The winners of Ukraine’s elections face tough challenges


from: German Times, November 2007 The winners of Ukraine’s elections face tough challenges


by Wolfgang Templin


President Viktor Yushchenko and opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko were the parliamentary election’s clear winners. Fighting corruption, prosecuting criminal activity during the privatization of industry and agriculture, clearing out the tax jungle in favor of the middle class and justice system reform top their policy agenda.


Ukraine has another chance at real political change. After the elections at the end of September, the “Orange” forces of the opposition leader and her Block Yulia Tymoshenko (BYuT) and President Viktor Yushchenko’s Our Ukraine party took 45 percent of the vote together – securing a narrow parliamentary majority.


Incumbent Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich’s Party of the Regions remained the strongest single political force but lost the Socialists, who didn’t make the 3 percent hurdle, as a coalition partner. Only the Communists remain at Yanukovich’s side, and they aren’t enough for a parliamentary majority.


The person clearly entitled to the post of prime minister is Yulia Tymoshenko. With more than 30 percent of the electorate, the supporters of this icon of the Orange Revolution of 2004 represent the great majority of the reform forces – though it was President Yushchenko who had used a presidential decree to force the early elections this spring. Both Yushchenko and his ally and toughest competitor Tymoshenko are obviously the powers behind this course of events.


Three years ago, then-prime minister Yanukovich tried to steal the election. The pressure of peaceful, massive demonstrations led him to agree to redo the election. This time, the decision went to Yushchenko. The voters expected their new president and his new prime minister, Tymoshenko, to introduce sweeping reforms.


Ukrainians want those responsible for falsifying the election to be punished, corruption to be fought more actively, political murders investigated and rule of law implemented, as well as decisive economic and social reforms. They want to see the fruits of the ongoing economic boom to finally benefit the majority of the population and not only the oligarchy of billionaires in eastern Ukraine, the corrupt political elite and nouveau riche who Yanukovich befriended and continues to represent.


In 2005 and 2006, the orange partners twice missed the opportunities of a joint reform government. Yushchenko, who political pundits sarcastically call the “Ukrainian Hamlet,” made obscure deals with his opponents, granting them freedom from prosecution, for example. The brash Tymoshenko, meanwhile, resorted to authoritarian, high-handed means to achieve everything at once – and became hopelessly mired down in her attempts to re-nationalize illegally privatized industries.


The alliance between Yushchenko and Tymoshenko fell apart twice in that period. The second time, in March 2006, Yanukovich seized his opportunity. He had already replaced his Russian image consultant with an American one who helped him morph from eastern Ukrainian godfather to pan-Ukrainian patriot. So strengthened, Yanukovich was more than occasionally able to present himself as a central force, balancing out the “divisive, chaotic” orange supporters.


With a narrow parliamentary majority resulting from a changing of sides by the Socialists in August 2006, the Party of the Regions’ leader wrested control of the government from the indecisive president. This Ukrainian-style cohabitation quickly ended, however, in new, early elections.


During the campaign, Yanukovich used the east Ukrainians’ widespread post-Soviet insecurity to his own advantage. At the end of the day, however, slogans such as “Stability and Prosperity – Social Success for All” persuaded only some of the voters. Salaries and wages sapped by inflation and sharp price increases, tax laws that continued to pile additional millions at the feet of the oligarchs while strangling the middle class and all-encompassing corruption induced Ukrainians to give their votes to the orange coalition.


The new reform government can and must start mending the rift between campaign promises and reality. Effective anti-corruption efforts, investigating and fixing illegal privatizations, transparent ground rules for privatizing agricultural land, clearing out the tax jungle to benefit the middle class and a comprehensive reform of the justice system as the keystone – these must be the focal points of an orange coalition’s contract.


The increasingly self-confident Ukrainian middle class can become the decisive factor in another positive trend. The events of 2004 prompted small and mid-sized companies, mostly located in the western and central parts of the country, to demand economic and constitutional ground rules that restrain the oligarchs of the East. Small business wants economic policies that do away with post-Soviet entanglements and clear the road to Europe.


Small businesses aided the 2004 Orange Revolution logistically and in spirit. Free media and an active civil society were the safeguards that kept the current elections free and democratic. Perhaps these forces will also perpetuate the reform momentum of a new government and prevent old mistakes from being repeated.