Despite the controversy that swirled around the 2016 U.S. presidential election, the transition of power unfolded smoothly on Inauguration Day. This reflects the ongoing power and resiliency of the United States Constitution, which is regarded by many to be among the finest documents of its type ever produced. In fact, it is so highly regarded that countries around the world turn to it when seeking to transition to democratic governments. That is the case regarding the Ukraine, which since the fall of communism has famously struggled to strike an even keel with the balance of power in its government. Recently, comparative constitutional law expert Sujit Choudhry
attended a workshop in Kiev, Ukraine, to discuss the challenges that the country is facing.
The workshop took place in Kiev, Ukraine, on July 10. In addition to Sujit Choudhry, numerous constitutional scholars were there to assist. The main topic of interest was the semi-presidential system of government of the Ukraine and the resulting constitutional challenges that are faced by the fledgling democracy. Ultimately, the discussion revolved around finding ways to improve governmental processes in Ukraine. With so many renowned minds in one room, it is safe to say that a lot of headway was made.
The attendance list for the Kiev workshop is a veritable who’s-who of constitutional law expertise. In attendance were Sergyi Holovatyi, who is a member of the Constitutional Commission of Ukraine as well as the Venice Commission; Sumit Bisarya of the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, or International IDEA; Vladimir Vasilenko, who represents Ukraine on the United Nations Human Rights council; Viktor Musiaka, who is a representative of the president in Supreme Council 1996; and Thomas Sidelius of Dalarna University. The workshop was hosted by the Center of Policy and Legal Reform, which is a major Ukraine think tank, as well as International IDEA, which supports sustainable democracy around the world.
A variety of topics were discussed during the workshop, which was regarded as being highly productive. More than anything else, discussion focused on the ongoing instability of democratization in Ukraine, which has mostly been an issue because of the concentration of power in the presidency. Unlike the U.S., then, the country doesn’t have a balanced system of checks and balances, so democratic policies are more difficult to implement.
The scholars and experts, including Sujit Choudhry, also discussed the separation of powers within the dual executive branch. The government of Ukraine does not have just a president; it has a prime minister as well, so that is another way in which the government of this country differs from that of the United States. Another issue that was discussed to a great extent was the fact that the political parties of Ukraine are very weak. As a result, it is difficult for citizens to know parties’ stances on issues, and many other problems arise. The electoral system for the legislature of the country is also a major issue, and the experts focused on this one for a while as well.
As founding director of the Center for Constitutional Transitions, Sujit Choudhry has a unique understanding of the issues that are currently being faced by the Ukraine. The Center for Constitutional Transitions is currently conducting research into semi-presidentialism and constitutional instability in Ukraine. Ever since communism fell, the country has struggled to implement an effective democratic government. The legislature has overwhelmingly been far too weak, and the president has had far too much power. The organization hopes that its research will provide much-needed guidance to the country to help it establish a strong democratic government.
Ultimately, the goal of both the Center for Constitutional Transitions and those who gathered in Kiev on July 10 is to help Ukraine to develop a strong semi-presidential system of government. The work will not be easy to achieve, however, as the process has been underway for more than two decades already and very little real progress has been made. With so many great minds working on the issue, however, it is hoped that some real progress will be made in the very near future.
Scholars and researchers who have been working on this issue, both at the workshop in Kiev and at the Center for Constitutional Transitions, which is helmed by Sujit Choudhry, have identified many potential options that could help to establish a secure semi-presidential system in the country. This is an important and even crucial goal for a number of reasons, including:
- To produce a strong, effective legislature that can exercise oversight over the president and the government as a whole. This will help to strike a better balance of power, which will facilitate the process of building a strong democratic government.
- To facilitate an effective sharing of power between the president and the prime minister of the country. Up until now, far too much power has been concentrated in the office of the president, and this is one of the many reasons why Ukraine has struggled so much.
- To ensure limited presidential power. When the president has an excessive amount of power, true democracy is impossible, and the country suffers.
- To develop a government that is strengthened by presidential leadership during crises. Otherwise, the country flounders when major catastrophes occur, and the democratization process is weakened and threatened.
Sujit Choudhry was a welcome addition to the special workshop that was held in Kiev on July 10. An expert on comparative constitutional law, Choudhry holds law degrees from the University of Toronto, Oxford University and Harvard University. He also served as law clerk to Chief Justice Antonio Lamer of the Supreme Court of Canada. As the founder of the Center for Constitutional Transitions, Sujit Choudhry has played an instrumental role in constitution building processes of countries around the world. The organization has more than 50 experts in more than 25 nations. Right now, it is co-leading three collaborative global research projects, including the one about semi-presidentialism in Ukraine.
Throughout his storied career, Sujit Choudhry has published nearly 100 book chapters, reports, articles and papers. Today, he serves as the I. Michael Heyman Professor of Law at the University of California and Berkeley School of Law. Choudhry is currently a member of the scientific advisory board of the International Journal of Constitutional Law; the executive committee of the International Society of Public Law, or ICONS; the editorial board of Constitutional Court Review; the international advisory council of the Institute for Integrated Transitions, or IFIT; and the editorial advisory board of Cambridge Studies in Constitutional Law. Without question, Choudhry will continue to play an active role in the ongoing situation in Ukraine.