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Ambivalent consequences of Ukrainian presidential elections.

Published on March 9, 2010 by: in: Politics

Ukraine got stuck somewhere between liberal democracy and authoritarianism, which is identified with the era of Leonid Kuchma rule. It suffers – and the last elections have not changed anything– from a syndrome “disabled pluralism”, characteristic for hybrid form of political regime.

ukraine election

Choice made by Ukrainians on 7th February, sparks and for a long time will be sparking emotions. Neither because of the triumph of Viktor Yanukovych, which was clear long before the first ballot paper has fallen into a ballot box, nor because of the circumstances in which the election campaign has been held, but due to the consequences for the future of Ukrainian political system. The last  presidential elections does not establish a beginning of a new era in political history of Ukraine. Exchange inside the elites has not been achieved, the mightiest of Ukrainian politics have kept their superior position in the ruling system. The victory of Yanukovych does not settle an end of political rivalry between  the “post-orange” and “blue” camp, just the opposite – it opens a new phase of political fights which will be very damaging for Ukraine. Failure of Yulia Tymoshenko makes a movement of dissolving the Highest Council (a one-chamber Ukrainian parliament) and a beginning of rivalry for ruling the parliament very probable.

Presidential elections have been very warmly welcomed by the West, peaceful proceeding and high turnout – which was somehow said to prove a development of Ukrainian democracy – have been highlighted be everyone. Consolidation of democracy in Ukraine raises big hopes in European Union. Due to its territorial and human potential, as well as its east-Slavic origin Ukraine is supposed to become a model example of benefits arising from building liberal democracy, which will spread out to other countries in region: Belarus and Russia. Ukraine political elites despite maintaining democratic character of the elections, are disappointing supporters of westernization with populism, impetuosity, unbelievable greed of power, lack of respect towards their own citizens, readiness to smother political pluralism.

Presidential elections in Ukraine receding into the history – in atmosphere of polarization of public opinion, mutual allegations over forgery and announcement of searching for the truth and justice on the legal action – constitute a start of discussion whether in Ukraine we have to do with a  consolidation of liberal democracy or rather no-liberal (combining democratic and no-democratic features).

Extending economic crisis accompanied and petrified by political tensions, political corruption stimulated by Ukrainian oligarchs, mutual distrust between major players of political life, resulting in next governmental crises are tangible evidences supporting a thesis that Ukraine got stuck somewhere between liberal democracy and authoritarianism which is identified with the era of Leonid Kuchma rule. It suffers – and the last elections have not changed anything– from a syndrome “disabled pluralism”, characteristic for complex and unsteady form of political regime.

Pre-election landscape

Ukrainian economy just before the elections in January was in a very bad shape. No other country in Central and Eastern Europe suffered due to global financial crisis as much as Ukraine did. Indicators of Gross Domestic Product and industrial production in 2009 were terrifying. Ukrainian GDP shrank by almost 15 percent in comparison with year 2008. Industrial production diminished in relation to previous year of about 11,9 percent, unemployment rate reached 9,4 percent and inflation 15 percent.

Aggravating economical situation and standard of living drop was accompanied by state of permanent political tension, making it impossible to avoid heading catastrophe and taking coherent and consequent steps in order to fix country’s finances.

Division between the leaders of orange revolution has convicted Ukraine to a festival of emerging and breaking parliament coalitions, emerging in pains and falling down cabinets, elections, which did not select any absolute winner, conflicts between presidential center and parliament.

Independently from personal dislikes, ambitions, unforgivable harms, it ought to be stressed, that one of the consequences of orange revolution were new solutions in sphere of constitutional system, some of them have been absolutely not thought over. A matter of continuity of the Highest Council works was connected, in frames of constitutional amendment, with an ability to create and maintain a parliament majority. One of the most odd elements of Ukrainian “post-revolutionary”political landscape says that president dissolves the Highest Council if within 30 days a constant majority rule is not selected from its members or if within 60 days from the moment of government dismissal a new cabinet is not selected. It causes that effectiveness of country management, strategic planning and realization of international commitments made by Ukraine are a hostage of ruthless rivalry between major players of political life.

Disappointed hopes stimulated by orange revolution, political and social-economical problems bothering Ukraine, has influenced the mood of the public, which before presidential elections might be described as tragical. From last year Gallup Institute’s opinion poll came out that 85 percent of respondents (Ukrainians) were not satisfied with government’s performance in comparison with 73 percent in 2007 and 75 percent in 2008. It is worth mentioning that 4 percent indicator of support for efforts made by general state bodies was not only the lowest in the area of post USSR, but in worldwide scale as well.

Conflict between icons of orange revolution, which was paralyzing political life in Ukraine and in consequence also social-economical reforms, recedes perspectives of European integration. This conflict had significantly influenced on a low level of acceptance for ruling institutions. 66 percent of turnout at first round of voting and  almost 70 percent during the second one, should be consider as a proof of great maturity of Ukrainian citizens, trust towards democratic procedures and not giving up to bleak mood. A high level of voting absence would be perfectly understandable in situation of shaped political-economical condition of Ukraine.

Democratic and fair elections are the biggest (if not the only next to free media) political achievement of independent Ukraine. Presidential elections strengthened Ukraine picture as one of the most democratic countries (next to Moldova) belonging in the past to USSR, of course not taking into account Baltic countries, which are playing since long time in “league” of liberal democracy. A consistent position in this matter has been stated by all domestic and international organizations specializing in monitoring election proceedings. Congratulations for president-elect has been coming from East (Russia) as well as from West (EU). It strikes, in particular in relation to observations made about election process in Russia, fact of high level of rivalry during elections, big interests in elections, when it relates to number of candidates as well as citizens interest and probably what is the most important, strikes fact that ruling president and Prime Minister have been defeated by an opposition representative who cannot be described as a defender of democracy.

In East it is a tradition that ruling party, controlling administrative background, does not fail in elections. And the core of democracy is not only an ability to vote but also rotation on the highest positions. Electoral dimension of Ukrainian democracy is undoubtedly more meaningful than its liberal dimension (constitutional liberalism) lawfulness, owning rights defense or independent courts. .

Even though in the area of electoral practice some serious lacks can be noticed, which do not let to forget that we still have to do with Eastern European political system – in fact a hybrid regime. The further from the day of the elections, the more abnormalities; closed siting of Central Board of Elections, refusal of  complaints, refusal of introducing by national legislator changes recommended by OSCE in voting law, partial media, using state to promote own candidacy, blurring of boundaries between election campaign and holding an office of a state clerk, and on the very day of election ability to vote at home, adding names to electoral register. Negative tendencies characteristic for election proceedings in Ukraine have been completed by introducing in period separating first and second round of voting changes in law which was regulating choice of Ukraine’s president, precisely abolishing a necessity of quorum during Board of Elections sittings. Also the date of elections had became a matter of political disputes, which has to solved be Constitutional Court.

Result of presidential elections has been foreseen in almost a year advance. The election outcome has almost exactly mirrored public preferences. From carried by Razumkow Center opinion poll  in Marc 2009  came out that in order to select a winner in coming presidential elections a second round will be necessary in which Yanukovych by receiving 7 percent votes more than Tymoshenko will win.

Responsibility for Tymoshenko’s failure and in consequence for Yanukovych’s victory can be put down on Viktor Yushchenko – if he had not decided to run in the elections or at least he had supported Tymoshenko in the second round, instead of claiming that Ukrainians will be ashamed of their choice, the last one would probably receive about 7 – 8 percent of votes more and would defeat Yanukovych; 80 percent of electorate, who had voted for Yushchenko in the first round, in the second one has supported Tymoshenko.

Yushchenko by himself did not have the slightest chance for victory. Recorded in May 2009 level of support for activities of the then President and Prime Minister – 7 percent and 20 percent respectively –  let to draw a similar conclusion. Nearly 6 percent of support, which he received in first round of voting, confirmed a negative attitude of public opinion towards his governing. Shifting whole responsibility for failures of “post-orange” Ukraine onto Yushchenko is yet understandable though unfair. In circumstances of strong personalization of power in Ukraine (just like in whole post-soviet area) Yushchenko by being perceived as the embodiment of president institution, which in the eyes of public opinion is the mightiest state office, is main animator of domestic and foreign policy – what in the light of constitutional reform which accompanied orange revolution is not true – makes him main culpable for Ukraine’s defeats.

Yushchenko let himself to be overwhelmed by fears of authoritarian inclinations of Mrs Prime Minister, who in case of victory in presidential elections would concentrate in her hand all power in Ukraine and would consolidate political support in the Highest Council, overtaking some part of the refugees from Yanukovych’s Party of Regions and Our Ukraine-National Self-defense. There is quite a lot of exaggeration in catastrophic visions assuming that under Tymoshenko rule – charming, demagogic and charismatic Lady Prime Minister, using leftist populism – Ukrainian political regime would shift to a authoritarian-charismatic model.

Yanukovych victory, who is not enough dynamic, charismatic and expressive, no self-reliant political actor, dependent on support of one of the oligarchs clans and not having currently support of the strongest parliamentary representation, means maintaining political pluralism, a condition of power diffusion and a necessity to refer to democratic procedures in order to solve political conflicts.

Probably the biggest catastrophe for young Ukrainian democracy would be combining both political camps, setting elites pact or creating political cartel:  Yanukovych- Tymoshenko,  including amongst others constitutional reform, arbitrary division of state functions – with omitting public will, limiting media freedom and opposition role and which project, how Adam Eberhardt writes in a Center of Eastern Studies study: Revolution which did not happen, summary of five years of orange revolution, has been from Tymoshenko’s initiative discussed in 2008 and in the first half of 2009. Luckily for Ukraine distrust and searching after bad intentions in political rival acting, even when he offers his hand for cooperation, makes it impossible to conclude a similar agreements. In Ukraine still obeys an ethos of betrayal, switching parties colors and a rule: “my today ally, will be my enemy tomorrow”, which successfully blocks “authoritarian relapse”, at the same time creates an illusory vision of creating “government of national agreement”, capable to attend to state reform.

Ukraine after elections: an epilogue or an interlude of orange-blue conflict?

How Yanukovych’s governing will look like? In spite of views which are being spread by his political opponents also quite popular outside Ukraine, it do not have to mean “a blue payback”, national catastrophe, a policy of national interests betrayal and introducing a dictatorship. Institutional architecture of Ukrainian policy – even when taking into account pathologies it bothering including political bribery – makes a perspective of full decisive autonomy of president (Yanukovych and his back up) illusory. In other words even if  Yanukovych really would like to “do harm” to Ukraine, he will not be let to by existing in Ukraine political pluralism together with constitutional rules, which ensure effective power diffusion in Ukrainian political system.

By virtue of amendments made in constitution being a result of compromise between the “orange and the ”blue”, center of gravity in Ukrainian political system has definitely shifted towards the parliament. In consequence it is refereed to as parliamentary-cabinet with strengthened position of  head of state. President has maintained significant range of entitlements, especially in sphere of foreign policy amongst others right of legislative initiative and veto against bills of the Highest Council, he has lost a privilege of controlling government though (on which(government) is resting realization of current economic, domestic and foreign policy). Apart from minister of home affairs and minister of  foreign policy, the Highest Council appoints ministers on Prime Minister motion. In consequence the man who wants to fully govern Ukraine has to control not only the office of president but also simultaneously needs to have support of parliamentary majority at his disposal.

For Ukraine it means a beginning of a new political battle – this time over control over the Highest Council. The victory of Yanukovych in currently obeying constitutional realities, is a not full victory. How it was noticed in post election commentaries in Ukraine, the only thing which Yanukovych won is “a war invitation” with Tymoshenko. Even if he manages to gain some benefits in incoming parliamentary elections from his triumph in the presidential elections, he will have to face a  giant task of preventing a breakage in structures of Ukrainian state and restoring public trust towards those structures. This task he will have to fulfill in view of an inevitable confrontation with Tymoshenko, who pushed aside to opposition, so in role of “technical Prime Minister” left in office till a new government is selected, she will be trying to torpedo Yanukovych’s ideas.

Difference between  Yanukovych and Mrs Prime Minister in the second round of voting was not big enough – it  reached merely 3,48 percent, what translates into a number of  887 928 people – so that she could voluntarily accept her defeat, congratulate opponent and close discussion about fairness of the voting. Tymoshenko publicly turned herself into an obstacle to consolidation of Ukrainian democracy – refusal of recognizing Yanukovych’s victory and attempts of questioning democratic character of the presidential elections, recognized by all foreign institutions monitoring voting as free and fair, are for internal observers if not alarming than at least incomprehensible. On the other hand such behavior of Prime Minister can be interpreted as an invitation to coalition bidding. A vision of cooperation with Tymoshenko seems hard to imagine but the newest Ukraine’s political  history already  knows cases of cooperation between presidents and Prime Ministers who stem from “orange” and “blue” camps. Completely different matter is that whether it had bore any fruits…

Already before the second round of voting Yanukovych has been publicly making declarations that he will be pursuing to parliamentary elections before schedule in order to entirely defeat   Tymoshenko and to throw her out from the Prime Minister office. Just after the second round he called her to immediate and voluntary resignation.

Attempts of creating new parliamentary coalition under rule of Party of Regions require a deformation of coalition including Tymoshenko’s Block, Our Ukraine-National Self-defense and Lytwyn’s Block. Post election activities of Yanukovych are indicating that he aims to rescheduled parliamentary elections (break of coalition brings greatly this moment closer) or to arranging a new coalition without the necessity of rescheduled elections. Parliamentary elections may but do not have to in the view of triumph in the presidential elections enlarge state of possession of Party of Regions.

A scenario of harmonious cooperation between Tymoshenko and Yanukovych would significantly bring closer process of state reform, would introduce an favorable atmosphere for economical reforms. What is more the only option of “wide coalition” with participation of Party of Regions and BjuTy will be for external creditors a guarantee of further help, will be a warranty that Ukraine will be capable to fulfill those already made commitments. Independently form risk of crash of political pluralism in Ukraine, a durability of a similar coalition in fragile.

Ukraine’s foreign policy under Yanukovych’s rule.

The biggest fear, in the context of gaining by Yanukovych the presidential office, looms a matter of directions development of Ukrainian foreign policy.

What can be accepted in sphere of foreign policy from Ukraine’s new president?

For certain attempts of rebuilding right relations with Russia which during the six year presidency of  Yushchenko got worsening. In the sphere of relations with European Union he declared readiness for their further institutionalization, he pointed clearly though at Russia and countries of Commonwealth of Independent States as priority area for developing international cooperation. Little credible – in the context of plans to create a trilateral consortium managing Ukrainian system of gas transport – sound his declarations that he is not a Russian marionette and by making state decisions he will be guided by benefits for Ukrainian nation.

Fortune of Ukraine membership in NATO seems to be settled –  Yanukovych is an advocate of Ukraine neutrality. If he manages to hold a referendum about this matter than taking into account public opinion about membership in Treaty the result will be consistent with intention of referendum organizers – suspending actions in favor of institutional membership in NATO. There are also no doubts that Yanukovych will be trying, in a different manner than it took place in case of  Yushchenko, to solve matter of garrisoning of Black Sea Fleet FR after year 2017 and allowing Russian fleet presence in Ukraine after expiring a 10 years contract of tenancy of base in Sevastopol.

From Russian point of view victory of two from three main candidates to presidential office – with the exception of Yushchenko with whom Kreml did not want to have anything to do – was supposed to fully guarantee promotion of Russian interests. How Władimir Socor noticed in „Jamestown Foundation Eurasian Daily” Russian interests have already been perfectly promoted by Ukrainians politics who were (un)aware of results of their actions. “Without a single shoot” realization of three fundamental from Russian point of view goals have been achieved: firstly, Ukraine due to its economical and political chaos in which it has been immersing in aftermaths of orange revolution, stopped being perceived as a source of spreading of democracy virus on post soviet area; secondly, matter of Ukraine’s membership in NATO fades away – any from meaning candidates for presidential office did not rise this matter – in the context of preparations for parliamentary elections subject of NATO stays tabu; thirdly Ukrainians politics are successfully delaying perspective of European Union membership or even modernization of its own gas transporting networks, torpedoing taking coherent and consequent efforts in favor of realization of those aims.

Choice of Yanukovych on position of president of Ukraine in place of hated and declared anti Russian Yushchenko will strengthened pro-Russian course of Ukraine. Yanukovych’s victory undoubtedly will favor, at least to some extend, realization of such goals of Russian diplomacy as gaining real control over Ukrainians system of gas transport, overtaking parts of Ukrainians enterprises by companies which are controlled by Kreml or national banks, increasing rate of Russian language usage in Ukrainian public life, inclusion of Ukraine to customs union connecting Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia – receding a perspective of building a similar project in relations between the EU and Ukraine.

Translation: Magda Moskal

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About Michal Slowikowski

Lecturer at the University of Lodz, political scientist. His areas of interest include Central Europe, relations between Russia and Ukraine as well as between Ukraine and Belarus and development of relations between the European Union and Eastern Europe. He cooperates with the European Centre Natolin within the research project ‘Europe and its neighbours’.

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