Until the American election of 2016, American voters had never elected a President without any prior experience in public office, because voters who were generally disappointed with the national leaders could always identify good Presidential candidates among the governors and mayors who a proven record of responsible public service.
Ronald Reagan was a professional actor first, but he demonstrated his practical leadership skills as the locally elected Governor of California before he ran for President of the United States. It would have been much better for America, I believe, if the people who thought that Donald Trump could be a good candidate had urged him to run for Governor or Senator in some state first, before they took him seriously has a candidate for the highest office in the nation.
In Ukraine, however, the concentration of power in the Presidency has made it hard for candidates to really prove their ability to provide better public service in any other office. Even a Prime Minister’s ability to take responsibility for the quality of government services in Ukraine is seriously limited by the President’s control of regional administration. So we can understand how large numbers of Ukrainian voters could think that a politically untested actor might be the best candidate that they can find. But when millions of voters feel that they cannot identify any experienced politician whom they can trust to lead their country, we should recognize that this is a fundamental reason why locally elected councils and mayors should be given more autonomous power to serve the people of their communites, and why the Prime Minister should be given clearer control over regional offices of the national government.
I understand that many voters in Ukraine want a President who will take effective responsibility for ensuring that corruption in government is exposed and prosecuted. But for the President to fulfill this vital role, the office of the President should not have power to appoint and dismiss the heads of major administrative units. Otherwise, any investigation of corruption in these units would be a political embarrassment to the President who chose their heads. It is for this reason that I have recommended that people should consider amending the constitutional stipulation (in Article 118) that the heads of local state administrations are appointed to office and dismissed from office by the President of Ukraine. It would be better, I believe, if the heads of the oblast administrations were simply appointed and dismissed by the Prime Minister, and if the heads of the rayon administrations were appointed and dismissed by a majority vote in the locally elected rayon council (which might be reconstituted to include locally elected mayors of towns and hromadas in the rayon).
But what really matters is what the Presidential candidates think. In the final days of the campaign, I hope that both Presidential candidates will be asked their views about possible constitutional reforms, and specifically about whether they would support a constitutional amendment to reduce the President’s power over local administration in Ukraine. The candidate who can best serve Ukraine as President may be the one who would accept some reduction in the powers of his office.
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