Ukraine Needs A Strong Opposition

KIEV, Ukraine -- The recent announcement by President Viktor Yushchenko’s Our Ukraine party to go into opposition to the Viktor Yanukovych government does not come as a surprise.

Our Ukraine faction leader Roman Bezsmertny

The real surprise came a few weeks earlier, when the president called on Yanukovych to form a coalition government comprising Yanukovych’s Party of Regions, the Socialists, the Communists and Our Ukraine. Now, Our Ukraine is rejecting participation in this coalition.

In reality, the coalition is untenable. It has no ideological base, no common policies and no cohesion. Yesterday’s enemies artificially forced a relationship designed to satisfy immediate political necessities. Our Ukraine wanted to regain some power — get appointed to head ministries – after forfeiting a viable Orange coalition.

Regions was anxious to neutralize the opposition. To cover up major political fault lines, the parties signed the National Unity Universal document. To her credit, BYuT faction leader Yulia Tymoshenko refused to join the coalition and formed an opposition to the government, never signing the document.

Now it appears the deal with the devil, as the Ukrainians call it, is in jeopardy. Last week, Our Ukraine faction leader Roman Bezsmertny, announced that Our Ukraine is joining the opposition and pulling ministers from the government.

What sparked it off was the prime minister’s negative stance on NATO in Brussels, though Our Ukraine accuses Yanukovych of wider disregard for the Universal.

No surprises here. Once the Universal had served its purpose and once he was firmly in power, Yanukovych was less bound to its principles, such as European integration, fast tracking to the WTO, and, of course, joining NATO. Such principles never were part of his party’s political ideology to begin with.

Moreover, it appears the Universal is not enforceable by law, not worth the paper it’s written on. In reality, the prime minister’s position is secure as long as he controls the majority in the Rada, Ukraine’s parliament, or until the people have had enough of this deceit and demand a new election.

It looks like Our Ukraine has been outmaneuvered. No surprises here either. It has a history of political ineptness. Consider the following: its forerunner, and still an influential component, Rukh, championed the independence movement in 1991. Over 90 percent of the population supported them. Since then, it has split into several parties, Our Ukraine being one of them.

This eternal squabbling cost them the political control of Ukraine. Then, reunited in the 2004 presidential election and re-branded as Orange forces, they again rallied tremendous popular support. They surprised and earned respect from most of Ukraine, even the world, with this success. Now two years later, with the people given political capital squandered by its leaders, parliamentary power has been handed over to Russia’s preferred man - Viktor Yanukovych.

The reinvention of Our Ukraine as the opposition may be its political salvation. It has lost much support among the people and will no doubt lose more if it continues to associate with the Regions.

Ideologically, Our Ukraine is a much better fit with BYuT than with Regions. It might distinguish itself once again by joining forces with Tymoshenko to raise Ukraine to a new level of democratic evolution: a two party system; one in power and one in opposition.

Democracy, as defined by ancient Greece, and still true today, is a society in which citizens take turns in being rulers and the ruled. Rulers are those who win control of parliament in a fair election; the opposition are those who lose but want to win and rule next.

There were times in Ukraine’s history when criticism of the government - the main role of the opposition - was considered treason, punishable by prison or worse. This was the reality in the USSR, a one party dictatorship with no opposition. It was death for some 30 million who dared to criticize the Soviet authorities! A pathological paranoia leading to loathing and scorn still clings to many politicians with a Communist background, against opposition to their “correct” way.

Such people are clearly identifiable. They hurl invectives at those not inclined to support them, be they coalitions or simply individuals with other political views. Fascist nationalists and emotional national crisis generators come to mind, as do the appalling animal name-calling by Mr. Yanukovych of the Orange supporters who protested the falsified presidential elections in 2004.

These are yesterday’s people who do not understand the indispensable value of an opposition and the need for Ukraine to go forward in its political evolution.

What does a legitimate opposition do? It debates and criticizes, asks embarrassing questions and makes statements to the press about the government’s questionable dealings.

When the public good is at stake, the opposition has the right and duty to oppose the government’s policies and actions. By doing so, it is trying to convince the electorate to give it power to govern in the next election because it, the opposition, can and will do a better job.

In democracies, the evolution from a multi-party to a two- or three- party system clarifies the role of the opposition. It is the party whose elected members do not support the government and who offer themselves to the voters, not just as individual candidates, but as an organized and alternative government.

This is exactly what Yulia Tymoshenko did when she declared that BYuT would not join the Regions but sit in parliament as the opposition. If Ukraine is to continue its transformation into a modern state, it is imperative that it move in this direction. Our Ukraine’s decision to join the opposition is a good step forward.

Ukraine needs what every democracy needs - a strong, forceful opposition, ideologically united to fight policy battles on important issues with the government on behalf of the citizens.

To win the next election Ukraine’s opposition, like those throughout the world, needs a winning strategy. To begin, here are some key steps:

1) Decide that it is an “Orange opposition,” understanding that the greater the integration and movement towards a single party, the greater its chances of galvanizing the electorate’s support.

2) Distance oneself from losers, former political lights that have disgraced themselves. The people do not forget.

3) Seek models of how other oppositions do it — the Poles, the Brits, the Americans. Use what fits. Learn quickly.

4) Establish a shadow cabinet using the best people for the job, sharing positions among the various factions to strengthen cohesion.

5) Provide solid debate on issues facing Ukraine - energy and the Russia factor; foreign affairs; the despicable social inadequacies. Use the media as much as possible.

6) Be fearless in criticizing the government in parliament, the media, in meetings with the electorate, but be fair. Remember, their turn to criticize will come when they are in the opposition.

Source: Kyiv Post