The Sunday Show with MP Svitlana Zalishchuk
23 September, 2018

On tonight’s Sunday Show we are joined by MP Svitlana Zalishchuk. We’ll be discussing some of the latest developments from the Ukrainian parliament, which approved changes to the Central Election Committee this week. We take a look at what this means for Ukraine ahead of the 2019 elections.

President Petro Poroshenko also visited parliament this week for his annual State of the Nation address. He covered a variety of domestic and foreign policy issues, including the situation in the Azov Sea and the risk of weakening sanctions against Russia. We break down the highlights and takeaways from the address.  

On the Central Election Commission (CEC)

The Central Election Commission has always played a great role in any election campaign and any elections. We have a proverb in Ukraine that goes: "wins not the one who gets the majority of the votes, but the one who counts the votes." And it tells you what is behind this whole story of the election of the members to the Central Election Commission. And, yes, the term of the current head of the CEC and the members of CEC has expired four years ago and this is illegal. They are taking their post illegally and there was a lot of discussion in society on whether it will be at all legitimate for them to conduct the next elections, or any elections basically, in Ukraine. Why, for what reason, couldn't they re-appoint or elect new members? Because there was a big fight for the majority in this body. You've mentioned correctly that, at the moment, the coalition – Petro Poroshenko Bloc and People’s Front – has the majority and their numbers were increased to 17. However, the quorum was not increased, and that's what allows them to keep their majority in this body.

Petro Poroshenko Bloc has 8 [votes], but if you also count the others who are believed to be close, allegedly, to the president, you'll get those 11 votes. It means that this is the quorum, so they can have any meeting of the CEC without having other representatives.

On Diversity in the CEC

I think that's the main disappointment about the situation: after the [Euromaidan] revolution and after building new institutions in Ukraine, everyone was fighting for and expected CEC to be an independent institution, so that we can nominate those members that are not loyal to a political name, but loyal to certain principles. MP Yevhen Radchenko, for example, has that reputation in society: he is from civil society, he didn't work with any particular political body. So this is the main disappointment, it's that it did not become an independent institution called to guarantee that elections are conducted in accordance with the law and international principles.

On the Possible New Electoral Code

Probably the best way to check, to test the forecast, would be to read the state union of the president and his address to the parliament in detail. He didn't mention a single word about the electoral code. He talked about many reforms, many problems within society, but not this one. And how I read it is that there is very low chance for the new electoral code to be voted in the second reading, which is what we all – myself in particular – promoted and supported for years and years before the parliament.

When the president came to the parliament, a number of us, several dozen parliamentarians were wearing t-shirts saying “open lists.” And that was their question to the president whether he is ready to adopt this new rule for society to elect next members of the parliament, but also local authorities and the president himself. This is what the new electoral code is about. As you know, we started this campaign for a new electoral code approximately a year and a half ago, and we announced this so-called Big Political Reform, which includes a new electoral code, anti-corruption court (that is now, thankfully, adopted) and also the decrease or restriction on parliamentary impunity.

For example, if you look at the anti-corruption court, remember, one year ago, the president at the YES conference was asked about the anti-corruption court and he said: “Look, they only exist in some African countries, third countries that don't have democracy.” But later, because of the pressure and also support from civil society, some parliamentarians, the international community, the International Monetary Fund, we managed to adopt it. And this September, the president was showing off like this was his result and his achievement.

On Funding for Political Parties in Ukraine

Well, actually, the funding is happening: for the last year and a half, the state has been financing political parties. We adopted this law two years ago and it was part of the legislation. [MP] Serhiy Leshchenko was the first author, [MP] Mustafa [Nayyem] and myself were also supporting it. So, at the moment, all parties that are represented in the parliament, they are getting state finances and this, I think, is a great achievement because new parties want politics to run in a different way. Now, it's not necessarily for them to knock on the door of oligarchs or rich people, they have alternative resources to finance their activities. Also, connected to this issue, we created this system for monitoring the finances of political parties and so far, if you monitor, we already have dozens of different investigations on how Batkivshchyna, Svoboda and some other parties were funded. Now, these cases are investigated when, for example, some students, according to the reports, hundreds of students supported one or another big party. Can you believe that? You can't. Especially with hundreds of thousands.

On President Poroshenko’s State of the Nation Address to Parliament

Unfortunately, when I watched the president's address, I saw a candidate for the presidency, not the president. He was using the floor in the parliament to campaign with his own agenda.

I think there are a number of problems that the president should still care about before the beginning of the presidential campaign, as the president, and I think much more attention should have been spent on explaining how we are going to deal with the economic reforms, or how we are going to attract more direct investment, or how we can deal with the migration of millions of Ukrainians abroad so the Ukrainian enterprises can't really hire new people.

He said – and here I support the president – that we need land reform because it will help our economy in the best way, but, he said at the same time that he doesn't see perspective for this parliament to vote for the land reform because the a number of political forces within the parliament would not give those votes, including a number of members of Petro Poroshenko Bloc, they just don't want to support it because it's toxic in their eyes. He just admitted that he is not going to fight for it, that he's not going to promote this agenda until the presidential election, at least.

Obviously, the president is in charge of security and foreign policy and here I would support a number of things the president said about taking care of the unity amongst our international partners to keep the sanctions, for example. Because there are already problems with the Hungarians and Italians who claimed [on September 22] that they will not take the prolongation of the sanctions for granted and they want an open discussion on this issue. I think that alarms us to the fact that it's going to be a very difficult fight.

The second thing is a new regime for the Azov Sea, new security challenges, threats to our economy, trade, sea trade, and also just security, physical security of the land, territorial integrity.

The third point is about Nord Stream 2. Obviously, this is another fight that we will face during the next year. I think these are the main issues that were important for me.

On the Donbas Law and Minsk Agreements

At the moment there are a lot of negotiations and consultations and that’s what I saw during different closed meetings with [the US envoy] Kurt Volker when he was meeting the parliamentarians, with ambassadors and other international guests who come here.

This discussion is, of course, about what is going to happen with the prolongation of the [Donbas] law and the perspective in general to deal with the war. What obligations is the international community ready to take in order to demand prolongation of that law from Ukraine? Because I'd like to just underline: I don't believe that, in the current circumstances, adoption of that legislation with serve Ukrainian interests. I think it will undermine our possibilities. At the moment, the consultation is about voting on the law in order to prolong it with certain reservations on when it can be implemented. Basically, we play a game that we vote on it, but we want guarantees that it will never be implemented in a way. Because, once again, I'll underline, implementation of the law in the current circumstances would mean to close your eyes on the Ukrainian war at Ukrainian expense, and on Russian conditions, on Putin's conditions basically. I agree with Kurt Volker here. At the moment, Ukraine should prolong it because otherwise it will give the food for Russians to create their narrative. And they are more successful, maybe, they are more efficient with this narrative, talking to our international partners.

On the New Forces Within Ukrainian Politics

What I can comment now is that MP Mustafa Nayyem announced some hard work. We – him, myself and some other colleagues from the parliament, the civil society, and the business sector – we want to work toward the goals to ensure that people have more control over their country, and more responsibility to what's going on.

I'll keep it to the comment I gave. I can't reveal anything at the moment because it wouldn't be fair toward other members who we didn't communicate this with. But, once again, this announcement is right, and what he announced is real work in order to build a team and to go to the regions, and to work with people, to encourage to take more power in their hands.

Anti-corruption is not an ideology obviously, however, it's a very important part of our whole program, or agenda in different spheres: in the energy sphere, in building the institutions, in party finances, in building the anti-corruption institutions, and so on. But, when it comes to ideology, I think the core of our people is liberal but we also have some conservative representatives. It's a good mixture of liberals and conservatives in our group.

On Attacks Against Civil Society and the Situation in Odesa

During the last year and the past couple of months, [the attack on Odesa activist Oleg Mykhailyk] is already the fourteenth attack on a civil society activist [in the city]. And, previously in summer, we were working with a representative of Automaidan, the group that was very active during Euromaidan and other civil society organizations and activists like Vitaliy Ustymenko and Serhiy Sternenko. And we even wrote an appeal to the secretary of National Security and Defense Council to conduct a separate meeting of this council on the situation in Odesa. Because we believe this is not just a coincidental attack on a number of civil society activists. We believe it's a real strengthening of the power supported by the criminals that have deep and old roots in Russia. Basically, the mayor of Odesa Gennady Trukhanov, who has a big popularity, allegedly has a Russian passport, it was investigated. And he is also, as you know, supported by some Russian connections.

The point is that, all these people who have been attacked, they somehow investigated the corruption in this city, investigating the building and all this very expensive, new infrastructure that is being built, that is connected to the mayor of Odesa. We also know that it's visible that the Presidential Administration supports the mayor. You could tell this from the recent visit of the President's wife, when she spent some time with the mayor of Odesa doing some cultural things, when [the city] already had the background of these attacks on activists. But the most important thing is that, by having this kind of a deal that we just close our eyes as to what's going on with the situation with the civil activists, and, in return, we get the guarantee during the presidential elections, or the parliamentary elections, from the authority in Odesa. I think there is a risk of losing Odesa a region, because it's a strategic region. You know very well that when the war started, Odesa was one of those regions that was considered to become part of Russia, Novorossiya.

On the Natalie Sedletska and Kristina Berdynskykh case

I absolutely agree with you. I think, first of all, it's important to stand up and to have a public position. Because I don't think, when I look at the political scene, that many politicians stood up and said “this is not right, it's not what should happen.” Second of all, myself and a number of other parliamentarians – Serhiy [Leshchenko,] Mustafa, Hanna Hopko, Olena Sotnyk, I won't mention everyone – we wrote an appeal to the General Prosecutor and we met him personally. We demanded a meeting with him. This is where we got the news that they were not only following Natalia Sedletska, but Kristina Berdynskykh – I also wrote it on Facebook after we finished that meeting –  and we delivered our position that this is a violation of journalists' rights, of our international conventions as well.

At the moment, it's in the hands of the courts. And I congratulate the European Court for Human Rights (ECHR) which suspended the decision of the General Prosecutor. I remember, the General Prosecutor, like a year ago, gave an interview, I don't know whether you've seen it, where he said that if the Prosecutor made a decision, which would violate the decision of the ECHR, he or she should be fired. So it's very interesting to look at what he's going to do now when the ECHR basically banned the decision that General Prosecutor himself personally took against independent journalists. It's very clear: this is the fight between anti-corruption institutions and the General Prosecutor is trying to attack the head of the Anti-corruption Bureau. It's obvious. And journalists are hostages in this situation. It shouldn't be like that, for sure.