Free Markets, Free People

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.

Ukrainians are apparently quite ambivalent about which partnership to join, although the current leadership and most major parties have expressed greater interest in aligning with Europe:

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.

Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on Google+Share on TumblrShare on StumbleUponShare on RedditPin on PinterestEmail this to someone

10 Responses to Ukraine and the Upcoming Elections

  • All I know is that when the regime changed from Yulia, all of a sudden you could no longer adopt children from the Ukraine.

  • Ukaine abuts many countries in Free Eastern Europe. Ideally, you want them to be neutral or allied rather than pro-Russian.
    Also keeps pressure on Russia’s black sea fleet…they rent bases from the Ukraine, correct?

    • Russia does still have a lease for a port in Sevastopol, which lease renewal caused much consternation in the Ukrainian parliament.  I think it runs through 2017 (maybe longer), but if Ukraine continues to turn more towards the West that lease may not be renewed.

  • With the EU being in a bad spot financially, do you have any insights as to why they’d still want to join?

    • Yeah, they wouldn’t be joining in the Euro, but in the free trade agreements with Europe (specifically the DCFTA or “Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement”).  The interest there is that, whatever problems Europe is having, they are still better off than Russia (i.e. wealthier and more diverse in income, etc.), and unlike Russia the EU won’t strong-arm Ukraine into ridiculous gas contracts among other things.  Of course, Russia also won’t demand political liberalization like the EU will, which is why it’s somewhat surprising that the ruling parties still lean towards the EU.  The polity if fairly split, but still quite wary of Russian influence.  In the end, it appears that glimmers of an increasingly freer society are more enticing than being an old-school soviet satellite.  Who would have guessed!
       

      • With the powers that be in the EU pushing towards economic unification it may be hard for the Ukraine to get the bonus of liberalized trade without submitting to the negatives of being required to join the Euro currency in the process.
        With the alternative being an alignment with Russia they certainly have some perilous choices ahead.

  • The only real reason its a tough choice is that they have a block of citizens which are essentially Russian colonists from the Soviet era.  They are drawn to Russia from pure ethnic nationalism. 

  • I like the use of the word ‘liberal’-ization in conjunction with freedom.