Well somewhat surprisingly, the “united opposition” parties of Ukraine (which does not include all opposition parties in Ukraine) has launched its manifesto for the forthcoming parliamentary elections in October.
I say surprisingly, as generally there is very little said by political parties in Ukraine about proposed policy as politics normally revolves around personality here.
Manifesto/policy launch may also be something of an exaggeration, but it is as close as we may actually get in Ukrainian politics for a while yet. When I say manifesto launch, what I really should say is that Arseniy Yatseniuk rattled of a list of things the “United Opposition” will do if they are returned to power in parliament (and if President Yanukovych will actually sign anything into law that comes from a “United Opposition” majority in parliament of course).
So, what are these society engaging, clever, policy effective and implementable changes that will bring Ukraine rapidly to an ultra-modern State fully incorporable with European norms and the EU?
How are they different from the current government’s programme of reform and legislative change towards EU norms, and how are they different from 2.5 years ago when the “United Opposition” parties were last in the majority in parliament but failed to reform anything?
Well firstly they plan to increase the wages of government employees. There is no mention of whether they will also cut the very bloated number of employees in an overly bureaucratic system in every part of Ukrainian life though. Quite why they didn’t raise the wages of government employees or take any steps to tackle the overly bureaucratic administrative systems of Ukraine when they were in power for 5 years is anybodies guess. They did have 5 years to do so and have only been in opposition for 2.5 years so far. Surely the period in opposition has not opened their eyes to the major problems they ignored when in power in this regard for so long.
Where is the money for all these additional governmental wages (and subsequent pensions) going to come from if they are not going to slash the number of governmental employees?
Next, they plan to fight corruption. Again something that they failed to do when in power. In fact the cost of corruption when they were in power absolutely rocketed under their tenure comparatively to their predecessors. Not only did it rocket but it seeped further and further into every day life and into parts of everyday life it hadn’t been so coercively present in before – this I can tell you from personal experience. In short they did absolutely nothing to combat corruption and indeed looked on as it get far, far worse.
How are they going to tackle corruption effectively when successive governments (including their own when last in office) have failed dismally at taking on the regional fiefdoms and regional administrations? Simply sacking corrupt heads of departments to replace them with corrupt deputy heads of departments will not achieve much at all. If you sack all the corrupt judges, lawyers, prosecutors and defenders, where exactly will all the experienced replacements come from that are untainted by corruption in their careers to date? Is there a box of uncorrupted experienced professionals laying around somewhere in a cold dank cupboard in the RADA?
Having mentioned corrupt judiciary, they also claim they will reform law enforcement and judicial systems. Despite the Euro hundreds of millions pumped into trying to accomplish exactly that via EU aid and grants during their time in office, nothing changed. Not technically, legislatively or in reality. Are they going to undo the recently passed Criminal Procedures Code which by and large, whilst in no way perfect, is certainly on paper better than what was there before?
Arseniy Yatseniuk also promised that Ms Tymoshenko (and others) would be freed – quite naturally as the “United Opposition comprises ostensibly of her party and his – but there will be tricky legal and political questions over simply decriminalising the offences under which she was convicted and then retrospectively applying them in order to free her (and others). Can and should any legal changes be retrospectively applied and if so, should they be, and what precedent does that set across any further legal changes that do not affect headline prisoners?
All of that said, it is still unclear in this “United Opposition” power conglomerate, who would become Prime Minister? Mr Yatseniuk or Ms Tymoshenko (when released)? The President is not up for reelection until 2015 after all.
Most right-thinking people would probably suggest Mr Yatseniuk has to become the PM as he is not as historically tainted as Ms Tymoshenko (even discounting her current plight), does not invoke the same fatigue across a Tymoshenko/Yanukovych weary domestic and international audience and indeed could be seen as something of a breath of fresh air in Ukrainian politics. However, one doubts Ms Tymoshenko’s ego could play second fiddle for long (if at all) and any “United Opposition” majority coalition would soon disintegrate upon regaining power – if it doesn’t disintegrate before the elections even begin.
If anybody is to bring Ukrainian politics out of the cesspit that it currently dwells within, it will not be Mr Yanukovych or Ms Tymoshenko. It needs to be a completely new and far less corruption tainted figure. Neither of the Yanukovych/Tymoshenko personalities can bring anything like the feel of a truly representative parliament, the feeling that a new page has been turned or indeed the belief that anything which leaves their mouths could actually be true.
Returning to the manifesto as described by Mr Yatseniuk, then aside from freeing Ms Tymoshenko, there is very little difference between the claims of the current government when it comes to refom of legal and justice systems, fighting corruption or increasing wages. In fact there is no difference between this manifesto and the previous promises made by the current opposition when they were last in power and which they spectacularly failed to deliver (and even made worse in some cases).
So, once again, despite the existence of a manifesto (of sorts) the parliamentary election will come down to personality politics and who the electorate believe is more likely to actually deliver even a tiny percentage of what they say they will as both government and opposition talk of reforming exactly the same things. Until we know where and how Ms Tymoshenko will fit into any new government should the “United Opposition” be successful, it is quite difficult to gauge whether a vote for Yatseniuk (and de facto the United Opposition and thus Ms Tymoshenko) will place him or her in a position to deliver, and which will be ultimately accountable for doing so, in the role of Prime Minister.
As the elections draw nearer, this question will not only be asked but will necessarily need to be answered. How it is answered may very well have a positive or negative effect on the fate of the “United Opposition”. Several more years of President Yanukovych verses Prime Minister Tymoshenko will be as disastrous for Ukraine as President Yushenko verses Prime Minister Tymoshenko was.
Let’s hope that this critical decision has already been decided between Ms Tymoshenko and Mr Yatseniuk, not only to avoid the “United Opposition” falling apart in the run up to the election, but also to clearly inform the voting public who need to know sooner rather than later.
As for the manifesto promises – well as has always been the case in Ukraine, effective policy implementation rather than the creation of policy will be the critical issue – regardless of who wins the parliamentary elections.