KYIV, Oct 22 – President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on Thursday defended his idea of running a nation-wide poll on Sunday to learn public opinion on five important issues, but added the poll would not have any legal power.
The poll is seen by some as an indication that Zelenskiy may be willing to resort to referendum-style way of government or approving important and divisive issues, or perhaps even amending a constitution in the future.
Any plan to change the constitution through a referendum would be a controversial issue that violates the current constitution, which calls for a special and lengthy process in Parliament – and Constitutional Court - for approving any amendments.
"I’m very interested and the opinion of people is important to me because democracy is what I promised in my election program,” Zelenskiy said in television interview aired Thursday. The draft law on referendum is ready for the second reading. Therefore, such questions are very important for me personally. I want to feel the people."
"I will understand the people's response and I will speak with the deputies and propose such positions," Zelenskiy said.
Among the questions Zelenskiy plans to ask at the poll is whether the people agree to establish a free economic area in the war-torn region of Donbas in order to speed up rebuilding of the region. Such area usually gets special tax breaks that allow company import products without paying taxes or duties, or providing tax breaks on businesses set up in the region.
Ukraine’s previous record of running free economic areas is a disaster as tax breaks and loopholes were mostly used by corrupt politicians and connected businesspeople to massively avoid tax payments and for illegal imports of goods later shipped to the rest of the country.
Zelenskiy also plans to ask if people support Ukraine to invoke Budapest Memorandum, a security agreement backed by the U.S., Britain and Russia, to support the country’s integrity. Ukraine signed the memorandum in December 1994 to give away nuclear missiles it had inherited from the Soviet Union in exchange for security assurances from the three nuclear powers.
Ukraine planned to invoke the memorandum in 2014 when Russia had attacked and annexed Crimea, a Ukrainian Black Sea peninsula, and started war in Donbas by supplying weapons and sending troops to support pro-Russian militia fighting the government.
Zelenskiy said he did not want to share details yet of what Ukraine is going to do in case the issue of Budapest Memorandum gets backed by the people. However, he said Ukraine is not going to restore its nuclear missiles.
"Today I am engaged in the complete revival of the state of Ukraine - independent, defensive. Therefore, it is no coincidence that we have naval bases. It is no coincidence that I sign strategic agreements that the state of Ukraine has never had in sight. I sign them with Great Britain, with Turkey. I want to do it with some other countries," he said.
"We say that everyone must fulfill their agreements. Otherwise, we will not be 'at the table' as they say in European countries, but we will constantly be people who ask for another credit, ask to give a boat, another body armor, give more masks when we have COVID-19," he said. (tl/ez)