Ukraine and the Upcoming Elections
As we quickly approach our own election here in the US, a first of sorts will occur this weekend in Ukraine. Shaking off the soviet chains has proved difficult, but through fits and starts a truly representative democracy is developing in Eurasia. The next big step will be the parliamentary elections (to the Verkhovna Rada) held this weekend. Ukraine has held free elections before, but this time they will occur under the watch of thousands of international and domestic election observers:
On October 22nd the Central Election Committee of Ukraine registered the final batch of 666 international observers for the parliamentary elections in Ukraine, which will take place on October 28th. The total number of foreign monitors reached 3,797 persons – they represent 28 countries and 35 international non-governmental organizations. Moreover, more than 130,000 domestic observers will also work at the elections.
A major impetus for the observers being present is that Ukraine is seeking to possibly join the European Union, a prerequisite for which is to improve the election process.
… the current government has expressed great interest in being integrated into the European Union, going so far as to ink an Association Agreement in March:
The Association Agreement creates a framework for cooperation and stipulates establishing closer economic, cultural, and social ties between the signees. Moreover, Brussels officials expect the document to promote the rule of law, democracy, and human rights in Ukraine.
This first step to entering the EU (which still needs to be ratified) requires a concrete demonstration from Ukraine that it is moving towards “an independent judicial system, free and fair elections and constitutional reform.”
The other potential option is for Ukraine to strengthen its traditional alliance with Moscow by entering Russia’s Customs Union:
… for the past several years, both the EU and Russia have courted Ukraine to form long-lasting trade partnerships. The EU wants to include Ukraine in its Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA) while Russia is pushing to join its Customs Union. Because of the way these agreements are set up, Ukraine has to choose one or the other, placing the country in a pitched economic battle between East and West.
The Party of Regions, which is the current party in power, is led by President Viktor Yanukovych and Prime Minister Mykola Azarov. Originally, the party was supported Russian President Vladimir Putin but, to his disappointment, the Party of Regions has turned out to be more pro-Ukraine than pro-Russia. As previously noted, Yanukovych and Azarov have been working hard to achieve energy independence that is more beneficial to the people of Ukraine.
The United Opposition party is led by former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko (who is currently in jail for the gas deal she brokered with Russia) and Arseniy Yatsenyuk from the Front for Change party. Despite the fact that the party can be seen as being largely pro-Russian, they recently joined forces with the more pro-Western Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reform (UDAR) in the hopes of increasing their chances of winning against the popular Party of Regions. UDAR is the newest political party in Ukraine and is led by heavyweight boxing champion Vitaly Klitschko.
As it turns out, these three parties (Party of Regions, United Opposition and the UDAR) are leading in the polls (which haven’t changed dramatically over the past month) as we head into this weekend’s vote:
The latest opinion polls now show Yanukovych’s Regions Party finishing first with between 23% and 33% of the ballot, which would require the formation of a new coalition to lead parliament. That could make a kingmaker out of Udar (Punch), a brand-new party started by political novice and heavyweight boxing superstar Vitali Klitschko as an agent for change that has no obvious links to past incidents of corruption. Udar appears to have caught on with the more opposition-minded voters and has edged ahead of Tymoshenko’s block in some polls with 16%-17% of the vote. “My methods in politics are the same as in sport: teamwork and confidence in yourself. And they work,” the 41-year-old Klitschko told AFP in an interview. The election rating for Tymoshenko’s coalition varies from 15% up to 24% — still ahead of the fourth-placed Communist Party (9% to 13%) and the nationalist Svoboda (Freedom) group (3% to 6%).
Although we don’t really know what the resulting administration will look like, or what concessions will have to be made in order to form a governing coalition, it at least appears that, whatever the result, a more pro-EU Ukraine will emerge. And that would be a very good thing:
So why care about the Ukraine?
The simple answer is because Ukrainians have had a taste of freedom, and liked it, and we should encourage that journey towards liberalization to continue. We have an interest in such development – via free and fair elections, open markets and greater legal protections in its reformed court system – because this is how individuals become personally invested in the growth of the nation, and thus how liberty spreads. As President Reagan emphasized in 1981, “only when individuals are given a personal stake in deciding economic policies and benefiting from their success — only then can societies remain economically alive, dynamic, progressive, and free.” The more societies like that in the world, and especially in the Eurasian region, the better. And this is exactly where Ukraine is poised to go.
Hopefully, that journey will continue this Sunday.