Tuesday, March 31, 2009

“After this speech, I’ll pass to Speaker Lytvyn my project of a new Constitution ”. Viktor Yushchenko addressed the Parliament of Ukraine.

The President of Ukraine Viktor Yushchenko has addressed the Parliament today with his annual speech. Mr. Yushchenko failed to appear in Verkhovna Rada with his speech last year - the parliamentary tribune was blocked - but this time he has fully made up for lost opportunity.

The ordinary presidential speech with the expected call for all the political leaders to stop fighting and unite all the forces for saving Ukrainian economy in crisis times was finished with a surprise. President informed that he's going to introduce to Parliament of Ukraine a new project of the Constitution of Ukraine - right now.

Viktor Yushchenko proposes a dramatic change of the very system of powers in Ukraine. First of all, he wants Ukraine to have the two-chamber Parliament, and to reduce a number of MPs.

According to President, the Lower Chamber of the Parliament of Ukraine shall be elected by proportional voting system (like today) with open political party lists. The Lower Chamber will form the Government and control its work. "The inability to form the Government will lead to the dismissal of the Lower Chamber, but not all the Parliament. In this case the work of the Parliament will not stop," Viktor Yushchenko noticed.

The Upper Chamber should be elected among the representatives of regions of the country - using the majority voting system. It will work in lose connection with the President of Ukraine, in particular, dealing with the security issues. Every district of Ukraine will have 3 Senators elected.

"The political turbulence will be left in the Lower Chamber of Parliament", Viktor Yushchenko thinks. "President, together with the Upper Chamber, will secure stability of the state".

The President of Ukraine called for an urgent examination of his project of the Constitution of Ukraine in Parliament.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Open Lists. Ukraine has learned how to hold free and fair elections, but it’s not enough to be called a true democracy.

In this post I would like to turn back to the question of the reform of electoral law in Ukraine. There are a lot of talks about how to change the way Ukrainians are electing the Parliament (I’ll stay away from the analysis of re-distribution of powers) or local Councils, but the very idea of reform is completely distorted. Instead of having a serious talk about the very details of a new electoral system that will fit to Ukrainian realities in a best way, most politicians are trying to switch the public attention to active, but non-effective discussions around one point – a need to move from the closed-party-lists to open-party-lists scheme, in frames of the current proportional voting system. I think it’s not enough at all.

Since the Orange revolution of 2004, all the elections in Ukraine were recognized as free and fair. But as a result of these free and fair elections, we, Ukrainians are receiving – again and again – the Parliament full of come-and-go people. The majority of Members of Parliament of Ukraine doesn’t make any serious decisions, but only thoughtlessly presses the “yes” or “no” buttons, in accordance with order of faction leaders. It has to be changed.

According to the current electoral law, Ukraine elects its Parliament on a base of proportional representation system with closed party lists. The system stipulates that Ukrainian citizens vote not for individuals, but for parties, which are receiving seats in Parliament proportionally to the amount of votes they had won. Every party draws up a list of its candidates for the seats in Parliament, but it must make public only the names of five first persons from the list. A couple of hundreds of other candidates may be hidden until the end of the vote – it’s a provision of the closed-party-lists type of proportional voting system.

As a result, according to the closed-party lists scheme, Ukrainians are voting not for all members of Parliament, but are only choosing between “groups of five”. Even if a party makes public the entire list, the electoral campaign has been centred on a little group of party leaders. And after the elections Ukrainian voters may realise that the party they voted for has in its list, for example, a personal massager of the party chief, or the secretary of a party sponsor. A very big problem of the current electoral system is also the fact that the Members of Parliament has almost no officially established connection with the regions of a country. People simply don’t feel they have a real representative in Parliament: there is no one to be called “my MP”.

It is naive to think that the problem will be cured, if all the party lists were open in its literal meaning – becoming public before the elections. Ukrainian parties are mostly based not on the ideology, but on their leaders who are associated with all the party. And the majority of Ukrainians will keep voting for the personalities they like, not taking care about any lists. (And even if an old woman from the village has an opportunity to read all the lists of all the parties, she will surely not be able to analyse them properly, and to estimate how much people from the list she may see in Parliament after the elections. To make the outcome of the parliamentary election more democratic, there is a need to change the voting system as a whole.

As to my point of view, the best thing for Ukraine is to come back to the majoritarian (plurality) system of vote: the person, not a party should win support of voters, and should represent Ukrainian people in Parliament. Ukraine still doesn’t have a developed party system. Imagine, only about 3% of the citizens of Ukraine are members of any party. That means that 97% of Ukrainians doesn’t feel close to any political party at all. Proportional system was established, among other issues, in order to build up the party system in Ukraine. This idea failed: new-formed Ukrainian democratic political parties in reality are something between the oligarchic lobby groups and fan clubs of charismatic leaders.

In frames of the current proportional, party-based system of vote, the easiest way for Ukraine would be to switch to one of the models of open party lists, when a voter receives a right not only to vote for a party, but also to express his or her preference for a particular candidate(s) in frames of the party list. That means that voter indicates not only a name of the party he or she favours, but also names the favourite candidates from this party, or even indicates the order of preference. Such a model is widely used in the countries of Western and Central Europe. I would propose also to move forward from a single constituency scheme Ukraine currently has. In this case the parties will have to draw up several regional lists of candidates, giving a chance for regional leaders to be elected, and also establishing a stronger link between regions and Parliament.

There are other things which I think have to be done to make the parliamentary election in Ukraine closer to the best democratic standards:
1. To adopt an Electoral Code, a single document, which would incorporate all the rules (including technical) concerning holding parliamentary, presidential and local elections.
2. To form the Registry of voters (at long last) to avoid fraud.
3. To change the provisions of electoral law, re-establishing the so-called “absence certificates” for people who are not at home at a day of election (for ex., they are in the other region of Ukraine or abroad) to have a possibility to realize their Constitutional right to vote.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Open Vote. Ukrainian authorities want to change the electoral law: to use it at the early parliamentary poll, combined with the presidential election.

Viktor Baloha, a Head of the Secretariat of the President of Ukraine, informed on Wednesday, 11 March that the Secretariat’s legal services are drafting proposals to change the electoral legislation in country. The objects of change are parliamentary and local elections. In particular, the Secretariat is going to propose to switch to the open party lists (in frames of proportional system). The relevant projects of law will be tabled in Parliament soon.

“Due to a current election system, we have the Parliament, which is considered by the majority of experts as the most unprofessional. Yesterday massage therapists, office-girls, guards, and drivers of party bonzes are working now as People’s Deputies (Members of Parliament. – T.V.). I am sure that they are exactly not the people Ukrainian voters wanted to delegate to power. Ukrainians want to know, whom they are electing”, Mr. Baloha emphasized.

One day before – on 11 March 2009 – the President of Ukraine Viktor Yushchenko released the Member of Parliament of Ukraine Sergiy Holovaty (the oppositional Party of Regions) from his duty as a Member of the European Commission for Democracy through Law (Venice Commission), the advisory body of the Council of Europe. Starting from this week, Maryna Stavniychuck, the Deputy Head of the Presidential Secretariat, is representing Ukraine at the sittings in the Scuola Grande di San Giovanni Evangelista in Venice.

The dismissal of Sergiy Holovaty, a lawyer, who is very respected in Europe, and in the Council of Europe in particular, was not a coincidence: the Venice Commission has examined two documents concerning elections in Ukraine on 14 March. Unfortunately, I still have no information about the decision of the experts of the Venice Commission on a Draft law of Ukraine amending the Constitution of Ukraine, initiated by Members of Parliament of Ukraine Viktor Yanukovych (Head of the Party of Regions) and Oleksandr Lavrynovych (Vice-Speaker of Parliament, member of the Party of Regions), and a Draft law amending the Law on Election of People’s Deputies of Ukraine, initiated by Oleksandr Lavrynovych and Andriy Portnov (Block of Yulia Tymoshenko). I know only that the Venice Commission is not over-enthusiastic about the ideas to cut off dramatically the presidential powers in Ukraine. Anyway it is clear that the current President wanted to have a bit of influence on this decision.

The amendments to the electoral law may be used earlier than expected. The Speaker of the Parliament of Ukraine Volodymyr Lytvyn mentioned on 12 March that after the presentation of a mew electoral system, the call for the simultaneous presidential, parliamentary and local elections is quite possible. A Member of Parliament from Our Ukraine – People’s Self-Defence block Vladyslav Kaskiv also thinks that the early parliamentary election may be held as “the most easy way out”. Viktor Yanukovych also said he’s in favour of the simultaneous parliamentary/presidential poll in his televised interview.

Another news of the expiring week is that the leader of the Communist Party Petro Symonenko said he has already prepared the motion for the impeachment of the President of Ukraine. “Serving President has not ever infracted the Constitution and laws of Ukraine”, answered the Head of the Presidential Secretariat in the newspaper interview. “It is easy to explain the words of a member of democratic coalition Petro Symonenko. He is so inspired by Tymoshenko’s instructions that voters may not understand, whether he is a member of her party or the Head of the Communists”. According to Mr. Baloha, the presidential election will be held on 17 January, 2010. The Head of the Secretariat did not inform journalists, whether President is going to take part in the election.

Meanwhile, we had a very interesting public event here in Kyiv on Friday: around 350 people gathered near the building of Parliament, demanding to introduce the direct presidential rule in the country. “Crisis is a right time for the presidential rule”, their slogans said.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

The Camouflaged Gas. Naftogaz Ukraine paid the February-2009 bill to Russian Gazprom; the same time agents in masks were raiding its headquarters.

Today the State oil and gas company Naftogaz Ukraine has paid $50 million to Russian Gazprom. Together with yesterday’s payment of $310 million it settles the gas supply bill of Ukraine for February 2009. Now all the Europe may breathe a sigh of relief: this month there will be no gas cut-off.

(Besides, I’ve noticed at least one mismatch – in figures. The figures I’ve mentioned above, given according to the information of the Secretariat of the President of Ukraine, have in total $360 million – which means that Ukraine imported only 1 billion cubic metres (bcm) of Russian gas in February. Gazprom’s officials have recently mentioned that Naftogaz has to pay $400 million. Hopefully it will not be a purpose for a new gas-fight between Ukraine and Russia).

Nevertheless, the gas supply remains in a center of a domestic turmoil in Ukraine. Muscular men wearing black masks and camouflage entered the Naftogaz Ukraine headquarters yesterday. They passed by the helpless company guards, and started to question the accountants of the company, and to search for something in the management office. All the main TV channels were translating this fascinating story in almost live regime (it’s a democracy!). “Armed people in camouflage pushed aside security, and showed no documents,” a spokesman of Naftogaz Valentyn Zemlyansky said to journalists.

The masked men appeared to be the secret service agents, who came to the Naftogaz Ukraine to take off the documents, related to Russian-Ukraine gas supply agreement, signed in January. The spokeswoman of the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) Maryna Ostapenko informed press that the national security service is investigating criminal case on the illegal appropriation of 6,3 bcm of gas by the State company Naftogaz Ukraine. “Everything is within the frames of law”, Mrs. Ostapenko assured, and added that the Naftogaz authorities knew that the documents are to be seized that day. (The last remark explains such a huge media support of the action).

Anyway, the most interesting thing is not a scary picture, but the reasons of the scandal. As every contemporary problem in Ukraine, it has origins in the struggle for power between the President of Ukraine Viktor Yushchenko and the Prime Minister of Ukraine Yulia Tymoshenko.

The story begins in November 2008, when the Ukrainian Customs office refused to perform customs clearing of 11 bcm of Russian gas, pumped to Ukrainian gas storages by Russian Gazprom. The gas was dedicated for the well-known Swiss-registered intermediary RosUkrEnergo, half owned by Gazprom, and half – by Ukrainian billionaire Dmytro Firtash. The Customs of Ukraine bonded all the amount of gas (for some reasons), until the gas conflict with Russia started. (Here I would like to suppose again that the gas “war” with Russia was a planned thing).

In January 2009 – in frames of a settlement of the Russia-Ukraine gas dispute – Russians transferred to Naftogaz Ukraine the rights to claim from RosUkrEnergo the debt, which it has to Gazprom. The same time Russia received a 20 per cent discount on pipeline transit fees. A new set of bilateral Agreements eliminated RosUkrEnergo from Russia-Ukraine gas trading scheme.

As the PM says, Gazprom agreed to give the gas to Ukraine at a privileged price of $1,7 billion for all the 11 bcm of gas, and these money were to be considered as a payment for a transit of Russian gas to Europe. (I haven’t seen the documents, but it sounds like a true). This fact permitted to the Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko to declare that the average gas price for Ukraine in 2009 is $228 per tcm.
After the signing of the Agreements with Gazprom, Naftogaz Ukraine faced a new problem: a Head of the State Customs office of Ukraine Valery Khoroshkovsky refused to perform a custom clearing of mentioned amount of gas. He claimed the gas belongs to RosUkrEnergo.

The Prime Minister solved the problem: Mr. Khoroshkovsky was fired. But the President appointed him as a Deputy Head of the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU).

At long last, the Ukrainian Customs released the 11 bcm of ex-RosUkrEnergo-gas from the bond – in favour of the State company Naftogaz Ukraine. After that the SBU started the investigation mentioned above. On 3 March at night Deputy Head of the department of Energy Customs office Taras Shepitko was arrested. The next day men in mask appeared on the threshold of Naftogaz.

As for this moment, there is a ruling of a court, which states the SBU should stop the actions concerning the mentioned Naftogaz-case. Pro-presidential and pro-government experts are giving controversial comments. RosUkrEnergo still insists that is owns the gas. Gazprom didn’t make any statements concerning this concrete question.

Mrs. Tymoshenko is condemning the actions of the SBU. “They simply wanted to paralyze the activities of Naftogaz and destroy the gas distribution system in Ukraine,” she said. She also accused Mr. Yushchenko of lobbying on behalf of RosUkrEnergo. First Vice Prime Minister Alexander Turchynov also declared yesterday that “Viktor Yushchenko was patronizing RosUkrEnergo”, and that Mr. Khoroshkovsky “has joint business with Mr. Firtash”.

The press secretary of the President of Ukraine Iryna Vannikova informed yesterday that “President fully supports the actions of the SBU”. “The Security Service acts in frames of law. The actions of the Security Service agents are rather tough, but it is a demand of the circumstances of this case, - Mrs. Vannikova said. - President is sure that it is necessary to show a determination and insistence in the investigation of the identified corrupt practices”.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

What’s up, Ukraine: a headless Foreign Ministry and new talks on early presidential race.

The Prime Minister of Ukraine Yulia Tymoshenko declared she is in favour of the early presidential election in her country. “The sooner there will be presidential election in Ukraine, the better it will be politically cured”, she said in the column for French Le Monde, published today. Today Mrs. Tymoshenko is on the travel to France, where she’s meeting with French President Nicolas Sarcozy.

Yulia Tymoshenko thinks that the biggest mistake of the President of Ukraine Viktor Yushchenko is that he used some dirty weapon against her. “I always offered him my hand. I was only person during the Orange revolution he could rely on. I had never betrayed him. The struggle will end with his political suicide”, she added. When asked what could stop her from becoming president in the near future, she said: "Nothing!"

Meanwhile, The Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine was sacked yesterday. 250 Members of Parliament of Ukraine voted in favour of the dismissal of Mr. Ogryzko: the oppositional Party of Regions, the Communists, and 49 lawmakers from the parliamentary Block of Yulia Tymoshenko. As the authoritarian rule inside the Prime Minister’s faction is a well-known fact, the result of this vote means that Mrs. Tymoshenko was in favour of the dismissal. “Ohryzko did not suit me as a minister,” PM said. “He is not professional, he is a person who has been making provocations against the government.”

Mr. Ogryzko, always loyal to Viktor Yushchenko, recently was in a center of scandal with Russian foreign ministry: he warned the Ambassador of Russia in Ukraine, ex-Prime Minister of Russia Viktor Chernomyrdin that he may become persona non grata in Ukraine for his critical statements. Before his dismissal, Volodmyr Ogryzko addressed Parliament on the recent ruling of the U.N. court, establishing the maritime border between Ukraine and Romania – it is considered as a big fiasco of Ukrainian diplomacy, as Ukraine in fact lost a big part of its territory inside the Soviet Union border (the UN-court decision may become a dangerous precedent for future attempts to change existing post-Soviet borders).

The press-secretary of President Iryna Vannikova said the dismissal of Ohryzko “was untimely and ungrounded.” “It makes absolutely no sense to weaken the country’s foreign policy, and to create new source of tensions in the middle of the economic crisis,” she emphasized.

Some Western media say that the dismissal of Ogryzko may shift Ukrainian foreign policy from pro-Western to pro-Russian. I would not agree with that. I’d better say that the Ministry of Foreign affairs was clearly not friendly to Russia, and also was often acting against the interests of its own country – Ukraine – moving the domestic political quarrels on the international stage. However, taking to the account the recent statements of Mrs. Tymoshenko in Le Monde, the last tendency mentioned above is not going to change.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Credit History. Ukraine will receive the second bailout of the IMF credit, but it is not enough to support the economy.

I was not blogging here for a long time due to some personal reasons, but also because it was rather difficult to write about the messy situation we’ve got here in Ukraine. Every day we receive a portion of new information on what’s wrong in the country. And the picture really frightens. Ukrainian economy is getting worse, national currency is falling down (starting from the last week, the price of one dollar is more that 9 hryvnias, it’s twice more than five months ago).

To save the economy Ukraine is in need of the external financing. Here is also the problem: the International Monetary Fund (IMF) refused to issue to Ukraine the second bailout of its $16,4 billion dollars (Kyiv was supposed to receive $1,864 billion on 15 February), because Ukrainian authorities failed to comply with the requirements of the Arrangement with the IMF.

As a result, all the main world rating agencies have cut Ukraine’s credit rating. Fitch Ratings cut the rating to B, the fifth-highest non-investment grade, and kept the outlook “negative”. Standard & Poor's Ratings Services cut Ukraine's foreign currency sovereign credit ratings by two notches, to CCC+/C from B/B. S&P left Ukraine's outlook negative, indicating it may reduce the ratings further. I have to remind, that the next letter after C is D, which means ‘default’. The new S&P rating for Ukraine is the lowest in Europe – one of the ‘rating colleagues’ of Ukraine is Pakistan.

Experts said that Ukraine has no chance to attract investments and receive new loans, until its relations with the IMF will not be ‘repaired’. The only country that is ready to give money to Ukrainian economy is Russia, but the interest of Moscow is the geopolitical influence and the control on some of the strategic centers of the economy – for example, the gas transport system of Ukraine, which is a key to Ukrainian and all the European energy security. Besides, there is an evidence of upcoming problems in gas area. The 7 of March is a deadline date for a new payment of Naftogaz Ukraine to Russian Gazprom. Gazprom has already warned it may cut off gas supply to Ukraine on March 8.

Coming back to the troubles of Ukrainian economy, I have to add that people who were making such a sad prognosis on the destiny of the IMF loan didn’t take to the account the fact that the IMF as an Organization is not interested in loosing of such a big borrower as Ukraine is (actually a biggest one for the current moment). The break-up of the cooperation with Ukraine would also mean for the IMF the failure of the IMF policy, which may question the appropriateness of all the system of anti-crisis measures, worked out my the IMF experts.

As a result, the IMF decided to change the tone of a dialogue with Ukraine: if the country cannot accomplish its obligations and commitments, one of the ways out is to change the rules. Ukrainian authorities were asked to write a new Letter of Intent to the IMF, listing a new set of measures, more appropriate for the today’s economy state. I wrote about this issue for one Ukrainian newspaper, and here and here are the links to my recent articles (in Russian language).

So, next week (or a bit later) the Mission of the IMF will be back to Kyiv. Ukraine may receive the second tranche of the loan in March 2009. But it will not resolve the whole problem. To deal with the essential budget deficit, Ukraine has to ask for extra-loans (back to question of Russian ambitions), or to monetize it (back to the question of a severe inflation). Let’s see, which evil will be chosen by Ukrainian authorities?