who promotes this idea. And, for example, Dmytro Razumkov assessed it more critically. Perhaps, because he is a political scientist and understands that bicameral relations in this form may not be entirely beneficial to the President. After all, most likely, the Servant of the People will receive a majority in the Parliament, and if there is an upper chamber, the President will no longer have the majority. This can create a difficult relationship between the President and the upper house. The only thing that can be said for sure is that after the elections, the Zelensky team will begin work on constitutional amendments. However, whether they will have two chambers, I am not sure. I think that this will be the subject of a serious internal discussion at first, due to the lack of a unified position in the team.”
Is the New Election Code going to trash?
Ruslan Stefanchuk, the presidential representative in the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, believes that the mixed election system is a big problem for the Ukrainian Parliament. They say that this problem could be solved with the introduction of a bicameral parliament.
“What is the relation of the mixed electoral system to a bicameral parliament?” Denys Rybachok disagrees. “If you want to change the electoral system, then you can change it and people’s deputies. If you do not like the majoritarian system ‒ introduce open lists, for example. And if there is a bicameral parliament, then the whole electoral design really needs to be changed. First, how many deputies of the upper chamber should be ‒ 100 or 200? Secondly, will they be chosen or appointed? Third, which election system? Probably, this should be majoritarian, because people will represent certain regions. As in the USA, for example, there are 50 states, from each of them there are two senators, they are elected. But there are still many details. Electoral legislation will have to be completely rewritten because it does not correspond to a bicameral parliament, as well as the Constitution of Ukraine, and all other laws.”
Despite the fact that the Administration of the President will take up the consideration of the bicameral parliament idea, the Parliament will not be reformatted in the near future. The good news is that Ze-team promises to avoid haste in this delicate question.
“The bicameral parliament provides for a total revision of the electoral legislation, and in different countries, it is formed according to different electoral models,” Ruslan Sydorovych said. “There are no ideal electoral models, but in Ukraine, the majority voting must be eliminated because it has become a source of political corruption. Majoritarian candidates are ready to turn a blind eye to other Government decisions for the sake of receiving social and economic development funds.”
“We must understand what stays behind this idea, besides the fact that there will be just two chambers and more complicated decision-making,” Oleksandr Barabash warned. “It makes sense to introduce it in case of another idea, a decision-making mechanism, and representation of the population. If it is formulated, then, naturally, it is necessary to change the electoral system.”
There should be the Chamber № 6!
Opinion asked the famous Ukrainians whether Ukraine needs a bicameral parliament.
“I see no point in a bicameral parliament. Our country will have enough elected MPs of the Verkhovna Rada. Moreover, there is a sense of reducing the number of public servants and expenditures from the budget for their maintenance. However, it is necessary to refuse the majoritarian voting, because, in the vast majority of cases, this is simply a bribing of voters. I support a unicameral parliament, open lists and votes for parties, not for personalities.”
Olha Poyedynok, Associate Professor at the Department of International Law, Institute of International Relations, Kyiv National University n.a. T. Shevchenko, lawyer:
“The idea of a bicameral parliament does not impress me. Firstly, it is a more obvious and logical choice for federations, not unitary states. Secondly, the probability of “failures” in Parliament’s work is tripled due to possible crises in each of the chambers, as well as the problems of their interaction.”
Pavlo Kushch, journalist, satirist writer:
“Given the level of education, legal culture and elementary education of the majority of our deputies, we do not need bicameral, but a multi-cameral parliament. And for some people’s deputies, it is worth taking them to separate isolated chambers ‒ classical № 6… (in Ukrainian language chamber and ward sound the same – translator’s note) But, seriously, then even the Parliament in its present form, due to its low efficiency, needs to be reduced rather than increased. The bicameral option, in my opinion, is only changes for the sake of changes’ presence.”
By Viktor Tsvilikhovsky