For some months now I have been somewhat encouraged by the Ukrainian opposition political parties when looking at the opinion polls. Not that they are certain to win the parliamentary elections looking at the polling figures, far from it. It will be a close run thing as things stand today.
What has been encouraging is that now they shade the lead in opinion polls, the current government has actually started to do change things on the statute books towards a more favourable business and social climate, removing state involvement in services they really have no need to be involved in.
A few examples in the last week alone, relate to food quality regulations and the proposal to scrap grain export certificates. Such small but important changes have been consistently happening for over a month where small but unnecessary bureaucracy has been scrapped or is proposed to be scrapped imminently. The American Chamber of Commerce (Am-Cham) in Kyiv has been very supportive numerous government moves in the past few months, to the point they would be considered cheerleaders if it were not for the occasional and correct criticism intermingled with praise and encouragement.
Being non-politically aligned to either government or the opposition, and having far greater interest in policy, policy implementation and policy effectiveness, rather than political party or personality, for now I remain to be convinced that the benefits on paper that have been announced will translate into any changes at the point of delivery with the public, given the consistent obstruction of the regional fiefdoms and regional administrative agencies.
All things being equal, the Ukrainian opposition is part fulfilling its role by pressuring the current government to act over some issues rather than sit idly in Kyiv and simply count its ill-gotten gains. Unfortunately the fact it is fulfilling part of its role, (and it certainly isn’t fulfilling the entire role opposition parties are meant to do), comes by default rather than design via popularity polls rather than any directly relevant opposition strategy over any particular issue.
To appear strategy-less with an election in October as the opposition is really very disheartening for people like me looking in, who live here and pay taxes here (but cannot vote).
So it was with some eagerness and anticipation I looked forward to the opposition rally that took place on 12th May in central Kyiv. You would expect a huge public turnout given the circumstances surrounding Ms Tymoshenko (and others) amongst the opposition ranks, the fact Ms Merkel considers Ukraine to be “repressed” by the current authorities and the foreign MSM wondering where the protest marches are.
It would be reasonable to expected, given the impression Ukraine has, proclaimed by the opposition and media, huge numbers of protesters would turn out. Even if those protesters were limited to Kyiv, you would expect 10,000 or more to attend from a city of 2.7 million. 30,000 or more from the surrounding areas if they came.
You would expect that the united opposition forces that took the stage would tell eager supporters of new policies and new approaches to issues that will change their lives for the better. Domestic policies that are truly motivational and aspirational, what the opposition will do when in power relating to pensions, the stand-off with the IMF, how they will restart relations with the EU, how it will deal with Russia over the crippling gas contract. Many, many issues that impact the lives of every one of their supporters.
In short, a rallying cry to those loyal to the opposition cause and policies to change Ukraine for the better and a road-map to those listening as to how it will be done. Go home and spread the good opposition word to your friends and neighbours. This is our creative and inspiring grand plan for Ukraine if you return us to power, and this is how we will deliver it!
Alas, that is not what happened.
On a warm and sunny Saturday in Kyiv, the opposition rally gathered a very meager 2000 supporters, some of which like me, can’t even vote and were there to see if the opposition have learned anything in the past decade when it comes to politics and policy. In fact, if we subtract the number of people who will have been paid to attend (and at all political events in Ukraine, regardless of political party, there is a percentage of the crowd that has been paid to be there to bolster the numbers) the real number of genuine attendees will be reduced.
What is possibly even worse about the number of supporters present is that this was the sum total gathered by the “united opposition” and not just a single opposition party. Given the easily accessible location, good weather and huge amount of publicity prior to the rally, the turnout is pitifully grim and should be a cause for concern to the united opposition.
So how did they do on policy and strategies? Again, a dreadful waste of opportunity. Aside from reiterating the united election list strategy amongst the united opposition, a strategy where they will field one candidate amongst all the parties to run against the current government to avoid splitting the opposition vote, there were no new imaginative or clever strategies or policies announced.
This reiteration of the ballot strategy was announced in January. It is not new or exciting anymore. (It has also to actually happen without in-fighting causing this coalition to fall apart yet.)
Nothing has been learned by the opposition whatsoever. There were statements such as this from Eugania Tymoshenko (daughter of Ms Tymoshenko currently serving a prison sentence for abuse of office), “Our sacred duty is to free Ukraine from this cruel and criminal occupation.”
Really? Only a few years ago, her mother publicly stated she would be happy to act as Prime Minister under Yanukovych if he became President. She was then quite happy to be a major cog in such a cruel and criminal occupation back then. The trouble with making public statements and then conveniently forgetting them is that people like me remember and document them.
Anyway, back to the point, the opposition had a significant opportunity to put forward new policy ideas and strategies to those in attendance and the listening foreign and domestic media – and what did they do? They continued with the “us” verses “them” mud-slinging, name calling tactics which doesn’t sway any voters that would not already vote for them. There was nothing said that would or could entice the less partisan voter over to them on the basis of any forward looking policy.
In short it was “Kill the King, and when the King is dead, long live the King” but we can’t or won’t tell you how we will reign any better than the current King, or any better than when we were King last time you gave us the chance either.
Furthermore, when looking at the politicians on stage, it was as depressing as watching the current government huddle for photo ops. Looking at almost each and every person on that stage, you are reminded just how they came to be who they are and the nefarious routes they have taken before, and since, being in Ukrainian politics. It is truly grim.
So, on a warm and sunny Saturday in Kyiv, is it really surprising that a meager 2000 people came to listen to the same old “us” verses “them” rhetoric, completely devoid of imagination, charisma, integrity or policy? Who wants to listen to such a well worn record? Where is the creativity, imagination and new policy that will lead Ukraine to a better future and will make me want to vote for the opposition (if I could)?
The answers were not found on the united opposition rally stage in Kyiv on a warm and sunny Saturday afternoon, that’s for certain.
Off the stage (and in English) Arseniy Yatseniuk had this to say when challenged to name some actual policies by the foreign media in attendance:
You wonder if he has told the fellow members within the “united opposition” of his ideas – then again, does it matter? At the moment, according to him, everything is “conceptual”. It needs to be far more than conceptual, and pretty quickly with an election soon, as the nation is full of disenchanted voters.
All-in-all, when an almost leaderless opposition movement in Moscow can still gather 10,000 people yesterday, a full 6 months after protests began, in comparison, you can only say 2000 people turning up to an opposition rally replete with numerous potential leaders on show in Kyiv on a very nice day, is nothing short of a flop!