Decentralization vs. Anti-Centralization

One of the most challenging tasks after totalitarianism is to flip the pyramid of power so that it has sustainable foundation – “grassroots”, “community”, “solidarity”. The political danger of totalitarianism is that it destroys not only distribution of powers but any alternative organization of the public life aside the “executive vertical”.

Author:

Decentralization of the governance should be put in the context of post-colonial and post-totalitarian status of Ukraine. That goes along general premise that cultural traditions (names of the political institutions) result in a different political reality – take the presidency in the United States, where it assumes more complex interdependence with the civil society than in Ukraine.

One of the most challenging tasks after totalitarianism is to flip the pyramid of power so that it has sustainable foundation – “grassroots”, “community”, “solidarity” etc. The political danger of totalitarianism is that it destroys not only distribution of powers but any alternative organization of the public life aside the “executive vertical”.

Central to the problem is the electoral system, which must be turned from rigged to fair. Other key issues are weak structures responsible for nurturing alternative candidates, and dominating role of the post-totalitarian oligarchic institutions. It is not only the lack of decentralization, but also flawed non-governmental organization sector. It is therefore, crucial to distinguish levels of decentralization. Authors seem to take this lightly using interchangeably the terms “local government”, “local councils” and “regional leaders”.

In my view, grassroot societies must come first and seize as much power as they can and only then unrealizable competences be moved to the upper level; the most democratic way would be to allow such delegation not by law, but by the consensus of the local communities that comprise the region.

In that sense, the big danger of post-totalitarian decentralization is strengthening, at least in the short-term prospective, of the oligarchs, which will concentrate their resources on relatively small constituencies and become winners on a relative majority vote (cf. outcome of the Party of Regions in 2012 and of Viktor Yanukovych in 2010). A few earlier results led to doubts in operational capacity of the electoral system or, viewed from another angle, brought to the power parties that were dangerous to the democracy as such.

Suggested reservoir concept would not be an appropriate name for the strata of active people that pursue their political motivations before they take the office, during this time and after they have deferred the office to other candidate. Political class, activists, leaders all seem a better reflection of the idea, while reservoir is reminiscent of the personalities that keep returning to the offices one electoral term after another, nominated by different political parties, after retirement in the wake of scandal etc. Reservoir could apply, however, to the potential energy of the civil society – political activism as an aggregate of developed ideas and discussions that can be included to agenda by this or another activist, whereas the independent expert community remains available to evaluate the progress of their implementation.

Further, totalitarian state, whether fascist or bolshevist, offers a different view of rights: the government provides certain privileges on equal or arbitrary basis while the citizens do not enjoy any natural or born rights; ideally, there is nothing beyond the state and en masse, not the individual is the source of power. Thus, decentralization the rights must not target limbo, which, in practical terms, can well mean usurpation by few people and their accomplices to the detriment of the others.

Concentration on the smallest communities (city, town, several villages) would successfully solve the oligarch dilemma for the benefit of inclusivity of other people – there will be too many constituencies for oligarchs to win them all. At the same time, one community would be too small to present a secessionism danger.

While executive office, indeed, is a political job with top intensiveness, the compromise can only be sought if there is more than one interest group represented. Prudent approach, therefore, is not only to combine elected and appointed offices in the administration of the community, but also to introduce the elected offices where the search of consensus is the best managerial solution. For example, there hardly can be a sheriff in Donetsk region near the fighting lines while an institute of elected squires can easily be introduced. In my view, a strong regional [oblast] leader – without counterweight of other elected and appointed offices – was exactly the trigger for separatism in the Donbas when the central power appeared weak. A single voting day, therefore, would be a problem rather than the solution for the local communities or their regional amalgamation.

Post-colonial prospective exposes various degrees of the secessionism across the regions (oblasts and raions), which cannot be dealt with lightly. In part, it is a legacy of the elite’s dilemma: quality cadres with broader experience cannot but maintain loyalties to the metropolis – politically, economically, linguistically etc., whereas romantics of the national state (or, for this matter, also of non-corrupt governance) were not allowed to the political offices due to their dissident position. That brings us to the careful selection of the centralized and local functions, which could not have identical outset to developed democracy such as the United States of America, where people are united by delegation of their powers from self-organization to the republic.

Phasing out the decentralization is, therefore, an important issue in building the institutions. To resist the central government’s interest in keeping all the power for itself, the dates should be predetermined by law (changes in the Constitution). Coordinating institution-building at all four (4) current levels of the government will probably lead to more chaos then there currently is.


Decentralization Week

Other articles:

Polish Experts Criticize Ukraine’s New Decentralization Law (graduate of the National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy and of the Autonomus University of Madrid)

Hlib Vyshlinsky: It is Important to Understand What Features of the Decentralization are the Key for Emergence of New Political Leaders (Hlib Vyshlinsky, Executive Director, Centre for Economic Strategy)

Sergei Guriev: Decentralisation will Not Work As Long As Large Companies Remain in Government Ownership (Sergei Guriev, Professor of Economics, Sciences Po, Paris)

Struggle For The Constitution Is Going On (Appeal of Vice Speaker Oksana Syroid about the proposed amendments to the Constitution of Ukraine)

Viktoria Sumar: Terms Require Greater Concentration of Power in President’s Hands(Viktoria Sumar, MP of Verkhovna Rada (8th convocation), fraction of political party “People’s Front”)

Yuriy Hanushchak: Naively to Expect a Breakneck (Rapid) Disappearance of Local Oligarchs Due to the Efforts of Law-Enforcement Agencies (Yuriy Hanushchak, a Director of the Institute of Territorial Development and expert in issues of decentralization of power)

Georgy Egorov: the Central Government Should Have the Authority to Intervene with Force (Georgy Egorov, Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University, USA)

Opinion on the Draft Law Amending the Constitution of Ukraine Submitted by Oksana Syroyid (Oksana Syroyid, deputy speaker of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, member of the constitutional commission)

Paul Gregory: Ukraine Must be Concerned by the Sabotage of Elections by Russian Money and by Russian Special Operations (Paul Cregory, Hoover Institution, Stanford and University of Houston)

Andrei Kirilenko: There is a 500-Year-Old History of Formal Self-Governance in Ukraine (Andrei Kirilenko, MIT Sloan)

Smart Decentralization: a Bottom-up Path Toward Functioning Institutions and Economic Prosperity (Mark Bernard, Assistant Professor of Economics, Goethe University Frankfurt, Germany)


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