May 14, 2020
Markian Bilynskyj, Vice President - Field Operations
t is almost a banality to observe that last Wednesday’s passage of the banking regulatory reform act – or anti-Kolomoyskiy law – was the most important step Ukraine needed to fulfill in order to access much needed international, most significantly IMF, funds. Ukraine’s punditocracy has now taken to debating whether the IMF decided to provided assistance in the form of a simplified Standby format instead of the Extended Fund Facility (EFF) - that had been touted by President Zelensky as the reward for a positive vote - for objective reasons stemming from the global economic fallout of the Coronavirus pandemic, or as an expression of displeasure over the slow pace of reforms.
What is clear is that Wednesday’s vote removed the major but not the final obstacles to the law’s adoption. And the IMF has stated that it will accept nothing less. That same day, Anton Polyakov, author of over 6,000 of the now infamous 16,335 amendments introduced after the first reading, submitted a resolution essentially calling for the banking law vote to be annulled. This measure will now have to be voted on formally before the President can sign the act into law.
Polyakov is also taking the chair of the finance committee and the Rada speaker to the Kyiv district Court over alleged procedural violations. Others opposed to the bill’s passage – like Yuliya Tymoshenko’s “
”, who claim that the adoption process and the bill itself violate eleven articles of the Constitution - are reportedly preparing to turn directly to the Constitutional Court. The resolution – or resolutions, if others are submitted - should not prove to be an obstacle. The vote will likely take place in yet another extraordinary Rada session, possibly next Wednesday, even as the Rada aims to resume its full schedule soon after that. But the court cases are another matter and could genuinely extend formalities.
As it turned out, passage of the Anti-Kolomoysky bill in a plenary session attended by President Zelensky himself proceeded not so much with the anticipated bang but with something of a whimper. The 16,000+ amendments had been whittled down in committee to around 240 with the authors generally waiving their right to argue them formally. The process of voting on the amendments (originally projected to take several weeks) therefore shrank to an alloted three hours and actually took only roughly 30 minutes. Not surprisingly, then, the whole process conformed to the long-established informal norms of Ukrainian legislative practice: where there's a presidential will, there's invariably a way. Indeed, it is difficult to recall any major issue since Ukraine gained independence when the president has failed to achieve his desired outcome once the dust has settled.
The composition of the 270 votes ”for” (with only 200 coming from the President’s Servant of the People party) was also not unexpected and followed the precedent set in the March 30 first reading. Many observers had correctly anticipated that the Servant of the People mono-majority was a genuine anomaly, essentially an unwieldy coalition. It should have come as no surprise, then, that this Black Swan phenomenon has not been the harbinger of a new species of Ukrainian legislator and that it quite quickly transformed into another Ugly Duckling in a legislative politics driven over the years by malleable situational coalitions, both formal and informal.
Just how ephemeral – even illusory - these constructs continue to be was demonstrated later on Wednesday: 190 members of Servant of the People joined with their opponents from earlier in the day (Batkivshchyna and the rump-Regions ”Opposition Platform – For Life”) to adopt in its first reading a bill that effectively allows officials to avoid declaring assets by registering them with non-majority age children not residing with their parents. This legislation is reportedly opposed by the National Anti-Corruption Bureau.
At present, the situation around the anti-Kolomoyskiy law resembles somewhat Zeno’s paradox about Achilles and his attempt to catch up with the tortoise. But just as mathematicians are convinced that that puzzle has been resolved, the sound and the fury surrounding this episode should also soon be finally resolved on the basis of numbers – through votes in the Rada and the courts.