Ukraine constitutional crisis snowballs as parliament challenges president's announcement of snap elections

Ukraine constitutional crisis snowballs as parliament challenges president's announcement of snap elections
Uncertainty is mounting over the legitimacy of president Zelenskiy's decision to dissolve parliament.
By bne IntelliNews May 22, 2019

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy's decree on the Verkhovna Rada's dissolution and call for early parliamentary elections could trigger a constitutional crisis in the country, the chairman of the nation's parliament's Andriy Parubiy said on May 22.

"I'm firmly convinced that the president's decree not only disregards the Constitution but is leading Ukraine into a constitutional crisis," Parubiy said at an extraordinary session of the parliament, the Verkhovna Rada.

On May 21, Zelenskiy signed a special decree on the early termination of the powers of the nation's parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, and called early elections on July 21. 

Zelenskiy announced the dissolution of the Verkhovna Rada during his swearing in speech on May 20. At the same time, the new president urged lawmakers to adopt a number of urgent laws "within the next two months", specifically, on the abolition of parliamentary immunity, and on criminal liability for illegal enrichment. Now what constitutes a coalition is in dispute.

According to Parubiy, the only explanation for calling snap parliamentary elections Zelenskiy gave is the actual lack of a parliamentary coalition since 2016.

A coalition was formed but the politicians never released a list of names that prove the coalition has 226 members needed to rule. The failure to publish the list is the basis of Zelenskiy’s claim the coalition has never existed. If there is no ruling coalition for more than 30 days the president has the right to dissolve parliament.

However, the Rada's chairman added, it's not a part of the presidential duties to assess whether or nor the ruling coalition exists. "Only a court will determine its constitutionality," Parubiy said, adding that he supported a move by a number of parliamentarians who plan to appeal to the Constitutional Court.

Parubiy added that following May 17's collapse of the ruling parliamentary coalition the Rada has 30 days for the creation of a new coalition.

Ghosts of Yanukovych

"I have to assess this decree politically and say that its author will bear responsibility both in line with the law and to the people of Ukraine. [...] One president has already started his activity by violating the Constitution," Parubiy added, alluding to ex-president Viktor Yanukovych, who has changed the nation's constitution in 2010.

This statement was echoed by Oleh Liashko, head of the Radical Party faction in the Rada. "Zelenskiy's order on the parliament's dissolution is unconstitutional, unlawful, and arbitrary! Zelenskiy is acting just like Yanukovych did in 2010 when he changed the constitution after elections using corrupt judges of the Constitutional Court," Interfax quoted Liashko as saying on May 22.

The politician added that his action is initiating collection of deputies' signatures with the aim to appeal to the Constitutional Court in connection with Zelenskiy's order dissolving the Rada. "We will initiate the collection of signatures of 45 deputies as early as tomorrow to appeal to the Constitutional Court over unconstitutionality of Zelenskiy's order," Liashko wrote on Facebook the same day.

"Systematic violations of the Constitution and laws of Ukraine by Zelenskiy are fraught with destabilization of the country and controllable chaos," Liashko added.

"Absolutely legitimate"

As of the afternoon of May 22, the only one parliamentary faction, which has publicly provided full support to Zelenskiy, was the Batkivshchyna Party faction. According to its leader, ex-PM Yulia Tymoshenko, the president has every reason to terminate the Rada's mandate early.

"I cited precisely legal reasons during a meeting [between Zelenskiy and leaders of the Rada's factions on May 21] to prove that the Verkhovna Rada's dissolution is absolutely legitimate, and it's wrong to twist things and say that this is a political-legal decision," Tymoshenko told journalists on May 21.

The decision on dissolving the parliament is an absolutely legitimate decision in line with Article 106 of the Ukrainian constitution, Tymoshenko said. "In keeping with this, the president is entitled to terminate the Verkhovna Rada's mandate early, for instance when there is no coalition," she said, according to Interfax.

There has been no coalition at the Rada since March 2016, when the Radical Party faction left it, she said.