Swearing in new deputies to the Ukrainian Parliament, Nov 27, 2014 (Photo: REUTERS)

New Historic Supermajority In Ukraine’s Parliament, Explained.

The pro-European coalition has won complete control over the Ukrainian parliament and has a very ambitious agenda for a nation in crisis.

by Devin Ackles, Hromadske International

produced by Maxim Eristavi, Randy R. Potts

What You Need to Know:

✓ The first session of the new parliament was on November 28, 2014;

✓ This is the 8th parliament in a period of 23 years. The average term of any sitting Ukrainian parliament has been shorter than 5 years, outlined by the Constitution;

✓ The five major pro-European parties have formed a coalition with a special coalition agreement, the first one in Ukraine’s political history;

✓ The coalition parties hold a rare constitutional majority in the parliament;

✓ A series of reforms have been outlined in their coalition agreement that would address nearly every area of government in need of reform;

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A New Era

A powerful coalition of five parties, 4 of which were virtually founded on Maidan, has gained a constitutional majority in parliament for the first time in its history since independence.

There are other firsts too. The Communist Party of Ukraine, for one, will not have a single representative in parliament. There is also no openly pro-Russian lobby.

Less than a year ago, President Yanukovych’s oligarch-backed Party of Regions could rubber stamp virtually any law that its backers saw fit to pass. Now the Party of Regions as a distinct political force is long gone. And while a fair share of its former members were able to get themselves elected to parliament again, they will not have the numbers to affect which way the vote goes. Read more on historic changes inside the post-revolution parliament in Ukraine in our recent explainer:

With a virtual monopoly on power, the new coalition has set before itself a series of ambitious reforms in its jointly-authored coalition agreement. Their ability to keep the coalition together and carry out the reforms that Ukraine will doubtlessly be influenced by external events, but the role of personalities is also certain to influence how things unfold.

The Players

Yuri Lutsenko (Photo: http://solydarnist.org/)

Petro Poroshenko Bloc

As the official head of the party’s faction with the largest number of overall seats in the new parliament, Yuri Lutsenko will be the mouthpiece of President Poroshenko in the coalition. Lutsenko was famously jailed during Yanukovych’s reign for allegedly abusing his office when he was the Interior Minister under Yulia Tymoshenko.

Lutsenko has undergone a significant transformation since being pardoned by Yanukovych in 2013. A long-time ally of Tymoshenko, and an important player during the Orange Revolution, he has since transformed himself into Poroshenko’s confidant and a leader of the second Maidan revolution.

What To Watch For: President Poroshenko and Prime-minister Yatsenyuk are reported to have had some difference of opinions in the past months. While Lutsenko is himself a veteran with deep ties throughout the political system, the party has a lot of new faces in the party that may create an internal battle that weakens the party. Lutsenko is also vying for influence with Poroshenko’s right-hand man and newly elected Speaker of parliament Volodymyr Hroysman, also the first Jewish speaker in Ukraine’s parliament history. Check out a BBC profile on him:

Oleksandr Turchynov (Photo: Artem Slipchuka, Den’)

People’s Front

Another long-time politician and former close ally of Yulia Tymoshenko, Oleksandr Turchynov has witnessed a kind of re-birth as a politician following Maidan. Throughout Maidan, Turchynov was regularly seen somewhere behind the ‘big three’ opposition party leaders Klitschko, Yatsenyuk and Tyahnybok.

His own political rebirth began when he was voted in to serve simultaneously as Speaker for parliament and interim President following the Maidan Revolution in February 2014. One of Tymoshenko’s closest allies since the late 1990s, he instead opted to leave the Fatherland party with Prime Minister Yatsenyuk before parliamentary elections in order create a counterweight to Poroshenko’s party.

What To Watch For: Yatsenyuk and Turchynov are heavy hitters and are some of the best political negotiators in Ukrainian politics. Their party will do its best to set the agenda whenever possible. The party’s credibility, however, is largely dependent upon Yatsenyuk being able to carry out the reforms he has failed to do since becoming Prime Minister early this year.

Oleh Berezyuk (Photo: YouTube, 24 Kanal)

Samopomich (Self-Reliance)

Much like the party that he heads, Oleh Berezyuk is a new figure on the national scene. As a member of the the Lviv City Council, he spent the past 8 years in the company of Samopomich’s founder, the mayor of Lviv Andriy Sadovyi. The decision to have Berezyuk, who was 28th on the party list, lead the party demonstrates his value to the party.

A doctor by training, Berezyuk received a master degrees in psychology from the University of Illinois in the 1990s before returning home to work in a local hospital.

What To Watch For: As an outsider to the national political scene, Berezyuk does not appear to have any direct ties to the old political forces. This could either strengthen the party and his independence or, conversely, limit their ability to influence the coalition’s decisions down the road.

Oleh Lyashko (Photo: novostimira.net)

The Radical Party of Oleh Lyashko

Never one to sell himself short, anti-rebel vigilante Oleh Lyashko managed to get the party of his namesake into parliament, though it did not perform as well at the elections as they were polling. Lyashko is famous for his over-the-top populist politics, and long diatribes both inside and outside of parliament.

Lyashko was a member of Tymoshenko’s Fatherland party from 2006 until 2010, when he was kicked out of the party for allegedly collaborating with members of the Party of Regions to vote for changes to the constitution that awarded the president substantial executive powers.

What To Watch For: Lyashko has been criticized for playing political theater, while doing very little actual legislating. May work as a kind of oppositional force in the coalition.

Yulia Tymoshenko (Photo: http://www.tymoshenko.ua/)

Batkivshchyna (Fatherland)

After seeing a humilating decline in support for both her and her party, Yulia Tymoshenko is out of the big picture. Her connections run deep throughout the entire political system of Ukraine, where she was once one of the most feared politicians in the land.

With nearly all of her closest political allies abandoning her after she was freed from prison, Tymoshenko has struggled to come to grips with the political reality that she returned to. Still, many of the current political leadership has seen their political fortunes grow as a result of their ties with her.

What To Watch For: Tymoshenko may yet spoil the party, particularly if Batkivshchyna and the Radical Party create an quasi-opposition within the coalition.

Two of the big personalities in Ukraine’s parliamentary election, Oleh Lyashko and Yulia Tymoshenko, will likely become part of the new opposition bloc in parliament because their parties’ polarizing platforms make them incompatible coalition partners, Andrii Kruglashov, an independent political analyst said during The Sunday Show on Hromadske International.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko (R) and Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk shake hands in parliament in Kiev after parliament voted on Nov 27, 2014 for Yatsenyuk to stay on as prime minister. (Photo: AFP/Sergei Supinsky)

The Coalition Agreement, Explained

The coalition agreement is the guiding document that is supposed to set the agenda for all members of the coalition in the coming months and years ahead. In theory, by signing on to the agreement, all members of the coalition agree to stick to it and make sure that all of its points are fulfilled.

US ambassador to Ukraine

Numbering some 73 pages, it covers 17 different areas targeted for reform. This includes reforms in the the financial sector, the nation’s transportation and general infrastructure, regulatory policy, the energy sector and many more. Some reforms are described in substantial detail with specific areas that need to be worked, while others are very general in nature and delegate the specific strategy to be created at a later date.

Below is a quick summary of a few key reforms in the coalition agreement:

Constitutional Reform

As one of the campaign promises of Petro Poroshenko’s presidential campaign, its inclusion is both logical and long-overdue to break a constant circle of permanent political crises In Ukraine. In this part of the coalition agreement there are no specific areas pointed out that the coalition would like to amend or a timeframe for doing so.

Reform of Law Enforcement

One of the more ambitious series of reforms, it envisions a complete overhaul of the bodies of law enforcement. First, it calls for the complete liquidation of the six different subdivisions of the soviet-era ‘militia’ and transform them into a new national police. Separate, locally funded municipal police forces will also be created. This will require a completely new police force to be hired , all of whom will be subject to background checks and a new set of hiring criteria to be defined at a later time.

Additionally, it envisions the creation of an institute for detective training, a whole new set of police training standards and the creation of an analog to the United States’ F.B.I. Essentially the plan is to eliminate nearly every vestige of the soviet system of law enforcement in Ukraine and renew society’s trust in one of its most historically corrupt institutions.

Court System Reform

As one of the most detailed areas of the coalition agreement, the reforms to the heavily politicized and politically dependent court system is one of the centerpieces of the new coalition agreement. Clearly drawing from areas of the Association Agreement with the European Union, the coalition agreement outlines a series of specific reforms that will bring the Ukrainian court system in line with EU standards and ensure its complete independence. This will be done through constitutional amendments.

New judges will be appointed by a set of (as yet undefined) new criteria and will be required to report all of their financials and property. Any judges who do meet the new criteria or are found to have been dishonest will be removed from their posts. All of the necessary laws are slated to be passed by the second quarter of 2015, though the actual implementation of the reforms has no clear deadline.

Decentralization and Reform of Public Administration

As one of the buzzwords thrown around whenever reforms are discussed, “decentralization” has been given the most attention out of any of the reforms. With about half of the reforms planned to be carried out throughout 2015, a lot of energy will be expended to provide local communities with control over their own tax revenues and local elections while shifting as much as possible to a system of e-government.

One of the reforms listed calls for the streamlining of the bureaucratic machine through cuts in the total number of civil servants. It also outlines a number of cuts in prohibitive government services like requiring all residents to register where they live (another holdover from the Soviet era).

In general, the reforms listed do a good job of reducing the bloated government and provide communities with more control over themselves.

Electoral System Reform

National parliamentary elections will be held using a purely proportional open list system that will allow voters to choose who they want to vote for, not just vote for a party with a closed list of candidates. Mayors will be elected in two rounds of elections and the number of deputies in city councils will be reduced from their current grossly-inflated figures.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, front right, and his cabinet… (Efrem Lukatsky/AP)

Will The Supermajority Hold On?

The coalition is broad enough that if one party does not follow through on its part of the bargain, the others will still likely be able to get the reforms passed.

The mentality of ‘pass the laws now, worry about implementing them later’ has already taken hold of many MPs who are concerned that if they delay even for a moment, they will lose momentum and falter altogether due to infighting or personal egos. The Ukrainian public certainly has no patience for another fumbled opportunity, nor does Ukraine itself.

With a proper mix of internal pressure from inside the parliament and outside from civil society, the public and the international community, Ukraine has the best chance it has ever had to carry out reforms that have been 23 years in the making.

If the new coalition is not able to keep its act together and, in the least, stick to the coalition agreement, there is a very real possibility that Ukraine’s economy and its social fabric could unravel and quickly. Reform is now a question of the nation’s survival.

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