Ukraine’s land reform bill, a key priority for the ruling Servant of the People party, passed Parliament with 240 votes on the first reading – nearly all from Servant of the People itself, while every opposition party either voted against or abstained. Despite this, Golos MP Volodymyr Tsabal, speaking at a recent airing of the Sunday Show, says that his party supports land reform – but with caveats.
One important factor, according to Tsabal, was the lack of a mechanism for financing of small farmers. “If you open the market and there is no access to finance, then only rich people will buy it,” said the MP.
However, the draft bill did once have this provision, though it was removed from the bill prior to the vote on the first reading, which resulted in Golos’ abstention from the vote. Despite this, Servant of the People MP Maryan Zablotskyy said that his party is working closely with Golos and other parties as the bill undergoes changes for the second reading.
One big issue at stake is the question of foreign-owned land. Under the current moratorium on the sale of agricultural land, Ukrainians lack the ability to sell agricultural land, and this extends to non-citizens. Analyst Dmytro Lyvch says that under a liberal model – that is, one without selling restrictions, Ukraine’s land market has the potential to generate up to $85 billion in economic activity over 10 years.
As Zablotskyy pointed out, however, the concept of non-citizens having the ability to openly buy and sell Ukrainian agricultural land is immensely unpopular with Ukrainians. “Since we’re a democratic state, we have to react to the will of the people. And there is a relatively unpopular sentiment towards foreigners,” noted Zablotskyy.
But a referendum on the matter, as suggested by Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy in a Facebook video, could prove to be a slippery slope. “We need to work towards settling these issues in a way that satisfies the will of the people, the democracy, but also does not create a political system in Ukraine that’s similar to Switzerland, where they hold 12 referendums per year even on silly questions,” Zablotskyy added.
As the matter stands, the ruling party does not need opposition or minority support to pass its bills – it can pass legislation more or less unilaterally. Still, opposition support would be a welcome sign of inclusiveness for the ruling party. While some parties, such as former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko’s Batkivshchyna party, have suggested political concessions for their support, according to Zablotskyy, Tsabal said that protecting rural residents and ensuring that funds generated by the sale of agricultural lands are reinvested into rural areas remains the key to winning over his party, at least.