Monday, October 01, 2007

Pendulum Swings in Ukraine--Yet Again

Ukraine certainly is the land of political comebacks--as yesterday's elections demonstrate. When former disgraced presidential candidate Viktor Yannukovych became prime minister, people wondered at his ability to return to power. Now, the Guardian says the likely victory of the Orange Coalition forces suggests a remarkable comeback for Yuliya Tymoshenko.

Tymoshenko's bloc succeeded in winning over some of the undecided voters and took some votes away from the Socialists, to give her party a strong showing (initially in first place but now reports are suggesting that Yanukovych's Party of Regions will have the most votes). But given that President Viktor Yushchenko's "Our Ukraine" took a respectable 15 percent or so of the vote, and the announcement that Tymoshenko and Yushchenko have agreed to reconstitute their coalition, and it seems likely that Tymoshenko will be able to become prime minister.

But we're not out of the woods. Tymoshenko and Yushchenko have always worked better together in opposition rather than in governing. The coalition will have to hold together on a number of contentious reform issues and will have little incentives provided==the best Europe is offering is a free-trade arrangement. Tymoshenko will have to demonstrate she learned from the mistakes of the first orange coalition--in terms of restraining some of her populist sentiments and not appearing to be using her position to go after business figures allied with her political opponents. I think that Yushchenko himself is strongly behind the coalition but this does not mean that, over time, other figures in Our Ukraine might themselves might not decide to break ranks.

Even in opposition, Yanukovych and his people wil remain a formidable force--this is not an overwhelming victory. Ukraine remains divided. It might be appropriate for the new government to continue the arrangement reached earlier between Yushchenko and Yanukovych--that all decisions about Ukraine joining larger international organizations (Single Economic Space, NATO, etc.) cannot be ratified simply by a parliamentary majority but are subject to a referendum. This might help preserve Ukraine's ability to continue along the track of pursuing membership in such bodies without opening up the country to paralyzing political crises before there is a stronger national consensus in place as to what to do.

Finally, the elections prove the point that I and others were making earlier this year--favor process in Ukraine over personalities. Legitimate, fair and free elections were held--and as with the previous set of elections, we do have a good snapshot of the will of the people of Ukraine.

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