Ukraine: Gifted With A Second Chance

KIEV, Ukraine -- As the first anniversary of the squandered March parliamentary election in Ukraine was drawing near, the chief political concern of the Orange losers focused on the “aggrandizement” of power by Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, to whom their former hero, President Viktor Yushchenko handed the reins of power.

Kiev Orange

By calling pre-term elections, President Yushchenko aims to reverse the trend. By getting the prime minister’s agreement, following a stormy fight, the president has scored a political victory.

Regardless of the outcome – it looks like the elections will take place in late June – the call puts the president in a more favorable political light with Ukraine’s pro-Western Orange population.

He is showing leadership, placing himself firmly in the Orange camp, rallying supporters, reconfirming pro-Western positions, and challenging the Party of Region’s pro-Russian government.

It remains to be seen whether this is enough to help the Orange forces win. Current rankings in the polls are lower than those of the prime minister's party.

Then there’s always the issue of a fair election. However, they have succeeded before by winning with slight majorities both at the presidential elections of 2004 and the parliamentary elections in 2006.

They have proven that the people want Orange power in Ukraine. However, the Orange coalition has yet to demonstrate the know-how required to translate election victories into government and political power.

The snap election offers another second chance. Are they up to it? Sober skeptics point to the legacy of squabbling and the Orange president's two years of inaction.

They worry that these attributes, rather than the electorates' yearning for a pro-Western Ukraine and their distaste for Russian political dominance after nearly a century of it, may translate into an Orange loss.

To get a second chance, the Orange forces must convince Ukrainians that they will do the job right this time. This means providing assurance that an Orange parliament, and president, will abide by the Orange Revolution’s principles – the rule of law, punishment of violators, pro-Ukrainian economic policies ranging from privatization of its industrial capital to control of the energy sector, and a pro-Western foreign policy orientation.

It means ensuring that the 8 percent economic growth coursing through Ukraine trickles down to the furthest reaches of the nation's impoverished majority, its voters.

How, then, to get this second chance? First, they must win the elections. To do so, their election strategists need to bring greater clarity to Ukraine's electorate on the country's key and most divisive internal issues by:

1. Stating simply the reasons for the election call...still much is misunderstood;

2. Convincing eastern Ukraine in particular, the reasons for the Orange coalition being pro-Western;

3. Contrasting the Western quality of life with the fate of millions of Russians despite Russia being a leading energy power and a member of the G-8, and the lack of freedoms;

4. Downplaying East-West geographical differences in Ukraine.

Also, they need to address the divisive pro/anti-Russia scenario by focusing on the benefits of a “Ukraine first” policy. by explaining:

1. Russia’s hungry determination to control Ukraine’s energy, Black Sea and entrance to WTO and NATO for its own interests;

2. The benefits of independence rather than being Russia’s provider of raw materials and labor;

3. Seek international experts to explain the benefits of NATO, pointing out that some 10 years ago, before Russia expressed indignation, Ukraine was solidly for joining.

Now to an important but difficult issue: Get the president to seek the people’s forgiveness for betraying them.

Despite recent advances, his popularity is hovering at 20 percent. Without clearing the air, further past inactions may be a liability during the election campaign.

The good news for the Orange side is that Ukraine's pro-Western voter has no alternative to the Orange parties. However, about half of Ukraine's electorate is uncommitted. A clear majority for the Orange side requires some of these undeclared voters.

Some of them may have been former supporters. A statement of reconciliation would help to bring the disillusioned pro-Western electorate, as well as others, on board.

Next, keep in touch with the voters. The Committee of Voters, Ukraine’s election watchdog, commends the Party of Regions for delivering a solid performance in meeting with constituents.

Other parties get no mention. The Orange coalition has a great deal of explaining to do at the grassroots level. Go to the people and tell them how the Orange will close the gap between the rich and the poor and how the people are the “political elite” in a democracy because they hold power over their elected representatives.

Uppermost, ensure cohesion among the Orange forces that is sustainable beyond the elections by developing, now, a power-sharing approach in parliament. Without it, the downside is grim: perhaps meaning losing the elections to the Party of Regions, which has presented a more cohesive and disciplined front; or losing power after the election, as happened after the parliamentary elections last year.

Start developing a shadow Cabinet now, preparing for a transition. Above all, don’t plan long holidays and absences as was the case after the presidential elections. Remember, you are being elected to get a job done for the people and the country, not to join a self-serving “political elite.”

It is not only the president and the Orange candidates who need a winning strategy. International entities wishing to see Ukraine progress in democracy need more muscle behind the rhetoric.

A fast track into the WTO, exceptional support for entry into the EU and further steps, like the awarding of the Euro 2012 are some steps in that direction. Above all, Western states must stop viewing Ukraine through a Russian optic, be it NATO membership or their use of Russian as the business language in Ukraine.

This is pure cow-towing; a colonial insult. It is crucial for Western states to treat Ukraine as the independent, second largest European nation, on its way to becoming a powerhouse, that it is.

Right now, it is imperative to participate in ensuring a free election. It can be taken as a given that attempts will be made to falsify it. The West’s presence is indispensable – just as it was during the Orange Revolution.

Source: Kyiv Post


Robert said…
This is a very good analysis of the current situation in Ukraine. In particular this article points out one of the critical missteps of the Orange movement early on. That is that the president lost effective communication with the people. He lost one of the most important resources he had... the respect and good will of the Ukrainian people. To be fair to him this was not all his fault. On the other side the Yanukovich camp very quickly recognized that the president was not communicating well and took advantage of his mistake. Yanukovich, hired western media image and political advisors to re-create his image with the people. This led to a successful media campaign that exploited every negative thing possible regarding the orange revolution.

I also don't think ANYONE should forget that much of the mistrust of the president and the orange movement was fostered by Yanukovich and his anti-western supporters in the East and in Moscow. It is understandable that the people began to question the direction the president was taking when the prices of basic goods such as Meat and petroleum products began to rise in price. Some of these hardships for the people were “created” specifically to punish the people for daring to think about leaning West and to show that the Orange revolution as a mistake. Yanukovich was then able to get on the Television (with his new "prettier" image) and say "So... how do you like the Orange revolution so far?"

I would think that the Ukrainian people should expect a similar kind of character assassination of the orange movement leadership in this new period we are entering now. Past behavior is the best indicator of the future behavior... The president and the other leaders in the orange revolution need to do a MUCH better job at anticipating this kind of political action against them or we will only have a repeat of the missteps of 2004 and 2005.