Reforme (Europa/Ex URSS)
Regionalist Origins of
Centralisation in Ukraine
[The University of
Regionalism in Ukraine is often perceived as a
threat for territorial integrity and
democratisation. However, Ukrainian regionalist
parties, that call for severe decentralisation
during electoral campaigns, tend to promote
centralisation when in national office. Indeed,
their pre-electoral and post-electoral positions on
the centre-periphery relations significantly differ.
Strong regionalist parties follow their
pre-electoral agendas mainly for effective
bargaining with strong centralist parties. When in
national office, they promote centralisation, which
is beneficial for territorial interest groups they
represent – territorially bounded heavy industries
that require central investment.
Centralisation; decentralisation; political
Nowadays democracies tend to favour decentralisation and devolution. This is the finding of a comparative study on territorial reforms in 42 traditional and new democracies1. In Western Europe and North America, decentralisation reflects the territorially bonded social structure2, and its major driving forces are strong political parties with regionalised structures and regionalist agendas3. Until 2010 democratisation in Ukraine has been one of the most successful in Eastern Europe outside the EU. Nationalisation of Ukraine’s party system is relatively low, and there are strong political parties that exploit regionalist agendas. How comes that Ukraine is one of the most institutionally centralised states in Europe then? This is the puzzle this paper seeks to investigate. First, it explains how to measure de/centralisation in Ukraine. Second, it identifies and analyses the major critical junctures in regards to the centre-periphery relations in Ukraine: (a) independence; (b) the 1996 Constitution; (c) the 2004 constitutional reform (abolished in 2010). Third, it compares pre-electoral and post-electoral positions of those political parties that largely affected the centre-periphery relations in these three cases. Finally, the paper concludes.
The dynamics of de/centralisation in Ukraine
Decentralization is dispersing power from central to sub-state levels. It means either introducing regional executives for implementing those decisions that are made in the centre, or establishing the directly elected institutions with decision-making and decision-implementing power in regions4. Decentralisation is apparent in unitary states as well as in federations. Its extent can be reflected by the regional authority index5, which measures self-rule and shared rule of regions in states. Self-rule means the extent to which a regional government is independent from the central government institutionally and in terms of policy-making and taxation. Shared rule measures the extent to which a regional government can influence centre’s decision-making on normal legislation, executive and fiscal policy, and constitutional reform. In post-Soviet states, the career patterns of regional executives – career shifts from appointed to elected posts in a region and/or promotion to the central government – matter a lot 6. It is useful to combine these criteria for measuring the extent of de/centralisation in Ukraine.
The first critical juncture for the centre-periphery relations in Ukraine was gaining independence from the Soviet rule. Literally on its eve, the all-Crimean referendum proclaimed the autonomous status of Crimea within the Soviet Union. This is how Ukraine became a unitary state with one autonomous republic of Crimea on 24 August 1991. The centre-periphery relations of independent Ukraine were affected by the abolishing of the guiding role of the Communist Party, because the directly elected regional assemblies and their executive committees became the only decision-makers in regions. The extent of self-rule in regions was essential; however, their shared rule was barely absent. There were no institutional mechanisms of co-determining national legislation or constitutional changes. The national parliament was unicameral, and had no regional chamber. In 1992 the president limited self-rule in regions by introducing regional executives – presidential representatives and regional state administrations. They implemented the decisions of the president in regions and controlled the legacy of the decisions of regional assemblies7. The following year the national parliament (Verkhovna Rada) abolished regional executives. The functions of presidential representatives were forwarded to the heads of regional assemblies, while the responsibilities of regional state administrations were transformed to the executive committees of regional assemblies. In 1994 the extent of self rule in regions was increased due to direct popular elections of the heads of the regional assemblies,8 who combined the functions of self-government and regional executives. The central government could not dismiss them. In fact, self rule in regions in 1994 was the highest in Ukraine.
The next critical juncture was the 1996 Constitution. It narrowed self rule of regions and did not increase their shared rule. Regional assemblies did not participate in the 1995 Constitutional Treaty between the president and the national parliament, which preceded the 1996 Constitution. However, the Treaty directly affected regional assemblies. They lost their executive committees, which were transformed into regional state administrations – regional executives, which were appointed and dismissed by the president. The only reason it became possible was the career pattern of the heads of regional assemblies. They simultaneously became the heads of the respective regional state administrations, which allowed them to continue combining representative and executive functions in regions. Thus, self rule in regions was reduced with no consequences for the careers of the most influential regional leaders. Moreover, the heads of regional assemblies gained additional administrative resources from the centre, which they lacked before. Contrary to the practice of the 1994 regional elections, the 1996 Constitution9 introduced the mechanism for electing the heads of regional assemblies in respective assemblies (not directly). Although the 1996 Constitution confirmed the autonomy of Crimea, it essentially limited its self rule. The post of the President of Crimea was abolished and the President of Ukraine became responsible for giving consent to the Crimean parliament to appoint and dismiss the head of the Crimean government. The 1996 Constitution did not introduce any mechanisms of shared rule for regions. The parliament was still unicameral.
The next critical juncture might have been the 2004 constitutional reform. It was introduced during the Orange revolution and fully implemented in 2006. The constitutional changes concerned the centre-periphery relations only in the context of weakening the competencies of the president and strengthening the responsibilities of the national parliament and the central government. The heads of regional state administrations became responsible to the president and to the central government. Unlike before, regional executives became accountable to and under the control of the bodies of the executive branch of power at a higher level. According to the 2004 reform, the president was granted the right to appoint the heads of regional state administrations only through negotiating with the central government, with a similar procedure being in place for their dismissal. Before 2004, the president could appoint and dismiss regional executives with his decrees. Thus, the division of power between regional executives and regional assemblies remained the same – the 2004 constitutional reform did not particularly influence self rule of shared rule10. It only changed the mechanism of appointing and dismissing regional executives in the process of bargaining between central political actors. Moreover, the appointments of the heads of regional state administrations became an additional object of negotiation within the national parliament. According to the 2004 constitutional reform, the central government was suggested to the president by the parliamentary coalition, and the latter negotiated quotas for appointing regional executives, not only quotas for appointing central ministers or the heads of parliamentary committees.
However, in 2010 the 2004 constitutional reform was annulled by the Constitutional Court of Ukraine. Since then the division of power has been re-established in accordance with the 1996 Constitution.
How do political parties affect de/centralisation in Ukraine?
In Ukraine, de/centralisation is mainly introduced top-down, by the president and the national parliament. Let us investigate their pre-electoral and post-electoral positions towards the centre-periphery relations on the eve of independence. The first president of Ukraine was the First Secretary of the Communist Party of Ukraine Leonid Kravchuk. During the electoral campaign he positioned himself as a national leader and claimed that his main concern was fostering state- and nation-building in unitary Ukraine. His main competitor was the leader of national democrats from Rukh Vyacheslav Chornovil. Before the collapse of the USSR, Rukh promoted federalisation. In 1990 it demanded territorial autonomy for three western regions within Ukraine and full independence of Ukraine from the Soviet Union. During the 1991 electoral campaign national democratic coalition collapsed, and Chornovil gained only 23.27%. Kravchuk managed to win the majority of votes – 60%, twice as much as the vote share of his main competitor. Having become the president of Ukraine, he never highlighted his previous association with the Communist party. Instead, he continued positioning himself as the leader of a centralised state.
The post-independence national parliament consisted from communists and national democrats, who were elected under the Soviet rule. In 1991, Rukh switched to rejecting federalism and qualified it as a threat to territorial integrity. National democrats believed that only institutionally centralised Ukraine could successfully democratise. The communists supported the system of directly elected assemblies with executive committees, which was inherited from the Soviet Ukraine. Although national democrats opposed the communists11, their attitudes towards territorial arrangements had certain similarities. From the platform of the national parliament they annulled the system of presidential representatives and instead introduced the executive committees of regional assemblies.
Although the president and the national parliament did not promote federalisation, claims for decentralisation flourished in regions, mainly in the Crimea, Donbas and Zakarpattya12. Demands for territorial reforms were often articulated by the emerging political parties and territorial interest groups. The strongest territorial interest groups emerged in Donbas and Dnipropetrovsk and consisted of top-managers of heavy industries (coal mining and steal production). They were the founders of contemporary financial-industrial groups. Territorial interest groups aimed at lobbying their interests via regional and central authorities. They supported the emerging political party ‘The Interregional Block of Reforms’ (IBR), which claimed to represent the interests of people in eastern and southern Ukraine13. IBR demanded fiscal and economic autonomy in southern and eastern oblasts for fostering economic reforms. Contrary to parliamentary political parties, IBR considered unitarism to be a threat to territorial integrity and democratisation of Ukraine. History of Western Europe proves that territories with heavy industries prefer centralisation, because they benefited from centralised administration and central investment. The post-independence claims for decentralisation in eastern and southern Ukraine were meant to protect these regions from Kyiv, because their regional economies suffered the most from post-independence economic changes. Later on the same territorial interest groups will compete not with the centre, but with each other in order to win seats in the national parliament and positions in the central government to gain central investment.
The national parliament, which was elected in 1994, did not attract many political parties, which promoted decentralisation. For example, the Party of economic revival of the Crimea managed to win only one seat in Verkhovna Rada. One of the reasons was the electoral system that allowed deputy candidates to run independently. The procedure of candidate nomination was more favourable for individuals, than for political parties14. Only about one third of newly elected deputies had any party affiliation15. In fact, there were less party affiliated deputies than in 199016. The representatives of regional interest groups gained seats in Verkhovna Rada without an obligatory party affiliation17. They started joining parties only after creating of the Party of Regions in 2000-200118.
In 1994, the representative of IBR Leonid Kuchma won presidential elections. Although his campaign was based on the IBR’s programme, Kuchma did not promote regional autonomy for eastern and southern Ukraine when in office. Instead, he rapidly switched to administrative centralisation, as evident from the 1995 Constitutional Treaty and the 1996 Constitution. Having gained presidency, Kuchma cooperated with regional elites in a following way. First, he supported the heads of regional state administrations that ensured the electoral success of pro-presidential political parties during the presidential elections of 1999 and the parliamentary elections of 1998 and 200219. Failure to carry out such electoral ‘duty’ often resulted in the dismissal of the respective heads of regional state administrations. In order to be on a safe side, the latter combined positions in regional assemblies and regional administration20. Second, Kuchma stimulated competition between different territorial interest groups, instead of prioritising one of them. He rotated their access to decision-making powers in the central government by rotating prime ministers21. In 1997-1999 prime minister Valeriy Pustovoitenko, the head of the National Democratic Party, represented the Dnipropetrovsk interest group. Donetsk interest group gained access to the central government in 2002, when its representative Viktor Yanukovych became a prime minister. This rotation became possible, because territorial interest groups competed rather than cooperated with each other, and did not unite to put pressure on the president.
Instead of demanding decentralisation, territorial interest groups gained seats in the national parliament and positions in the central government for gaining central investment via various national programmes for developing industries. For example, the 2004 national budget massively supported coal mining enterprises, which were owned by the representatives of the Donetsk interest group. This is the main reason why the most successful regionalist parties that support territorial interest groups tend to transform into parties of power with unitarist positions when in national office. The best example is the Party of Regions, which was formed on the basis of the Party of regional revival of Ukraine – the follower of IBR and its agenda. Strong regionalist parties exploit regionalist manifestos mainly for electoral purposes, because their electorates often obtained regionalists ideologies. However, they follow their pre-electoral agendas only in order to protest against centre’s decisions. During the Orange revolution of 2004 the members of the Party of Regions initiated the Congress of the Deputies of Regional Assemblies of the East and South of Ukraine and proclaimed autonomy in eastern and southern regions. This was meant to protest against the Orange revolution. The Party of Regions failed to consider the centre-periphery relations in the subsequent 2004 constitutional changes. Its regionalist agenda was exploited mainly for effective bargaining with national democrats who had unitarist positions.
By the late 2000s the majority of political parties in Ukraine switched to supporting decentralisation. Even national democrats, that used to have highly centralist positions in the 1990s, suggested strengthening regional assemblies. For example, ‘Our Ukraine’ proposed cancelling regional state administrations, leaving more taxes in the regions, and sending less taxes to the central budget. The newly elected President Viktor Yanukovych declared his intention to strengthen self rule in regions by means of introducing the executive committees of regional assemblies and forwarding some functions of regional administrations to them22. Despite the parliamentary majority is openly pro-presidential, this has not happened so far. Instead, fiscal centralisation has become even more severe. It means that the strongest political party in Ukraine, which has the best representation in national and regional offices, does not implement its own regionalist agenda. Yanukovych strengthened shared rule though – he established the Council of Regions – an advisory institution, whose task was to improve regional economics and prepare the territorial-administrative reform. Apart from the president himself and ministers from the central government, the Council’s members included the heads of regional state administration. On the one hand, the Council provided a good platform for regional leaders to make decisions on crucial issues for regions and address them to the central government for implementation. On the other hand, the Council excluded the heads of regional assemblies. Thus, increased shared rule in this case referred only to regional executives.
The changes of the centre-periphery relations in Ukraine are often introduced by those political actors, which gain popular vote with the help of regionalist agendas and switch for centralisation when in national office. This switch is beneficial for the territorial interest groups they represent. The latter rely on heavy industries and need central investment for their further development.
In the early 1990s, national democrats viewed decentralisation as a threat for territorial integrity of Ukraine, while non-parliamentary parties with regionalist agendas claimed decentralisation to be the only way to democratise Ukraine, stimulate its economic development and accommodate its regional differences. In the late 2000s, the majority of political parties promote decentralisation, and the strongest regionalist party – the Party of Regions – is in national office. However, this has not affected the centre-periphery relations yet. It means that either the changes are coming soon, or we keep observing how regionalist parties promote centralisation in Ukraine.
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VALENTYNA ROMANOVA – Marie Curie Fellow, Politics and International Relations School of Social and Political Science, University of Edinburgh.