A Nation Deeply Unhappy

KIEV, Ukraine -- Four years after the democratic Orange Revolution, most Ukrainians believe they still are not living in a democracy. They think corruption is as bad as ever and they have overwhelmingly lost faith in their political leadership.

Those are the damning results of a poll released on Nov. 11. The survey was commissioned by the Washington-based International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES), conducted by the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology and funded by the United States Agency for International Development.

“The Orange Revolution provided the chance for major changes to take place in the nation. But the survey results suggest that this opportunity was not utilized by Ukraine’s political elite,” said Jamie Dettmer, IFES’ director for communications and advocacy.

Of 1,218 citizens surveyed between Oct. 17 and Oct. 28, only 15 percent believe that they live in a democratic country. Ukrainians were almost unanimous in their deep disappointment with the current economic and political situation in the nation, with 93 percent registering this sentiment.

The survey suggests complete frustration in a society that once had high hopes for change. “Political standstill is stalling reforms and sidelining the development of state institutions that could help Ukraine overcome crises and reach economic growth,” Dettmer added.

The poll results were made public on the very day that Victor Yushchenko, Ukraine’s increasingly unpopular president, announced he would delay plans to hold a snap parliamentary election. If an early election happens at all, it will probably take place next year at the soonest.

“It would not be reasonable to hold elections during the year-end holidays,” Yushchenko said during a trip to Warsaw on Nov. 11.

The poll results became known a day before the Verkhovna Rada voted on Nov. 12 to oust presidential loyalist Arseniy Yatsenyuk as acting speaker. A total of 233 out of 450 members voted to get rid of Yatsenyuk, 34, as leader.

The rising public dissatisfaction comes a year before a presidential election campaign expected to feature rivals Yushchenko, Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and Party of Regions leader Victor Yanukovych.

Fed up

The polls also found that 76 percent of citizens believe Ukraine is moving into chaos. It shows the highest disappointment rating in recent years of any IFES-commissioned poll, its director, Rakesh Sharma, said.

In February 2005, just after the Orange Revolution, some 43 percent considered Ukraine to be on the way to stability. In September 2007, during pre-term parliamentary elections, some 47 percent said that the country is becoming more stable.

The picture is so much bleaker today. “It’s impossible to live and to expect that everyday life will become more worthwhile,” said Valentyna Dudenko, a Kyiv pensioner. “I don’t trust anyone in power anymore.”

While the 2004 Orange Revolution was seen as a major victory for democracy in post-Soviet Ukraine, the poll clearly shows that two bitter parliamentary elections since then have eroded public trust.

The poll indicated that citizens see corruption to be as widespread as ever and don’t believe the nation’s justice system is capable of defending basic human rights. Citizens polled by the IFES study said the most corrupt institutions in the country were parliament, police, customs and the educational system.

Citizens are feeling the pinch of inflation, and see worsening relations with Russia as one of the most serious problems.

The IFES poll shows that 84 percent don’t trust Yushchenko, 83 percent don’t trust parliament, 72 percent don’t trust the government and 63 percent mistrust Tymoshenko. The villain of the Orange Revolution – Yanukovich – was not unscathed, either. Some 64 percent distrust him, the polls indicate.

“The [political elite] killed the hopes of Ukrainians from the Orange Revolution for a better state and nation,” said Mykhailo Nodelman, a Kyiv teacher who supported Yushchenko in 2004. “The president is the first to blame.”

Its not only the president, but the entire presidential system of government that bothers people, too. In the IFES survey, only 25 percent favored a presidential system of government. A bit more, or 38 percent, would prefer a parliamentary system of government. Only 12 percent support the status quo, a mixed parliamentary-presidential system with unclear divisions of authority.

The poll showed that only 3 percent of Ukrainians think political parties serve the interests of the population, while 56 percent said parties serve their own interests. “Ukraine’s political elite don’t understand that power means responsibility. The power must serve people, not itself,” said Kyrylo Nesterov, a university student. “I don’t see any sense in voting at the elections. My vote will change nothing.”

More elections aren’t the answer, citizens say. According to the IFES poll, more than three quarters believe that an early election won’t help and a similar number believe they don’t have any influence on decision-makers.

A glimmer of hope

Despite the overwhelming pessimism, analysts do not think Ukraine is on the verge of collapse. “If you were to ask people in Western Europe what they think about their politicians, they will also be heavily disappointed,” said Sergiy Taran, the director of International Democracy Institute. “People like their political elites only in authoritarian countries.”

Taran said that Ukrainians' highly negative feelings today are a threat only to the current political elite. “This political elite has become bankrupt, just like its predecessor before 2004,” he said.

But, unless new faces emerge, voters will be confronted with the same old choices on election ballots.

Source: Kyiv Post


John Kantor said…
It could be worse - you could be living in a Democracy like the US, where a vacuous sound-bite wrapped in feel-good cliches can get elected President.
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