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The Threat to Democracy: the Maidan eliminated the Political Competition in Ukraine

Friday, 07 November 2014 1011
Author: Lesia Shevchenko
The winter people's revolution hasput an end to an autocratic regimein Ukraine. Yet, ithas paradoxically shifted the politics in the country to the single denominator. The competition of thepolitical programs and the alternatives hasended, and the flow of new ideas hasexhausted. The personalities and political brands have finally settled on the political throne taking the citizens' choice away from the area of rationality and pragmatism.

‘Ukrainska Pravda’ has published the findings of the President of the Open Society Foundation on the recent elections to VerkhovnaRada of Ukraine.

Historically, the politicians tend to repeat the same theses in their election programs. The lack of real implementation of the promises has turnedthe political parties’ programs into the meaningless documents. Theyoftenseem hastily written bythe political consultantsforapplying to the Central Electoral Commission (CEC), while the party membersrarely read these.

If one runs the election programs of Petro Poroshenko Block(the present party at power) and the Opposition Block (the aggregate of the former regime’s officials) through the text analyzer, the results will be quite similar. The correlation coefficient approaches 60%.

The promises of the ‘pro-democracy’ political actors are even more similar.

The voters were in fact deprived of the rational voting mode: to study the programs of the parties, to compare their political stance and to vote for thepartypresenting the most relevant to the vision of the country's futureto the citizen.

The voters were forced to stop thinking and make a semi-conscious emotional choice.

It is enough to analyze the 2012 and 2014 parliamentary campaignsin order to understand the changes in Ukrainian politics.

2012. The race of the government and the opposition populism(s).

The 2012 parliamentary electionswere held under the close supervision of the ‘Bankova’. The programs of most parties have focused around the reforms that have suggested amending the Constitution.

This fact should be treated as a heritage of 2007 parliamentary race and 2010 presidential elections. The most political forces have recognized the weakness of the 2004 amended version of the Constitution andhave presented their own projects, ranging from parliamentary to a presidential republic.

While strengthening his regime, President Viktor Yanukovychhaseasily solved this problem by restoring the needed Constitution version through the Constitutional Court he has controlled.

In 2012, unlike during Maidan, the opposition parties were slow to demand the return of the 2004 text of the Constitution. A faded confrontation over the Fundamental Law stated in the Constitutional Assembly, created under the auspices Yanukovych, but the parliamentary opposition parties refused to participate in this project.

The potentialscopeof political rivalrynarrowed downin 2012. The Party of Regions has deprived the opposition of the main ‘trump cards’, namelythe promises of the European integration and the orientation towards the West.

The geopolitical vector of the country was one of the key indicatorsto differentiate the political actors as ‘pro-Western’or‘pro-Russian’. Such difference in the worldview hassimplified the selection processfor citizens and has strengthened their relationship with the parties. The attitude to the language issue, which was another important marker of the differences among the political actors, had virtually disappeared in 2012. A few parties haveaddressedthelanguage dilemma in the programs.  The Party of Regions and the pro-Kremlin ‘Russian Block’ haspromised to make Russian the second official languageonce again. ‘Svoboda’ has called for repeal of the scandalous ‘Kolesnichenko-Kivalov Law’in order to protect [the status] of Ukrainian language. ‘Batkivshchyna’has managed with a soft wording on "introducing the real meaning of the status of Ukrainian as the onlynational language."

At the same time, all political actors have promised to fight corruption.

This issue has blurred the distinctions between ‘the left’ and ‘the right’ political fronts. Yet, no political party has focused on the detailed mechanisms of corruption fight. Not to mention the fact of corruption presence inside the very same parties.

The voter was assailed with the stimulating words‘The Clan’, ‘The Family’, ‘The Lustration’, which were not filled with the actual political content. "Anyone who has violated the law or did not live according to the income declaration should be dismissed, prosecuted and deprived of the right to work in the public service" –the ‘Batkivshchyna’ party had promised.

Oleg Lyashko’s party was generous for pseudo-radical rhetoric and promised “to deprive the MPs from sky-high salaries and unfair privileges". It is easy to see that two years later the parties continued to draw the same picture for voters.

The economic discourse of political parties was never diverse. In 2012 this section of the programs became predictable and boring.

Most political parties had cheered for simplifying the taxation system and giving the ‘green light’ to small businesses, for the energy efficiency and reduced dependence on Russian gas, for the investments and the high-tech solutions.

The real transformation in gas policies began under the external pressure only. Yet, those were the source of massive corruption scams. One may recall the "Boyko towers" or the story with the "ski instructor" and LNG-terminal.

As a result, the 2012 distinction between the political parties was possible regardless of the ‘advertising’ declarations. The voter had oriented him/herself with respect to the political terrain by choosing between the two poles: ‘the stability and improvements’ or the obscure changes led by the ‘pro-democratic’ forces.

The request for reform was stronger: ‘Batkivshchyna’, ‘UDAR’ and ‘Svoboda’ jointly received more than 50% of the vote, while the Party of Regions and the Communists totaled with 43%. However, a mixed electoral system allowed the ‘Bankova’ to form the loyal parliamentary majority. The request for change had peakedin a year and had embodied in the protests on the Maidan.

2014. The competition of the brands

The victory of the popular protest in late winter 2014 has not ended the socio-political crisis in Ukraine. The country faced the geopolitical problems. The high level of citizen self-organization hasdismissed thepoliticians to the background, emphasizing the total distrust towards them.

Mr. Poroshenko became the President due to the general tension and the desire to transition from the chaotic to theordered state policy. The president was thus replaced, yet Maidan activists have continued to demand the dissolution of the Parliament.

However, Ukrainian political parties did not use the Maidan-drivenopportunity to launch the reforms. The real policy alternatives were formed by a third party, the ‘civil sector’, and later absorbed by the politicians and the government.

As a result, the election programs of the political parties resembled an essay on building the Europe in Ukraine and the Anti-Terrorist Operation (ATO), which was written by the best student, and copied by the rest in a class.

The politicians have not offered the new policy ideas, but instead became the ‘parasites’ on the body of the civil society. The production of the policy alternatives is the key role of the players in this game. Yet, Ukrainian politicians turned unable toperform it.

At the same time, the politicians have demonstrated a high learning ability. In particular, they used the emotional stress of the Ukrainians and ourshort electoral memory.

The2014 early parliamentary election campaignwas turned into the marketing interlude.Instead of developing the roadmap for the Parliament and the future Cabinet of Ministers, the politicians have focused on the ATO ‘fetishization’ and started recruiting Combats and Maidan heroes in the [party] lists.

Moreover, the political parties took another step away from the rational competition and turned the parliamentary elections into the ‘war of personal brands’.

‘Petro PoroshenkoBlock’has declared the dependence onsingle personalityin the very party name. ‘Narodnyy Front’ has transformed the high rating of ArseniyYatsenyukinto the number of votes bynaming the October 26th the‘Elections of the Prime Minister’. ‘Batkivshchyna’ has failed to move away from the model of connection with the personality of Tymoshenko.  The Radical Partyhas been followed by a cheap popular image of its leader.‘Samopomich’ hasmade a claim for the ‘new faces’ niche in the politics. Yet, it has actively used the image of Lviv city major AndriySadovyy, positioned at the bottom of the partly list.

The formal part of the competition included the party programs submitted to the CEC. These contained the promises of the lustration, the decentralization, the anti-corruption, the simplification of the business environment, the judicial reform, modernization and strengthening the army, fighting the monopolies and reducing the taxes, and also the social security guarantees for the ATO soldiers.

The similarity of the programs was unbelievable. The ‘face’ of the political partywas  theonly differentiation marker.

The risks and prospects

The current generation of Ukrainian politicians was preoccupied by the desire to save the place among the elite. They have invested millions in the parliamentary sits despite the difficulties in the economy and the actual war in the Donbas.

The politicians also performedthe usual show called ‘The Game of Reforms’.  The president, the government, and the other political actors had their own roles. The society perpetually anticipates the reforms, but they never happen.

The new VerkhovnaRada is believed to have a short life, and a limited time to learn to respond adequately to the societal demands.

The Maidan events, the [economic] crisis, the ATO shall not serve as the excuse for the officials and the elected representatives if they back upthe corruption, the lack of transparency and thepopulism without the real action.

Ukrainian parties fail to represent the interests of classes, social groups or, subject to certain exceptions, people with certain ideological positions.They are yet trying to address everyone by meaningless and unrealistic promises. The popular vote became critically important for the politicians again. It's a right time to teach them that the voter is always important.

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