E-Petitions to the VR: the Results of 2017

Thursday, April 5, 2018 - 15:00

An electronic petition is a special form of collective address of citizens to the President of Ukraine, the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine, or a local self-government body.

The development of the e-petitions tool has become more active in Ukraine since 2015, following the approval of Law of Ukraine No. 577-VIII of July 2, 2015, “On Amending the Law of Ukraine “On Citizens’ Appeals” Concerning Electronic Appeal and Electronic Petition.”

The electronic petitions to the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine on the Parliament’s web-portal were put into operation on October 28, 2015. The system’s technical administrator is the Computerized Systems Department of the Secretariat of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine; it was developed with support from the USAID Program “RADA: Responsible, Accountable, Democratic Assembly” which is being implemented by the East Europe Foundation for the purpose of promoting a responsible, accountable and democratic assembly: the Parliament of Ukraine.

Since the beginning of the tool’s operation, registration was requested for a total of more than 1,600 e-petitions; of these, more than 800 were posted on the Parliament’s web-portal after moderation. During the three-month endorsement period, only three of them collected 25,000 signatures, i.e. the number that must be achieved to make the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine consider the issue raised in the petition and respond to it.

In this publication, we will try to summarize the results of e-petition year 2017.

Some statistics

In 2017, registration was requested for 592 e-petitions, of which only 357 were moderated and published on the web-portal of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine. In the preceding two years, the respective numbers were as follows: in 2015, 616 and 246; in 2016, 544 and 277, respectively.

In terms of subjects, the leaders are, for the third year running, e-petitions relating to the activities of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, the President of Ukraine, and the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine (there are at least 144 such petitions from among the 357 published ones). The runner-up subject is also the same as before: compliance with legal order, implementation of citizens’ rights and freedoms (122); there is a change in the third place: social protection has been replaced by education, science, research and innovative activities and intellectual property (84).

In 2017, the number of registered users reached 128 902, of which more than 100,000 (105 123) were active ones, which amounts to approximately a threefold increase over the 2015 figures (37,252 and 32,655, respectively).

An increase is also observed in the maximum number of e-petitions registered by an individual; in 2015 and 2016 it was 15, but in 2017 it nearly reached thirty: 28 e-petitions from Rostyslav Yahupov and 24 from Serhii Vasyliovych Kyrylov + 4 from serhii vasyliovych kyrylov (most likely, this is the same user, but registered twice).

One more curious statistical point: in 2017 the Top 10 e-petitions ranked on the number of signatures collected were supported by a total of 88,384 citizens; the respective figure for 2016 was 30,964 signatures; for 2015, 28,092 signatures.

Successful e-petitions to the VRU

The year 2017 was noted for two electronic petitions that were successful, which means that they collected 25,000 signatures, were considered by the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, and were officially responded to:

  • “On urgent adoption of Law of Ukraine No. 5240” gl/adNWWb. This e-petition called on the MPs to approve a draft law needed to regulate the legislative status of colleges and technical secondary schools. Registered on January 28, by February 7 it had already been supported by 27,000 signatures and was considered at a meeting of the lead Committee. On March 21, the said draft law was approved by the VRU; on April 13, the law was signed by the President of Ukraine (Law card goo.gl/nWXQb6).
  • “Support for a Law on amending the Budget Code of Ukraine (concerning the funding of higher education institutes of 1st-2nd accreditation level)” gl/3AHgkf. This e-petition was prepared and advocated for by the same academic community as in the previous case, but this time it took a little over a month – from September 28 to October 31 – to collect 25,000 signatures. It was also responded to by the Committee on State Budget and the Committee on Science and Education. Though the bill was supported by the Committee on Science and Education, on March 20, 2018, it was removed from consideration (Draft Law card goo.gl/YvjLXM).

Once we were able to communicate with Diana Dovhan, deputy director for academic work of the Vinnytsia Technical College, who had been actively involved in promoting both successful e-petitions. In her opinion, a petition’s guarantee of success consists in combining a number of factors:

  • correct identification of the body with the authority to resolve the issue raised (for example the approval of draft laws lies within the sole competence of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine);
  • clear formulation of the demand (e.g. to approve a law);
  • correct identification of the target audience affected by the issue in question (for the above petitions, the target audience included students, their parents, teachers, staff of educational institutions, potential employees, etc.);
  • well-though-out information campaign – both online and offline.

E-petition trends in 2017

Worthy of particular attention are so-called trends observed in the world of e-petitions to the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine in 2017.

  • An electronic petition as a means to resolve problematic issues faced by a particular community. The first successful e-petition of 2017 showed that electronic petitions are an efficient instrument for resolving educational problems and so it must necessarily be used for advocating an appropriate legislative decision. Moreover, a number of other e-petitions addressing educational issues were proposed, e.g. “Cancellation of EIE [External Independent Evaluation] in 2018 for students instead of FSA [Final State Assessment]” goo.gl/GjNnrP, but only one of them managed to repeat the success of its predecessor in terms of number of signatures and response from the Parliament, but not in terms of the final outcome. The academic community has so far produced the only example of solidarity and concerted efforts of citizens to resolve vocational issues by means of electronic petitions to the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine.
  • An electronic petition as a component of a campaign to support a particular draft law. At the beginning of 2017, a wide campaign was launched to support Draft Law No. 5670; it was backed up by opinion leaders from a variety of cultural spheres, printed, online and TV media; a Facebook page was created for the bill and a relevant e-petition was initiated, “Put on the agenda, consider, and vote for Draft Law No. 5670 ‘On the State Language’ which expands the spheres of application of the Ukrainian language in Ukraine” gl/nfvvDx, which collected 10,456 signatures in three months. As of June 20, 2017, the status of that draft law was “submitted for consideration by Committee” (Draft Law card goo.gl/Uotq7O). At the height of discussions on creation of the High Anti-Corruption Court, a relevant petition was registered, “Launching the High Anti-Corruption Court” goo.gl/WzSa7t. Despite great public attention, this e-petition only scored 3,013 signatures, which was not enough to secure its consideration by the Parliament.
  • An electronic petition as a reaction to topical sociopolitical events. The most vivid illustration of this trend is the emergence of e-petitions against the ban on Russian social networks and software in the spring of 2017: “Decriminalize the use of unlicensed (pirate) software originating from the RF” gl/jToCch; “Cancel the law banning the social networks ‘VKontakte’, ‘Odnoklassniki’ and the ‘Yandex’ services” goo.gl/ssCTv9; “Restoration of access to the social network ‘VKontakte’” goo.gl/tRA3QZ. Other interesting examples include “Create Language Police and enrich the State Budget owing to payment of fines for violations of the Language Law and the Constitution of Ukraine” goo.gl/iTDCWQ; “Cancel switching to Daylight Saving Time in Ukraine” goo.gl/qET99n; “Liquidate the moratorium on the sale or purchase of lands of agricultural designation as a measure artificially limiting the constitutional rights and freedoms of the citizens of Ukraine” goo.gl/tP81NK and in parallel “Extend the moratorium on the sale or purchase of lands of agricultural designation until 2025” goo.gl/zvpHfL; “Visa regime with Russia” goo.gl/VpxFpr; “On canceling the requirement of Law No. 6172 on obligatory assets declaration for NGOs pursuing anti-corruption activities” goo.gl/5HUvT3.
  • An electronic petition as a literary form. A rather unexpected fact. Some e-petitions are explicitly ironic or sarcastic and their content looks more like an absurdity than a text based on common sense; in this connection, we can say that a novel form of pamphlet has emerged: a piece of literature usually aimed against the ruling regime in general or a certain part of it, or against some or other social group, party, governance, etc., most frequently by exposing certain representatives (according to a definition from Wikipedia). This is an interesting phenomenon; similar to photoshopped images and memes, it is a reaction to topical sociopolitical events. For example: “Just 100 signatures of citizens of Ukraine should be enough to secure consideration of a petition” goo.gl/RVESan; “Moratorium on the operation of the National Bank of Ukraine” goo.gl/wZ6YjC; “Let us call the country Kievan Rus again” goo.gl/3Ysp2r.

Common errors in e-petitions

Above, certain factors conducive to success of an e-petition were mentioned; therefore, it is quite natural also to review factors promising no success.

  • No hint as to the content in the name of an e-petition. “A DRUNKEN DRIVER IS A MURDERER!” goo.gl/UzJ6Ug; “Preserve the Christmas tree” gl/TSdJBj’; “Coalition” goo.gl/C61fro; “The health of the nation” goo.gl/dgn1Hw – these are real e-petitions the names of which do not contain the most important thing: an urge to act, so to speak, suggesting a way for the VRU to react to the problem within the limits of its competence. Article 85 of the Constitution of Ukraine specifies a list of VRU responsibilities the fulfillment of which can be demanded in an e-petition: to initiate and adopt laws or amendments to laws; to approve decisions on granting or receiving loans; to grant consent to the binding character of international treaties and to denounce them; to rename inhabited localities; to appoint high officials and remove them from office, etc. Thus, the authors of e-petitions can seek adoption of laws, amendments to laws, appointments to positions, initiation and support for lifting MPs’ immunity and so on.
  • Issues outside the competence of the VRU. The VRU should not be asked to resolve issues beyond its competence, like the authors of the following e-petitions did: “On providing for vaccination in line with the approved preventive immunization schedule” goo.gl/ueh4D4; “Introduction of a school course in ecology” gl/jd1NUQ; “Appoint Serhii Viktorovych Horbatiuk as the Prosecutor General of Ukraine” goo.gl/Ti3eqW. To avoid mistakes as to what and where and how, one should use hints, for example the online handbook or infographics.
  • Excessive expressiveness. Some citizens are probably sure that the number of exclamation marks used in an electronic petition, caps lock, expressive wording and the like will somehow prompt others to sign it. In reality, however, such petitions are more likely to evoke irritation than sympathy.
  • E-petition content description that is too long, vague, unclear, etc. To avoid this, one should aim at clarity, brevity, consistency and structuredness, referring to relevant NLAs [normative legal acts] or presenting the background of the issue. A list of proposals numbered 1, 2, 3 is usually well perceived.
  • “The cuckoo effect.” This is the metaphor that can be used to describe what most often happens to e-petitions on the web-portal of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine: the author registers and signs it, but then forgets about it. And so we have a plain statement of a problem or, at the worst, a cry from the author’s heart.

Instead of conclusions

The year 2017 showed that electronic petitions to the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine keep moving, albeit slowly, towards transformation into a fairly viable tool for citizens’ involvement in the legislative process, which was clearly demonstrated by two successful e-petitions prepared and advocated by the academic community.

Moreover, electronic petitions to the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine claim to be acting as a sort of mirror of social sentiment, since they raise problems “hurting” citizens on this very day and at this very moment. Thus, they form a kind of social agenda made up of topical issues.

Finally, here is the saddest observation. A part of the citizens do not understand well what the VRU is, what spheres it impacts and how it does so, how it adopts its decisions; the education level of some Ukrainians is also a matter of concern. I am not referring to the use of commas and full stops; I mean their general idea of how the economy works, how links are established between different governmental agencies, historical issues, etc. From this it follows that the institutionalization of e-petitions to the VRU as a tool engaging citizens in the legislative process, enabling them to impact highest-level decision-making and resolution of topical issues will be impossible without enhancing the population’s political education level, public activity, and the culture of exercising their civil rights in general.

Sources

The League of Interns NGO has been studying electronic petitions to the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine since March 2017, with support from the USAID RADA Program which is being implemented by the East Europe Foundation. During that period, it has been monitoring the e-petitions; moreover, it has prepared a number of informational and training materials. Some of them are hyperlinked in the text; more information can be found on the website interns.org.ua.

Mariana Doboni,
League of Interns NGO Communication Manager