Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Institutional Accountability Amid Protests

Ukrainian citizens continue their impressive, largely peaceful, occupation of the streets, squares, and key buildings in Kyiv. While President Yanukovych admonished citizens to wait until the 2015 elections to express their preferences, the people are using mass mobilization in an effort to hold officials accountable.

At the same time, politicians also took action within Ukraine's institutions. Parliament held two important votes earlier today within a couple hours of each other. The first summoned members of the Cabinet of Ministers to the legislature, and the second was a vote of no confidence in government. The summons passed with overwhelming support, the no confidence vote failed.

The roll call votes on the table below show united opposition parties, unanimous in their commitment to a no confidence vote, with a handful of deputies not voting or absent during the summons. The Communist Party was also united, supporting the summons and not casting votes on the confidence motion. The behavior of the Communists is consistent with their past actions challenging government, but failing to back outcomes that the more Western-oriented opposition supports. Ten years ago, when protests against the regime were in their nascent stage, Communists also opposed then-president Leonid Kuchma. But, their protest activities were distinct from other opposition actors. The Communists also supported electoral reform to adopt a proportional representation system (when that change occurred about a decade ago). They further supported constitutional reforms to reduce the power of the presidency when it seemed increasingly likely that the opposition could win in the then-upcoming presidential election of 2004. Summoning government, but not voting to oust it, is in line with past behavior.

The Party of Regions, which had been accused of improperly coordinating votes in the recent past (by having deputies cast others' votes in the electronic system), showed variation in behavior on the summons. While the modal vote was "yes," with 147 deputies supporting the summons, 23 did not vote and 35 were absent. The no confidence vote saw deputies voting with their feet; only 5 voted no, with 100 not voting and 87 absent. A lone defector supported the no confidence motion. This behavior does not seem to represent the splintering of the Party of Regions that many speculated about over the last couple of days.

Non-affiliated deputies now include former Party of Regions stalwarts who voted with the opposition, such as Inna Bohoslovska. But, like the Party of Regions, other non-affiliated deputies seemed to be hedging as well (eleven deputies were absent for both votes).

Although the opposition is understandably disappointed with the results of the no confidence vote, elements of legislative accountability worked today. Parliament summoned government to ask "uncomfortable questions" (Schedler 1999), and ministers responded. For the no confidence vote to have passed, more defections from the regime were needed. The tipping point has not been reached, however. While prominent politicians abandoned the Party of Regions, most rank-and-file members seem willing to wait out the protests, hedging their bets by not casting votes on the confidence motion. In that way, they may be able to land more softly if things turn against the regime, but they also risk little if the regime prevails.