Suppose a political party or parties in Ukraine voted to delay the presidential election by a few months, or a year, or two?  How democratic would that be?  Not at all, since the Constitution says clearly that presidential elections must be held every five years.  If anyone tried to delay elections for political gain there would be an international outcry, and quite right too.  The same would be true if anyone tried to delay the parliamentary elections beyond the maximum permitted term.

But amidst the furore following the presidential election and one party's reluctance to recognise the results, the Ukrainian Rada (parliament) has taken a decision just as undemocratic as delaying a presidential or parliamentary election.  This was the decision, on 16 February, to cancel the Rada's earlier resolution to hold local government elections on 30 May 2010.  The supposed reason for the cancellation was the absence of funding for the elections in the budget.  But nearly everyone seems to agree that the decision was unconstitutional.  Opponents of the move have said they will lodge a complaint with the Ukrainian Constitutional Court.  Some commentators have suggested that the MPs in the Rada knew the Court was likely to overturn their decision; but that they went ahead anyway knowing that any decision by the Court to overturn the Rada action was likely to come too late for the local elections to go ahead on time.

The Ukrainian Rada has many terrific features.  Not only is it distinguished by some cool Soviet-era murals, a lobby where journalists, diplomats and MPs mix freely, and live choirs at key ceremonies, but many of the MPs are serious, hard-working professionals.  Unfortunately, however, the decision to delay an election beyond a constitutionally-set deadline sets a dangerous and unwelcome precedent.  Every day which passes without a date for the local elections being set makes the decision more serious.  I've blogged before about the risk that undemocratic behaviour by MPs will harm the reputation of the Rada and of Ukraine more widely.  I hope that all the MPs and parties in the Rada, including those who voted to delay the local elections, will ensure that a date is set as soon as possible for the local government elections to take place at the first opportunity.

Leigh Turner
British Ambassador to Ukraine

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