Last week brought news about the creation of interfaction associations in the parliament on the basis of the MPs’ constituencies. Thus lobby groups have arisen in the Verkhovna Rada of the 7th convocation. Their chief mission will be promoting the interests of the MPs’ “little fatherlands,” where most of them were elected. At the moment we know of interest groups which will take care of the problems of Kyiv oblast, as well as Lviv, Kharkiv, Vinnytsia, Odesa, and Sumy oblasts, Galicia and Bukovyna.
We would like to remind our readers that the right to create interfaction associations was legitimized in 2010. That was when MPs amended the related Laws of Ukraine “On the Rules of Procedure” and “On the Status of People’s Deputies” and thus secured their right to create “interest lobby groups.” However, the efficacy of regional associations is not merely questionable: obstructions to their effective functioning have been built into the legislation in question. Although the law defines terms for parliamentary associations (such as at least five members per group, representing at least two parliamentary factions), their authority and mechanism of implementing the decisions were not outlined. The only prohibitions, clearly formulated by the legislators (the promoting of private interests and entering interfaction associations), have antagonistic goals.
Overall, the regulation of MPs’ activities has remained unchanged, since the evaluation of such associations and clarifications of the basic procedural regulations on the matter were published in 2008. This document stated that members of parliament had the right to create any groups, without staff, logistic, information, or organization support of their activities. The innovations left these terms unchanged.
However, most political scientists, just as the population of the regions in question, feel rather positive about such associations. Under the conditions of critical centralization of power and concentration of powers in the central government, lobbying local interests on the top level is crucial for the vital activities in most parts of the country. However, another question remains: just how effective are they?
Political scientists believe that ideological differences of the MPs, entering such associations, could become the stumbling block in the solution of problems on local or regional scale. Moreover, some MPs explicitly avoided membership due to the conflict of political interests. Commentators believe that the upcoming presidential election can also have a negative impact on such communities, because the parliament has often been used as a tool for implementing the top leadership’s plans.
A GROUP IS ONLY EFFICIENT WHEN ALL ITS MEMBERS ACT AS ONE
Yulia BIDENKO, Ph.D., political scientist (Kharkiv):
“The practice of territory-based interfaction parliamentary associations has existed not only in Ukraine, but also in many other countries, since the times of the Great French Revolution. In a republic or parliamentary monarchy, people have a better knowledge of local problems. Therefore MPs create certain associations to better represent the interests of their region or territory.
“The history of our own state building shows that since independence, our MPs elected in majoritarian constituencies in 1990 and 1994, would very often form groups. After the mixed system was introduced in the 1998 and 2002 elections, MPs joined groups both on the party or regional principle. That was when the first parliamentary group ‘For Kharkiv’ was created, and later, ‘For Kharkiv oblast.’ It included MPs who traditionally represented Kharkiv and oblast, regardless of their party affiliation.
“It should be mentioned that an MP group has no such authorities as a faction association, and proves effective only if all the representatives of a region act like one, closing their eyes to their ideological differences for the sake of their constituency’s interests.
“In the current parliament a group ‘For Kharkiv, for Slobozhanshchyna’ has also been created. But it is mostly made up by the representatives of the Party of Regions, who won most seats in the single-member districts in Kharkiv oblast. The oppositionists, who gained seats in party lists (as, for instance, Mr. Avakov), did not join this group. First and foremost, it is related to ideological and personal differences among Kharkiv-based MPs. The Party of Regions’ Kharkiv lobby lacks power. Consequently, defending the interests of Kharkiv oblast in the new parliament will be quite problematic.”
THIS IS RATHER A SENTIMENT
Ihor HULYK, political commentator, editor in chief at Lvivska hazeta:
“I have seen numerous attempts to create regional associations in the parliament. Lviv-elected MPs even initiated the creation of a sort of ‘expat community’ in the capital. Unfortunately, the idea flopped, and now only a dead website reminds of its existence. So far neither the region nor its population have profited from such associations: despite being based in Lviv and oblast, our MPs mostly pursued faction interests or personal goals, while regional consolidation was somewhere at the bottom of their priority list.
“It is the MPs elected in single-ticket districts who typically care for the interests of their region (or, more exactly, constituency, because they will probably run for parliament again in the same district). Meanwhile, those elected in party lists, tend to see themselves as Kyivites and soon forget how they came there.
“As far as the current situation goes, I know that the Lviv-elected MPs have already met with the mayor and head of the oblast administration, and promised to join forces for the lobbying of local interests. This promise (and later, the agreement to create a regional association) was prompted by a raider attempt to seize one of the important industrial enterprises. So the MPs (especially those who themselves own a business) were confronted with a fact of probable threat to their own interests.
“The hopes on effectiveness of such regional formations stems only from an average voter’s expectations. Political strife is getting more intense: in just one year we should expect the start of another presidential campaign, so ‘gentleman’s agreements’ between various political forces can vanish into thin air.
“Generally, judging from European practices, I could say that regional parliamentary associations are rather a sentiment than an effective tool. Is the lobbying of provinces’ interests the keystone task for MPs in European countries? Of course not. They have a smoothly running mechanism of local governance and enough funds. So their legislators are first of all concerned with the quality of national legislation.”
THEY MUST CLEARLY FORMULATE THE GOAL AND METHODS
Taras LITKOVETS, political scientist (Lutsk):
“Interfaction associations, made by MPs elected in a certain region, have existed in the Ukrainian parliament for years. However, the question of their efficiency remains open. One positive option is that the representatives of opposing factions might sooner find a common language, driven by their patriotic sentiments and the feeling of compatriotship. Meanwhile, the idea that we are all Ukrainians, no matter what region we come from and regardless of ideological views, might consolidate the nation. However, such associations have no legal status. Legislators should clearly formulate such associations’ goals and methods of work, if they want them to become efficient tools rather than empty talk shops.
“It would be good if all the 12 MPs elected in Volyn oblast joined forces for the good of our region. What is good about such parliamentary groups is that lobbying for certain regions does not imply a conflict between parties, since a group will deal with economic and social issues.”
LOBBYING THE OBLAST’S INTERESTS DURING BUDGET ALLOCATION
Yurii SAS, deputy head, Cherkasy oblast branch of the Committee of Voters, Ukraine:
“The creation of interfaction associations of deputies on the territorial basis can be obstructed by different political views of MPs and personal misunderstandings between them. Moreover, Cherkasy oblast has an incomplete number of MPs in single-member districts, because the Central Election Commission could not establish election results in Districts 194 and 197, despite the obvious pattern of votes. Secondly, there are almost no MPs elected on party lists who would reside there, or have a connection with the region on a regular basis. The candidates from Cherkasy oblast ended up below the passing line on lists of almost all parties that overcame the 5 percent threshold.
“The purpose of such unions may be to consolidate efforts on lobbying the oblast’s interests during budget allocation or passing such legislation that would be of use specifically to Cherkasy oblast. Since Cherkasy oblast hardly received any subsidies from the state budget (unlike, for example, Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts, who became the main recipients), this would not hurt.”