Thousands Gather In Kyiv to Demand “The Great Political Reform”
17 October, 2017

Thousands of protesters have taken to the streets of Kyiv calling for what activists term the “great political reform.” They demand that Ukraine’s MPs be stripped of their parliamentary immunity, the creation of an anti-corruption court, and changes to the electoral system.

“This is the first rally in three years since [Euromaidan] whose demands unite many diverse groups: from civil organizations to political parties,” Mustafa Nayyem, a Ukrainian reformist lawmaker and one of the organizers of the protest, wrote in a blog on Ukrainian news site Ukrainska Pravda. “We’ve been demanding this consistently for a long time and have done everything in our power. Right now, it’s just down to the president and parliament’s political will.”   

The city authorities have closed roads in Kyiv’s government quarter and 3.5 thousand law enforcement officers have been deployed to oversee the protest outside the Ukrainian parliament.

Co-organized by Nayyem and former Georgian president and Odesa regional governor Mikheil Saakashvili, the rallies unite a diverse group of activists. Representatives from six non-governmental organizations and nine political parties  — including 11 MPs who are not members of the ruling Petro Poroshenko Bloc — are taking part. The protest participants run the gamut from anti-corruption activists and nationalists to LGBT activists.

The protests occurred as an advisory board consisting of MPs from different factions met to discuss these issues and push the parliament toward voting on the protesters’ demands. In the late morning, Poroshenko’s spokesperson, Svyatoslav Tsegolko announced over Facebook that the president had introduced into parliament an urgent draft law on cancelling MPs’ parliamentary immunity.

But the advisory session was cut short 15 minutes after it started, with Parliamentary Chairman Andriy Parubiy saying that it was impossible to carry on the discussion. He announced another parliamentary session in less than two hours. That session, in turn, did not last long. Another is scheduled for 4 p.m.

Beyond ending parliamentary immunity and creating an anti-corruption court, the protesters want Ukraine to transition to a proportional representation electoral system based upon open party lists. Currently, the electoral system mixes proportional representation with single-mandate districts.

Co-organizer Saakashvili, who was stripped of his Ukrainian citizenship in July, called for peaceful demonstrations last month after returning to Ukraine against the authorities’ wishes.

At today’s rally, however, he struck a confrontational tone against President Petro Poroshenko. “If steps won’t be taken in the interests of the people, Poroshenko must consider leaving his post,” Saakasvili said. “He still has time. This isn’t my ultimatum, it’s my advice.”

According to a Kyiv police spokesperson, around 6 thousand people have taken part in the protests — far fewer than the expected 15 thousand. Of those, roughly 4.5 thousand are gathered at the parliament, while another 1.5 thousand are protesting in front of the National Bank of Ukraine.

In the aftermath of the protests, Hromadske spoke to Inna Borzylo, Executive Director at Centre UA – one of the civil society organizations involved in the organization of the demonstrations - to find out more about the protesters’ demands and what they could mean for Ukraine.

What can you tell us about who actually put forward the idea? How quickly did people gather around this idea?

Actually, yes, I represent the Centre of United Actions and civil society Centre UA, together with the Reanimation Package of Reforms, Automaidan, Initiative of Real Actions and other initiatives from civil society, were the ones who put this idea on the table. This is actually for the first time since the Revolution of Dignity when we managed to gather the efforts of different political parties and civil society organizations among or around the demands of “great political reform.”

Photo credit: HROMADSKE

So you put the idea on the table, but who was around the table?

There was a lot of different politicians and, actually, the co-organizers of these street actions that lasted for three days were six civil society organizations, I mentioned, nine political parties, including Sakaashvili's political party, including Chumak's politcal party and movements, including Samopomich, including other political parties.

So some of them are well-established and represented in parliament? And some of them resurfaced after quite a long time, like the European Party of Ukraine – we haven’t heard about them for a while.

Four years, yes.

Do you think – and I don’t mean the European Party alone - that some of the organisations were attracted by the mass scale of the protest, or they actually want to put in the effort?

I think that some of the partners were glad to try to be in some big idea because - as I already mentioned - it was the first time in three years [that] we gathered around some demands. That’s why – as you mentioned – those political parties, which were in the past and kept silent for a while also joined. But later, the initiative was made by civil society organisations because we understood that, as civil society organizations, we don’t have any capacity to mobilise thousands of Ukrainians and political parties – they do have. And if and when we found this core of our unity, we propose this idea and we actually found the support from the different political parties, and that’s why we based our cooperation on the memorandum, which absolutely, clearly defined the core of our cooperation, and these are three demands. Any other initiative, any other calls pronounced from the scene, were the initiatives of those who pronounced them and up to their responsibility.

Photo credit: HROMADSKE

What changes [to the electoral system]?

Change to the electoral system on parliamentary elections. Now we have this mixed system since the Yanukovych period, which allowed him to compound his majority in the parliament through the single-mandate districts, where, actually, in the majority of cases, corrupted officials were elected, and this is a channel how corrupt politicians [got] to the parliament and protect themselves with parliamentary immunity.

Do you mean that they do not get to the parliament through party lists?

I think that there will be less chances  and they are giving bribes with the new electoral system, which we propose, which is called open-parliamentary list. This is the proportional system, the traditional one. It will be – let’s say – more expensive to bribe the district, because the district will be much, much bigger, the Ukrainian region will be one district and it will be economically very stupid to bribe the people because there will be no guarantee that a person from a parliamentary list will get the mandate because this is an open list, which means that a voter influences on who will get the mandate.

When do you think we will be able to feel the results of the reform? When will you and I vote according to the new law?

I think, I hope, and we will do everything in order to vote according to the system on the elections in 2019.

Photo credit: HROMADSKE

Having the experience of Euromaidan and what happened there between demonstrators and police – how sure or unsure were you that the event would go peacefully?

Of course we hoped and we announced this rally as an absolutely peaceful – let’s say actually – protest against not doing things in the parliament, against not implementing promises of the politicians. We hope that it will be peaceful and actually, those small clashes that we had, we still can’t be sure who were the provokers of these clashes and it different have the mass character, and that’s we call that we had some progress in law enforcement bodies and those officers who protected their security in the square, they were quite polite. Of course, the amount of the law enforcement officers showed that the rally was a surprise for the authorities and it made them a bit scared because they didn’t know what to expect from people with flags, from protesters that come from different regions, they have just never faced this kind of protesters in the Revolution of Dignity. They didn’t what would be the mood at the constitutional square those days.

Now about other surprises – were you surprised, and if so, how surprised were you that the result came rather quickly?

What result?

I mean they voted today.

For something.

For something.

With which result? Let’s say that our rally has its own victories and its own losses. And among our victories is indeed that the parliament, for the first time in three years, has voted for some draft laws on electoral reform. This is a huge step forward because all the parliamentary factions, they were absolutely ok with the status quo, with the existing system, which allows them, despite their promises to change the electoral system in 2014, to be sure that through the single-mandate districts, they will get the mandate again. So I think that this step forward, this progress, was only achieved thanks to the pressure of the street - peaceful, pressure of the street. And today, unfortunately none of the three draft laws, alternatives, that were registered in the parliament didn’t get enough [votes] to become a law, but, on the other hand, it opened the window of opportunity to register new progressive alternatives and that’s the point on which we will now focus our efforts and we will prepare such alternative to register it, probably in November, as soon as possible is better.