The Constitution of Ukraine (Art. 38) guarantees to every citizen the right “to participate in national and local referendums”. However, in 2012, the Law of Ukraine On National Referendum came into force; this law provides no legislatively fixed mechanism for initiating and conducting local referendums. Regional policy is aimed at decentralization and deregulation of power; it implies extending citizens’ rights to resolve issues of local importance, including through initiation and holding of local referendums. As part of this policy, the Law of Ukraine On Voluntary Association of Communities provides for a local referendum as the necessary component of this process. However, the lack of a legislative framework for a referendum mechanism remains one of the key problems that could turn referendum as an instrument of real democracy into a mechanism for usurpation of power.
When should we resort to popular consultation, and which consequences should be borne in mind? These are the issues discussed on Ukrainian radio with the Executive Director of the Ukrainian Independent Center for Political Studies Svitlana Kononchuk and Program Coordinator of the Agency for Legislative Initiatives Tetiana Chernukha.
We need to talk about the standardization of the institution of referendum. It is necessary because it is a constitutional right of Ukrainian citizens. Nonetheless, the standardization of this mechanism should be more balanced and well-thought-out in terms of all the threats we face now.
Today, there are 4 initiatives addressing this issue. Given that the citizens of Ukraine in 2012 both received the renewed right to national referendum and lost the right to local referendums, today there are draft laws aimed at revising the procedure for holding national referendums and finally providing the right to hold local referendums. That is, on the one hand, we have the efforts of people’s deputies to change this situation and regularize these things. On the other hand, there are concerns on the part of authorities that local referendums may threaten the territorial integrity of Ukraine, disturb the unstable political situation, or provoke certain regions to initiate ill-conceived referendums.
I believe that both national and local referendums have to be based on a well-though-out regulatory policy in terms of ways of their initiation and conducting, as well as the issues they should consider. The current form of the right to All-Ukrainian referendum threatens democracy since the adoption of legislative initiatives via local referendum is inadmissible, as well as the revision of the Constitution as it is proposed by the current law.
The law is fraught with certain threats and manipulations – legislation must be adopted in accordance with certain procedures and be based on open public consultations. It means that first of all we need discussion rather than final approval. That is, when citizens come to a referendum and vote for certain changes, they vote once, while public consultations and adoption of certain regulations to the current legislation must take place at certain stages: discussion, changes, consideration. It is very important.