Appetite comes with eating but binge eating sometimes leads to stomach diseases. Attempts to quickly convert electoral preferences into absolute power at all levels are also not always beneficial. Winner’s stomach can spasms. In a nutshell, early local elections risk becoming a trigger, which will provoke a significant drop in the rating of the ruling party. Therefore, you should carefully weigh: are they needed?
To intimidate the corruption
However, winners don’t make excuses, and therefore even if you shout at them “Sto-o-o-p!!!” in a way our fugitive president did (this was a notorious phrase of Yanukovych – translator’s note), they still will not mind a warning. That’s why they are winners, in order to act at their own discretion and under the approving cries of supporters to head to the ultimate victory. The main thing is not to step over the laws, but suspicions do exist.
Being upbeat about successes from the presidential and early parliamentary elections, the Ze-Team doesn’t mind to venture the local elections. And everything would be fine, but according to the Constitution of Ukraine (CU), these elections should be held on the last Sunday of October 2020. But where is that October 25, and where will the rating of President Zelensky and the Party of the Servant of the People (SP) be? And yet, the work of the new Verkhovna Rada has not started, the mono-party coalition has not shown itself, and there is still no updated government with “real reforms”. That is, for the local elections, they can mess the things up, and early elections seem to be made up to consolidate the victory.
“There is a possibility that a political decision could be made to hold early local elections ‘in compliance with the wishes of people’ and given several thundering corruption scandals at the local governmental level,” Oleksii Koshel, Director General of the Ukrainian Committee of Voters of Ukraine, believes. “The law does not provide any grounds for its implementation. There is a clear list of reasons when the Parliament can announce early elections, but only in certain localities. However, changes can be made to the current legislation to hold early local elections in the fall of 2019, and in 2020 there will be next. It’s difficult to explain the logic of such a step, besides the high ratings of the SP party but I do not exclude the possibility of amending the Constitution so that the next election will take place not in 2020, but in 2024.
An information campaign that terrible corruption is rampant in the regions can be organized shortly, heating public opinion for the urge to conduct local elections as soon as possible. Judging by recent events, the public eagerly swallows the hooks of populism. There would be money for early elections.
“There is no money but there were already examples in Ukrainian history when funds were not provided, but they were allocated from the budget,” Oleksii Koshel continued. “If you have a guaranteed majority of votes in the Parliament, then for any, even absurd step, you can find a legislative justification, including amending the law on the state budget.”
Adding fresh cucumbers to the sour ones
The idea of the early local elections is occasionally voiced by representatives of the Zelensky team. In mid-July, the president himself during a working trip to Kharkiv region announced that he was thinking about implementation. And on the day of parliamentary elections, he assured: do not relax with the issue of local elections. The representative of the President in the Verkhovna Rada Ruslan Stefanchuk said that such elections are possible in the fall, they are needed to transform the power system. Mr. Stefanchuk turned to an allegory: “If you throw a fresh cucumber into a barrel with sour cucumbers, it will become sour.” The hint is clear: the “servants of the people” are fresh cucumbers, and the representatives of the previous government are solid sour ones.
The leader of the SP party, Dmytro Razumkov, believes that local elections will be held in 2020. But will they be regular and will take place in the fall? After all, some experts believe that we can talk about early elections in spring of the next year. No wonder that Mr Razumkov noted that many authorities are inefficient and do not meet the challenges that the state faces. In general, early elections are a double-edged sword. In case of another lightning-fast victory of the SP will mean a total responsibility of the party. Any bump on the road, each broken pipe indicates the specific culprits – the president and his political force.
“If you don’t know where the sewer damper is, then the city will sink in sewage,” Yurii Ganushchak, director of the Territorial Development Institute, said. “In local self-government, a deputy must be a much greater professional. Why would Zelensky take responsibility for a broken window in the entrance? But all responsibility will fall on him if he organizes early elections. Here is the obvious political sign – to gain absolute power. But absolute power is absolute responsibility. The completed decentralization reform provides – no matter who has power in the centre, in the regions they bear enormous responsibility for more than 80% of the entire human life cycle.”
The appointment of regular and early elections to local authorities is in the competence of the Verkhovna Rada, providing for paragraph 30 of Art. 85 of CU. And Art. 141 of CU sets a five-year term for which deputies of village, town, city, district, and regional councils are elected. These terms determine the frequency of elections to local authorities.
We need laws
One of the last public statements about the local elections was made by the head of the President’s Office Andriy Bohdan. According to him, such elections are fine to hold after the completion of decentralization. This position coincides with the opinions of specialists, who cherished one of the most successful reforms and are worried about its successful finish. Mr. Bohdan also noted that the holding of early local elections is impossible without the adoption of the accordant law. That is, there seems to be an understanding at the highest levels of power. But can you be sure that the voiced will be implemented and that the issue of early elections will no longer be touched? Hardly.
“Everything is possible with the newly elected government and with taking the oath by the parliament of a new convocation,” Yurii Bublyk, people’s deputy of Ukraine of the eighth convocation, chairman of the subcommittee on local self-government of the Verkhovna Rada Committee on State Construction, Regional Policy and Local Self-Government, told to Opinion. “With one wave of the hand or one SMS message, a command is given to the deputies, and there are 254 of them, and you can accept anything you want. If someone disagrees, they will offer to appeal in the court. And what kind of courts we have – we know. Therefore, I do not rule out any development of events regarding early local elections.”
“For the early termination of the powers of the Verkhovna Rada, the Constitution has a whole article – the 90th,” Oleksandr Barabash, vice president of the Association of People’s Deputies of Ukraine, an expert on electoral law, explained to Opinion. “And according to local councils, there is no constitutional early termination of powers of all councils at the same time and the simultaneous appointment of early elections. The Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine (VRU) may call snap local election. Theoretically, with such a majority, the SP can amend the law on local elections and provide for an appropriate mechanism.”
Legislative work is expected to be crazy. It is difficult to predict whether the newly made MPs will cope with it. A previous parliament might have made it easier for them if President Zelensky had not called early parliamentary elections.
“We need to pass a law on the administrative-territorial structure of Ukraine, make amendments to the Constitution,” Serhii Kudlayenko, People’s Deputy of Ukraine of the eighth convocation, Deputy Chairman of the Verkhovna Rada Committee on State Construction, Regional Policy and Local Self-Government, said. “Some laws had to be adopted already by the previous convocation, but because of the early parliamentary elections in the last six months, the parliament was in political turbulence, and we did not manage to do this. If the Verkhovna Rada had been working till October, then 100% would have passed all the laws. In particular, about service in local governments. Considering that the unification is taking place and we do not assume the institutions of the duplication of power (administrations and councils of regional and district levels), but we are talking about the transition from governors to the prefecture, the relevant laws are needed. If we hold local elections, we will again delay the solutions to this problem. Elections would be appropriate in 2020.”
For quite a long time, society has been in a state of continuous elections. The third (and the second early) within the same calendar year is too much even for electorally active citizens. It is difficult to predict the turnout for snap local races if they take place. And will it be possible to stir up a voter, who is tired of voting?
Decentralization is more important
If early local elections take place, then what is the harm of decentralization? Reform experts explained this to Opinion.
Anatolii Tkachuk, director for Science and Development, NGO Institute of Civil Society:
“It is impossible to hold early elections legally. If you ignore the CU and hold early local elections now, then decentralization will stop at least for 2 or for 6 years. In order to hold local elections legally, it is necessary to approve a new administrative-territorial structure and, on this basis, announce the first elections on a new territorial basis. And these will be elections for 5 years, and not for a year, as early elections.”
Serhii Romanovych, advisor on decentralization of the Zhytomyr Local Government Development Center:
“Possible early local elections can be held according to two scenarios. First: according to the current legal field, that is, without making changes to the CU in terms of decentralization and the adoption of a number of bills, first of all, that provide securing a new administrative system. This will lead to the fact that the unbalanced system of public administration will remain mothballed for the next 5 years, since the Regional State Administrations, District Councils and Unified Territorial Communities (UTC) will continue to work at the district level. The second one: if appropriate changes are made at the legislative level, about 1,500 UTC and 100 enlarged districts will be created. It seems to be, as defined in the CU list of areas. Thus, the number of village, town and city councils will be reduced by 8, and district councils – by 5 times. In the context of the effective functioning of public administration, the result will be a clear delineation and lack of duplication of powers between government bodies and local governments. Therefore, regardless of whether extraordinary local elections will be held before the end of this year, or, as the CU suggests, on the last Sunday of October of the next, the newly elected people’s deputies are tasked with voting for the package of the so-called “decentralization bills”, which will complete the formation of an effective territorial system of local governments and local executive authorities.”
Ivan Lukerya, an expert on local government reform, resuscitation reform package:
“First, there are no legal grounds for holding early local elections. The second – there is no funding for this. Third – decentralization reform procurement. If the elections take place this year, we can forget about the implementation of the administrative reform, which is the priority. The law on the voluntary association of the territorial communities will afoot, and after the election, no one will reunite, because no one will want to go to another election. We leave the unbalanced system when there are UTC and cities, village and town councils, which are managed through the inefficient weak districts. Annual grants for insolvent communities are about 450,000,000 UAH. And this amount is growing. Thus, we will preserve the centralization model and continue spending the state budget.”
Text by Viktor Tsvilikhovsky