Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Window on Eurasia: Ukraine’s 2004 Orange Revolution May Constrain Yanukovich

Paul Goble

Vienna, March 16 – The Orange Revolution in Ukraine created a political system in which power “is not concentrated in the hands of one clan or political group but rather divided among competitors,” an arrangement that could limit the ability of Viktor Yanukovich to become “a ‘Ukrainian Putin’” or to change the political direction in Kyiv as much as many think.
Not only that, Andrey Okara argues in a commentary on APN.ru, but the very nature of what he calls “the polyarchy” in Ukraine will likely prevent the new president there from eliminating that opposition as a political force or preventing it from limiting any moves he might want to make in a pro-Moscow direction (www.apn.ru/opinions/article22468.htm).
This “polyarchy,” Okara says, is “the undoubted achievement of the Orange Revolution” because it means that instead of “a winner take all” scenario, “all the participants of the political ‘game’ remain in a position to defend their interests albeit in a reduced amount. And none of them will suffer the fate of being drowned in an outhouse.”
This makes Ukraine a very different place than Russia, he continues because “there is no such polyarchy that one can foresee in the immediate future” there. Such a system presupposes “the presence of a competitive political process, parties, opposition, media freedom, freedom of assembly and so on and so forth.”
While in many countries, a polyarchy can be institutionalized in law or constitution, in Ukraine, Okara writes, “during all five post-revolutionary years, the polyarchy has been maintained above all by the specific charisma of President Viktor Yushchenko who never tried to swallow all power at once,” even though many of his supporters pushed him to do so.
Because of that, Yuliya Timoshenko was able to serve as prime minister twice, but also because of that, many have begun to fear that after the election of Yanukovich and his appointment of the “quite odious Nikolay Azarov” as prime minister that the continued existence of the polyarchy is at risk.
According to Okara, Yanukovich has “repeated Yushchenko’s mistake, selecting his executive power not according to its level of professionalism but on the principle of personal devotion.” And in this case, that means that “the majority of the names of ministers” now are puppets of the oligarchs.”
So obvious was this that a new anecdote has begun to circulate in Kyiv, Okara reports. It says that shortly after the government was formed, two armed bandits broke into a session of the Council of Ministers “and apologized for being late and then took their places” alongside the other ministers.
But Yanukovich may have made one politically clever move. By appointing Dmitry Tabachnik as education and science minister, the new president has forced the opposition “instead of seeking control over the economic and financial policy of the government to spend all its forces in the struggle with an ‘odious Ukrainophobe.’”
The Ukrainian opposition today does not have much remaining power: “no parliamentary majority, no seat in the government and no post in the control organs.” As a result, some in government circles are saying that Yanukovich would like to give the siloviki the task of putting Yuliya Timoshenko behind bars.
And that raises the question: “Could the Ukraine of Yanukovich repeat the fate of the Russia of Putin and Medvedev? In other words, does something now threaten the Ukrainian polyarchy” that emerged as a result of the Orange Revolution? According to Okara, there are dangers, but the polyarchy may very well survive.
“The main threat to the Ukrainian opposition,” he suggests, “comes not from the ‘Donetsk’ people but from within itself” because the leaders of the opposition have not shown any willingness to put their differences aside and unit. And there is now even a threat from the new president because of the way he and his people are handling the media.
Government media releases about Yanukovich, Okara points out, “show the stylistic and conceptual archaic quality of palace journalists,” being written in very much the same way as similar stories would have been constructed about Soviet leader Brezhnev, Belarusian head Lukashenka, or Turkmenbashi.
If the Constitutional Court forces new elections over the issue of voting for the new government and new elections are held, the survival of the polyarchy in Ukraine will thus be in the hands of the Ukrainian people who will have to decide whether they will tolerate the messiness of the polyarchy or prefer instead the “peace” and “order” and “stability” of Russia.
“Of course, both Yanukovich and Azarov may want to drown in the outhouse” their opponents and kill off the polyarchy, but if the Ukrainian voters do not go along and if the current opposition takes their lead from the people, then it is possible that the polyarchy will survive and that Ukraine can continue along a very different path than Russia’s.

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