On May 25, Petro Poroshenko won a convincing victory in the first round of Ukraine’s free and fair presidential elections. His election could lead the way to political stability in the face of continued Russian military aggression in eastern Ukraine, but it is not sufficient to achieve that end. President-elect Poroshenko, a veteran politician and chocolate billionaire, needs to dissolve the Ukrainian parliament to hold early parliamentary elections this year in line with his election program and statements after his election. Under current law, parliamentary elections are not required until 2017.
For at least five reasons, the parliament needs to be reelected.
First, the fundamental problem in Ukraine is that no clear break with the old communist elite has occurred. This is the time to do so, and a fresh parliamentary election usually marks a full democratic breakthrough.
Second, the current parliament was elected in October 2012 amid rampant fraud. It was Ukraine’s least free and fair election since the end of communism in 1991. Admittedly, the three democratic opposition parties gained 50 percent of the votes in the proportional part of the election, while then president Viktor Yanukovych’s Party of Regions received only 30 percent and the communists 13 percent. But Yanukovych reduced the democratic advantage first through election rules and then by purchasing and intimidating deputies to join his faction to gain a majority.
Third, this parliament is rightly perceived as pervasively corrupt. The overwhelming majority of the parliamentarians are there to make money rather than to fulfill their political convictions. Therefore, any anticorruption policy needs to start with cleansing the legislature. Currently, the democratic parties rule with the support of defectors from Yanukovych’s party, which turned against the president after government forces killed protesters earlier this year. But these defectors are largely businessmen who want to protect their commercial interests, and many of them have already turned against anticorruption policies.
Fourth, a new parliament is needed to reflect Ukraine’s latest democratic breakthrough. After such a major event, many people change their views. Many politicians discredit themselves, while new political stars are born. Both the alteration of popular sentiment and the rise of new politicians should be represented in the parliament as soon as possible. As a consequence, party constellations are bound to change fundamentally, and a new regime needs to have a functioning and sensible parliament. Otherwise it cannot legislate.
Fifth, both Ukrainian and international experience prove the need for early parliamentary elections after a democratic breakthrough. A key reason for the utter chaos in Ukrainian economic policy from 1991 until 1994 was that the country did not dissolve its predemocratic parliament of 1990 but allowed it to linger until 1994, greatly damaging the nation. Similarly, after the Orange Revolution of 2004–05, the Orange leaders did not dissolve parliament. Instead they focused on the parliamentary elections in March 2006 rather than the immediate needs of the country. This mistake must not be repeated.
A separate cautionary lesson could be drawn from the experience in Russia, where President Boris Yeltsin could have dissolved his old predemocratic parliament in November 1991 but failed to do so because he thought he had to deal with the economic crisis first. His delay led to the shoot-out of the White House in Moscow, the official building of the Russian parliament, in October 1993. Yeltsin had exhausted his options and had no choice but to dissolve the unruly and undemocratic parliament. His successor Vladimir Putin exploited the excessive concentration of power in the presidential administration to bury democracy altogether.
Any country needs at least one major institution of reasonable legitimacy, either parliament or president. Until these presidential elections, the Ukrainian parliament was the most legitimate, but now the president is more so. The popular uprisings in Egypt and Libya show how awful the outcome can be if neither of these institutions is legitimate: Then, authoritarian rule returns as a supposed defense against chaos and anarchy.
A parliamentary election should take place as soon as possible, in September or October this year. Poroshenko needs to act instantly, while he still possesses the full authority of his election victory. The later he acts, the more concessions to old vested interests he will be forced to make.