No-Confidence Motions Very Rarely Lead to Government Resignations

Despite the bitter scent of renewed political bickering, the failed NCM has helped to avoid an even greater disaster.

Despite the bitter scent of renewed political bickering, the failed NCM has helped to avoid an even greater disaster (early elections would not only take a lot of precious time, but could give rise to populist politics and endanger the success of reforms). Still, the coalition parties have to avoid the political stalemate by quickly reaching agreement over changes in the government and accelerating the reforms. Hopefully, this will be done, given the pressure of domestic audience and international partners. The memories about the 2005 post-Maidan political fiasco and the second anniversary of Euromaidan sacrifices should also help.

On February, 16 Ukrainian Government survived the No Confidence Motion (NCM) with only 194 votes “For” (no less than 226 were needed), against the expectations of the public reinforced by the President’s earlier call for the resignation of the Cabinet of Ministers and the Prosecutor General, Viktor Shokin. The failure to oust the government has caused bitter mutual accusations between and within the governing parliamentary factions and ended in two parties (“Samopomich” and “Batkivshchyna”) leaving the parliamentary coalition. Some MPs argued that the President did not really intend to dismiss the Government, hence, the voting was only a cover-up of a [secret] deal between the President and the Prime Minister, their parties and allies.

Surprisingly, even in advanced parliamentary democracies, no-confidence motions (NCMs) result in the termination of government only in approximately 5% of cases. This observation is presented in the study of Laron K. Williams (2011) which analyses the data of 20 advanced democracies from 1960 to 2008 to explain the motivation for proposing a NCM even if the positive outcome is so unlikely. Laron Williams concludes that no-confidence motions result in, and hence are motivated by, the increase of voters’ share of the opposition parties that propose the motion, while decreasing the electoral support of the governing parties.

However, in Ukraine the electoral support of the Prime Minister’s party is so low that even some coalition member parties think that they can win more parliamentary seats in case of early elections. Therefore, in contrast to the majority of cases studied by Laron K. Williams, it were not the opposition parties who called for NCM, but members of the governing coalition – BPP (the president’s party), Samopomich and Batkivshchyna. However, the BPP did not provide enough votes for the NCM despite all the rhetorics of the President on the same day. While this may be the result of lack of coordination within the BPP, it is possible that it was a deliberate move to push through the renegotiation of the composition and the program of the government on favourable (to BPP) terms without triggering a major political crisis and/or early parliamentary elections. Below we elaborate on the nature of political crisis that had led to NCM and consider some possible scenarios for the future.

Table 1. Mutual Accusations in Ukrainian Politics

Why the Government is not satisfied with the Parliament
(according to the ministers that promised to resign) [1]
Why Parliamentary Coalition Parties and the President are not satisfied with the Government (according to the parties that expressed mistrust to the Cabinet of Ministers) [2] What the President is being accused of [3](according to the parliament and ministers)
  1. Sabotaging voting for the laws critical for reforms – including those crucial for the IMF agreement, DCFTA, visa free regime with the EU
  2. Certain MPs are blocking privatization and reform of the state owned enterprises (in part because SOE are the source of [shadow] financing of certain parties and MPs)
  3. Blocking healthcare reform
  4. Certain MPs are pushing for appointments in the ministries and SOEs and blocking transparent appointment process
  1. Poor quality of public administration;
  2. Failure to conduct key reforms vital to the country (no specification which reforms are meant);
  3. Preservation of multibillion corruption schemes that the government not only did not stop, but sometimes supported;
  4. Impoverishment of the population [4]
  5. Not complying with the coalition agreement;
  6. Disruption of the budget process, dissatisfaction with the budget;
  7. Government is sabotaging the appointment of new managers of state owned enterprises
  8. People don’t trust the government, hence, it should leave;
  9. Failure to build rapport with parliamentary factions;
  10. The PM and the Minister of Internal Affairs are personally accused in protecting interests of business groups
  1. The absence of punishment for criminals of Yanukovych’s regime is a sign of a paralysis of law enforcement agencies and the Prosecutor General’s Office in particular. The President doesn’t want to dismiss the Prosecutor General, Viktor Shokin, valuing him for personal loyalty
  2. Igor Kononenko, the President’s former business partner and Deputy Head of the President Party (BPP), is blocking reforms and pushes loyal people for ministry positions
  3. Political centralization, attempts to become a single author of the Constitutional Reform
  4. Tolerating high level of corruption
  5. Slow judicial reform
  6. The President personally is being accused of protecting interests of business groups
 The ministers also put the responsibility for the failure to ensure increase of compensation to the civil servants on the PM and the National Council Of Reforms [5]

Underlying Reasons for the Political Crisis

  1. Constitutional Conflict between the President and the Prime Minister. The conflict is inherent in the current Constitution, which defines the Prime-Minister as the head of the executive branch but leaves enough powers for a president to push through some appointments and exercise other pressure on the actions of the government, relying on his or her popular mandate. Furthermore, the president appoints heads of regional executive government offices upon submission by the PM. In addition to creating the conditions for a political struggle, those constitutional provisions blur the lines of responsibility between the President, the Government and the Parliament, and hence decrease their accountability to the voters. It slows down the reform process, making it easier to avoid necessary but unpopular measures and creating a fertile ground for political manoeuvring and mutual accusations (See Table 1).
  2. Corruption and cronyism. The President and the Prime-Ministers, as well as many MPs, are representatives of the “old” elites, whose modus operandi is based on personal loyalty, not merit and professionalism. Neither journalists’ investigations uncovering high-level corruption, nor rather blunt statements of Ukrainian foreign partners have led to the investigation and respective punishment of corrupt officials. Instead, the top managers of Ukrainian state continue to protect persons who are accused of corruption but personally loyal to them.
  3. Low professional level of public officials and inefficient cooperation between them. The institutional capacity of all branches of power is quite limited. Inefficient cooperation manifests itself in inability of the ministries to communicate their proposals and build support in the parliament, violation of procedures by the coalition parties and irresponsible voting by the parliamentarians, inadequate quality of some legislature and lack of analysis of its economic impact, lack of expertise on many reform-related issues in the parliament.
  4. Absence of ideology of political parties. In Ukraine, political parties are formed around popular personalities rather than ideas, and there is even some anecdotal evidence of sale of places on the party lists. These parties fail to work coherently and vote in a disciplined manner. The employ populist rhetorics in their programs but fail to represent any clearly defined social stratas. This factor explains why even Coalition parties in the parliament may behave as if they were in opposition – there are simply no big ideas and principles around which they would unite.
  5. Imperfect election laws. The mixed electoral system (50% of MPs are elected via closed party lists while the other half are representatives of electoral districts) also blurs the responsibility of political parties and makes it more difficult to hold parties accountable for their performance.

Pros and Cons for Ukraine of the failed NCM

Con. The current situation when the government has lost support of the parliament is hardly conducive to passing the laws necessary for the reforms. A political stalemate may take a lot of time to be resolved and may slow down the reforms, thus putting at risk the economic recovery of Ukraine and causing additional hardship to its people.

Con. Ukraine has lost a chance – at least for a half of the year – to remove one of the top-level politicians whom people don`t trust. However, as it was outlined in the beginning, the chance of doing this was very small. Besides, the alternative would not necessarily be better than the current PM.

Con. There is a high risk that coalition will revisit the issue of dismissing the government in the near future. Moreover, the government action plan was not approved (see the graph below). Therefore, the incentives for the government to put much effort into the reform, especially long-term ones, are severely undermined.

Pro. The country reduced the risk that reforms would be put on hold for at least six months (in case of early elections) or rolled back (if current opposition or populists were elected). This should help implement some of the reforms that are already under way.

Pro. Changes in the composition of the government (without its resignation) and the discussion around it might give a new impetus to the implementation of reforms. Keeping successful and removing unsuccessful officials from their posts could signal that inefficiency and slow pace of reforms in certain areas are not going to be tolerated. However, for any positive effect to take place, the decisions should be transparent and based on objective criteria.

Conclusion

The failed No Confidence Motion is neither a unique occurrence for Ukraine nor a catastrophe. Such a scenario has been played out in many other countries. In Ukraine, we observe not only the political struggle and negotiations between major political parties, but also an attempt of a minority coalition parties to strengthen their voice and increase the share and loyalty of electorate by speaking openly against the governing parties.

Despite the bitter scent of renewed political bickering, the failed NCM has helped to avoid an even greater disaster (early elections would not only take a lot of precious time, but could give rise to populist politics and endanger the success of reforms). Still, the coalition parties have to avoid the political stalemate by quickly reaching agreement over changes in the government and accelerating the reforms. Hopefully, this will be done, given the pressure of domestic audience and international partners. The memories about the 2005 post-Maidan political fiasco and the second anniversary of Euromaidan sacrifices should also help.

Such conflicts are likely to happen again if the underlying reasons for political instability are not addressed. The constitutional conflict between the PM and the President, low quality of “old” elites, absence of ideology based parties and imperfect election laws threaten the long-term success of reforms in Ukraine. One of the possible solutions could be constitutional changes developed by an impartial Constitutional Assembly with wide participation of experts and civil activists that would finally answer the question – is Ukraine a parliamentary or a presidential republic, i.e. who is the head of the executive branch – the president or the prime-minister? This would decrease the potential for political infighting and make politicians more accountable to the people by drawing clear responsibility lines within the government.

Table 3

No-Confidence Motions Very Rarely Lead to Government Resignations


Notes

[1] Source: Interview of the Minister of Infrastructure

[2] Sources: Resolution of the Samopomich Party as of 13/02/2016; Information on the site of the Samopomich Party (1, 2, 3); Batkivshcyna party site (1 , 2) 

[3] Sources: Site of the Samopomich Party (1, 2) 

[4] Samopomich also accuses the Government in manipulation with the numbers about the incomes of the people (13% increase) while the state employees got a 10-40% decrease); Blogs of MPs of Batkivshchyna and BPP parties

[5] The lack of political will resulted in no responsible person for this measure being appointed

Authors: Nataliia Shapoval (Kyiv School of Economics, VoxUkraine Editorial Board), Ilona Sologoub (Kyiv School of Economics, VoxUkraine Editorial Board), Tymofiy Mylovanov (University of Pittsburgh, Kyiv School of Economics, VoxUkraine Editorial Board), Rostyslav Averchuk (VoxUkraine)


Disclaimer

The authors do not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and have no relevant affiliations