16th Apr 2021


Ukraine's new leader should be judged by his actions

  • 'The international community to should avoid taking these claims at face value because the reality of what is happening in Ukraine is very different' (Photo: Wikipedia)

Local government elections are not usually regarded as matters of international importance, but the ones being held in Ukraine at the end of the month have managed to attract unprecedented attention.

They take place against a background of siren claims that democracy in Ukraine is being rolled back and that the new government elected earlier this year is in the process of turning the country into a one-party state.

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The international community should avoid taking these claims at face value as the reality of what is happening in Ukraine is very different and the opportunity to achieve lasting political and economic reform remains very real. To understand the changes taking place it is first necessary to appreciate the difficulties Ukraine has experienced over the last few years.

Although elected on a platform of reform and modernisation, the leaders of the Orange Revolution presided over six years of stagnation in which they squabbled endlessly over the spoils of power without carrying out any of the changes they had promised. That era reached its nadir last year when, in the midst of the severest economic crisis in our history, the Orange leaders failed even to agree a budget. Our national policy is aimed at avoiding a repeat of those wasted years.

Since coming to office, President Yanukovych and his government have managed to carry out long-delayed economic reforms – cutting the deficit, strengthening the financial sector and modernising the energy network – that have attracted praise from the International Monetary Fund. This has been accompanied by two successful bond issues and an improvement in Ukraine's credit rating.

We want these reforms to continue, but we know that further success will only be possible if we lay the foundations of political stability and effective government. That is why we welcome the recent decision of the constitutional court to invalidate the 2004 constitutional reforms that created overlapping lines of executive authority and institutionalised conflict between the president and the parliament.

The opposition leader, Yulia Tymoshenko, has described this move as a "usurpation of power," yet she herself called on the constitutional court to do precisely the same only four years ago when she thought it would serve her interests.

The key is whether steps to make government more effective are combined with measures to guarantee democratic accountability. Critics argue that the new electoral law is an attempt to penalise the opposition and restrict political choice. Yet they ignore the willingness of the government to amend the law ahead of the local elections, for example, by allowing newly registered parties to take part.

Less than one percent of nominees have been barred from standing, so this is hardly an attack on democratic choice. The law also strengthens the role of independent election monitors and the government has gone to great lengths to invite the OSCE and other international bodies to send observers. This action to strengthen democratic oversight deserves recognition.

The same goes for media freedoms. The opponents claim that censorship is back, but the examples they cite relate to the editorial policies of privately owned media outlets, not action by the state. In fact, the government wants to expand media pluralism and is committed to establishing a new public television channel designed to further that aim.

Political debate in Ukraine remains noisy, argumentative and free, and the government is determined that it should remain so. In this, as in all areas, we want to engage with our international partners as we carry the process of reform forward.

We were given a mandate by the people of Ukraine to put an end the political chaos that brought our country to the brink of ruin, and we intend to honour that mandate. But we are also determined to do it in a way that remains true to European democratic values. The Ukraine we want to create is one in which human rights are respected, civil society is strong and leaders are chosen by an open and competitive process of election. In striving towards that goal, all we ask is that we are judged on our actions, not pre-judged according to prejudices skilfully cultivated by our opponents.

Leonid Kozhara is a Party of Regions MP in the Verkhovna Rada and the deputy chair of the asembly's international relations committee


The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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