Wednesday, May 16, 2007

The Struggle for Democracy

An analysis of political instability in Ukraine after the Orange Revolution

by Kateryna Malyhina and Morten Larsen Nonboe
Source APEM


The Ukrainian Orange Revolution tends to be viewed in a somewhat romantic light. Particularly in the West, the election of pro-Western president Viktor Yushchenko and the defeat of pro-Russian candidate Yanukovych are often seen as a victory for democracy promising a brighter future. Viewed from abroad, it may therefore appear highly peculiar that the streets of Kiev are now once again full of demonstrators. This article gives an account of the events leading to the current Ukrainian political crisis and tries to explain the causes of the political instability that is once again tormenting Ukraine.


The Orange Legacy and the Quest for Power

The current political crisis in Ukraine must been seen in the context of the general political situation in the country. In particular, the crisis is closely intertwined with the well-known events in late 2004 and early 2005 commonly referred to as the Orange Revolution. The intricate political games which took place not among the campers on the Independence Square in Kiev, but backstage among the different political fractions are perhaps a less well-known aspect. One of the deals struck was between Yushchenko and the Socialist Party’s leader Moroz. In exchange for the Socialist Party’s support, Yushchenko promised to change the constitution to transform Ukraine from a presidential-parliamentary republic to a parliamentary-presidential.

This idea was originally proposed by ex-President Kuchma, but caused many debates and included many drafts. One of these drafts came from the opposition to Kuchma, at that time consisting of such parties as Yushchenko’s Our Ukraine, Yulia Timoshenko’s Block and the above mentioned Socialist Party. However, when it became clear that Kuchma was not going to run in the upcoming presidential elections, Yushchenko decided to concentrate on winning the elections himself and stopped insisting on political reform. Having fair chances of winning the election, he counted on being able to exercise the same powers himself.

Timoshenko abstained from running for president in exchange for the position of Prime Minister. The Socialist Party was therefore the only political power left that still insisted on the political reform. The primary cause, however, was hardly the wish to give equal powers to president and parliament, but rather the ambitions of party leader Moroz. Having previously been the speaker of the Ukrainian parliament, Moroz hoped to get this seat again. The speaker in a parliamentary-presidential republic, of course, plays a bigger role than in a presidential-parliamentary one.

Hence it appears that power ambitions were the driving force uniting the Orange coalition: Yushchenko became president, Timoshenko got the prime minister post, and Moroz had the prospect of becoming speaker with strengthened powers. Having finally achieved his ambition of becoming president, however, Yushchenko was reluctant to give up these powers. Initially “the need to establish order” was used as an excuse to delay the political reform.

Thus the year 2005 passed in a post Orange Revolution euphoria. People were inspired by the Orange Revolution and hoped for change. But in the course of time they became disillusioned and disappointed. Timoshenko’s government showed its incompetence and unprofessionalism with its almost planned regulations of the economy. In September 2005, Yushchenko changed the government, but the new one also failed to solve the country’s major problems. Parliamentary Elections.

At the beginning of 2006, Ukraine was filled with slogans for the upcoming parliamentary elections. The political reform finally came into force: Now the prime minister and the cabinet of ministers were to be appointed not by the president, but by the parliamentary majority that needed to be formed within 60 days. Unexpectedly, Yanukovych’s Party of Regions gained most support (32.14%), while Yulia Timoshenko’s Block got 22.29% and Yushchenko’s “Our Ukraine” was backed by a mere 13.95%.

Yanukovych, nevertheless, had low chances of forming a parliamentary majority, as the former Orange Coalition trumpeted they unite again. But this time the coalition members’ power ambitions were not compatible, since Yushchenko was reluctant to give Timoshenko and Moroz the positions as prime minister and speaker, respectively. Yanukovych, on the other hand, was clever enough to give Moroz the speaker’s post, and so they formed a new government with Yanukovych as Prime Minister.

With the return into high politics, Yanukovych now wanted to fulfill his own ambitions and did not miss the opportunity to use the weak sides of the constitution. The first dispute between President and Prime Minister came in September 2006. Yanukovych refused to carry out seven presidential decrees, claiming they violate the constitutional procedure. The constitutional court was called upon, but the court has yet to issue its verdict. Several similar disputes followed, the last of which resulted in the current deadlock: In March 2007, deputies started to change their affiliation from the fractions of Timoshenko and Yushchenko to Yanukovych’s. Facing the threat of a parliamentary majority allowing Yanukovych to override the President’s vetoes, Yushchenko published a decree which dissolved the parliament and called for elections ahead of time.

Politics against the Rules

The decree, however, was published in a newly created newspaper and not in the official newspapers, which questioned its validity. The constitutional court was once again asked to check the presidential decree’s legitimacy. As of now, Ukraine is still awaiting the court’s verdict, not sure if there will be new elections or not. Meanwhile, supporters of all fractions have taken to the streets and the Independence Square in Kiev once again sees camping crowds protesting for political change. From the events described above it follows that power ambitions go a long way in explaining the continued political instability in Ukraine. Most politicians in Ukraine seem to pursue only their own interests to gain power, even if it means violating the basic laws. All countries have ambitious politicians, but not in all countries do politicians disregard of the laws. Most politicians in Ukraine are playing not by the rules, but against the rules. This is a severe problem and it goes without saying that it is bound to create instability.

Structural problems

Furthermore, the political instability in Ukraine is to some extent caused and exacerbated by structural aspects. In particular, the uncertain distribution of power and Ukraine’s delicate ethno-cultural composition constitute factors which contribute to the instability and, in turn, skilfully are used by the political fractions to promote their interests.

For obvious reason, Ukraine, like other post Soviet countries, faced a range of obstacles in establishing statehood upon its 1991 declaration of independence. It took five years before an actual constitution was agreed upon and even then it was supported only by some 2/3 of the members of the parliament. The constitution stipulates basic freedom rights (chapter two) and the division of power between parliament, a powerful president with far-reaching authority, and supreme and constitutional courts (chapters four, five and eight). Despite amendments in 2004, however, the constitutional framework still seems inadequate as demonstrated through the current crisis. Another struggle between president and prime minister arose over the right to dismiss the minister of foreign affairs, for while the appointment procedure is clearly stated in the constitution, nothing is mentioned about the dismissal procedure.

The constitution’s provisions for a powerful president are, moreover, potentially troublesome due to Ukraine’s ethno-cultural composition. According to the Ukrainian census of 2001, 77.8% of the population are ethnic Ukrainians, but Ukraine is nevertheless not an entirely homogeneous country. The Western part of the country, on one hand, is the home of Ukrainian nationalism and people there mainly speak Ukrainian. The Eastern part, on the other hand, is culturally and historically more connected with Russia, and there is relatively high levels of support for making Russian an official language alongside Ukrainian. While the wish to integrate more with Western Europe can be found in both parts of the country, the Eastern part is therefore anxious not to cut ties with Russia. Such differences, obviously, make it hard for the two parts to agree on the direction of the country, let alone a joint president. Empirically, the division has been demonstrated at every single election since 1991 where there has been a marked tendency for each part of the country to vote for its own candidates and parties. This division is obviously not conductive to political stability either. At the same time, the various players in Ukraine’s intricate political life often use this division for campaign purposes, as witnesses in Yanukovych’s calls for the introduction of federalism prior to the March 2006 parliamentary elections.

Ukraine in Search of its Future

In conclusion, continued political instability in Ukraine is caused by both individual and structural factors. On an individual level, most leading Ukrainian politicians, as described above, seem primarily preoccupied with securing and expanding their own power even if it means manipulating and violating basic laws. On a structural level, on the other hand, the uncertain distribution of power and the ethno-cultural composition of Ukraine facilitate political instability and create ideal circumstances for politicians to promote their own power through conflict and confrontation. Hence, individual and structural factors continue to interact in a potentially dangerous way which threatens to torment Ukraine for many years to come. Whatever decision the constitutional court reaches, it will only create the precondition for another crisis, as any decision would be disputed later by the losing party.

To avoid such a scenario, the problems of Ukraine need to be dealt with in a comprehensive manner. It seems futile to carry out new elections as polls indicate that they will not dramatically change the results of the previous elections. Moreover, it has many times been repeated that there is simply no money on the budget for another expensive election. Instead, the only possible way seems to be renewed negotiations, for a consensus must be found between the two parties, between Yushchenko and Yanukovych, between West and East. The present instability and possible re-elections seem beneficial only for Timoshenko, as she is desperately fighting for power. To create long lasting consensus and stability in the country, the politicians need to review the constitution immediately after the current crisis is settled and once and for all eliminate the uncertain distribution of powers. Moreover, an effective system of compliance with laws should be enforced. For that, it is hardly enough if the constitutional court finally starts working properly. The opposition and mass media should become watchdogs of all misdoings of power. While mass media is already increasingly fulfilling this task due to the expanded freedom of speech following the Orange Revolution, it is of outmost importance that they are not deprived of this right in the future. The opposition, on the other hand, cannot be said to perform its duty as it tends to concentrate on pointing out mistakes that suits its agenda, while not fulfilling its watchdog role in other areas.

Contrary to the widely held view that the Orange Revolution lead to immediate transition to democracy, Ukraine continues its struggle on the road to become a truly democratic country. This road is presumably still long, since Ukraine has got neither a long experience of statehood nor widespread governmental skills.

However, the political instability need not be only a negative phenomenon. The processes that Ukraine experiences now – state formation – are the same that other countries went through centuries ago, but the state formation is now happening under new and accelerated conditions. Rather than emulating other countries’ democratization patterns, Ukraine seems to follow its very own. Therefore such political instability could be viewed as partly a positive phenomenon. Instead of choosing the easy way of autocracy, Ukraine tries to evolve along its own path. In this perspective, the Ukraine of today could be described as a country of experiments: learning from its own mistakes, Ukraine is slowly but steadily developing.

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