Sunday 20 October 2019

Opposition aims to curb powers of new Ukraine president

Counter-measure: Volodymyr Zelenskiy faces a hostile parliament. AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda
Counter-measure: Volodymyr Zelenskiy faces a hostile parliament. AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda

Matthias Williams

Before Ukraine's new president Volodymyr Zelenskiy was even elected, an opposition leader was plotting to curb his powers and make it easier for him to be impeached.

Andriy Sadovyi, head of the Samopomich party, the second largest opposition group, announced two days before the vote he was garnering support for a parliamentary bill to weaken the presidency.

The opening salvo is a measure of the hostility that may be in store for Mr Zelenskiy, a 41-year-old comedian who beat incumbent president Petro Poroshenko in Sunday's election despite having no prior political experience or representation in parliament.

Mr Zelenskiy is expected to take office next month. His ability to work with parliament, the Rada, will be crucial to meeting the expectations of his voters and passing reforms to keep foreign aid flowing.

Lawmakers from Samopomich and other parties feel the president has too much power.

"Let him have responsibility like other political players - he cannot stand above the law," said Oksana Syroyid, a Samopomich lawmaker and deputy speaker in parliament.

Mr Zelenskiy's powers will include appointing the head of the state security service, the head of the military, the general prosecutor, the central bank governor and the foreign and defence ministers.

But parliament must confirm each appointment and although Mr Zelenskiy beat the incumbent decisively in the presidential vote and his party could win the largest number of seats in parliamentary elections in October it is unlikely to win an outright majority, opinion polls show.

This means he would need to ally with at least one other party if he is to get his election pledges enacted and his appointments approved.

Adding to the hostility is his election promise of a bill to strip lawmakers, and himself, of immunity from prosecution.

Volodymyr Ariev, a lawmaker from Mr Poroshenko's faction, said it was unlikely parliament would back that move as lawmakers worry about prosecution in political vendettas.

Mr Zelenskiy also needs lawmakers to pass legislation that matters to the International Monetary Fund, Ukraine's most important foreign backer, such as a bill to criminalise illegal enrichment by officials.

Stuart Culverhouse, head of sovereign and fixed income research at Tellimer, said lawmakers might not back that bill until after October. This could lead to delays in IMF payments under the $3.9bn (€3.48bn) assistance programme. The next is due in May. "This could be enough to burst the pre-election Zelenskiy market bubble," he said.

Ms Syroyid said her party wants to strip the president of some powers, including the right to appoint the chairman of the energy and utilities commission, who sets tariffs with the government. "What do the tariffs have to do with the president?" she asked.

Yulia Tymoshenko, another opposition leader who ran against Mr Zelenskiy, has also called for the president's powers to be curbed.

"It may be necessary to more clearly define what the president can and cannot do," Oleksiy Riabchyn, a lawmaker in Ms Tymoshenko's party said.

The government is led by Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman, appointed by Mr Poroshenko. He is expected to stay in power until the October election. If Mr Zelenskiy wins enough seats in parliament, he is expected to form a new government.

Irish Independent

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Editors Choice

Also in World News