Archive for February 13th, 2014


When the faces have changed……the grey cardinals still sit comfortably

February 13, 2014

One of the benefits of taking “time off” – which does not mean stopping mulling matters over completely when laying pool-side, but rather not writing daily about issues as they crop up, or forecasting the obvious – is that it allows a step back, away from the usually undignified brawling of headline grabbing politicking which all to often when put under scrutiny is oft insignificant or inconsequential in the grand scheme of things, showing no clear relevance or mapping a path to ultimately desired outcomes.

Delete Kravchuk – insert Kuchma, delete Kuchma – insert Yushenko/Tymoshenko, delete Yushenko/Tymoshenko – insert Yanukovych, has done very little when it comes to the desired outcome of a consolidated and robust democracy built upon rule of law, good responsive governance, sound economics, genuine anti-corruption policies etc., over the past 22 years.

Delete Yanukovych – insert whomever, does not inspire confidence that desired outcomes will necessarily follow – particularly so as every political party is filled with self-serving feckless old-school politicians who have worked the patriarchal systems to their advantage many $ millions time over, to a man/woman during each and every RADA term.

Simply changing the face(s) at the top is not in and of itself going to deliver better and more honest governance.  The history of independent Ukrainian politics is evidence enough that this not the case when the majority of the major players within all parties have remained consistent.

Reverting back to the 2004 Constitution of Ukraine may have some benefits in the immediate when it comes to controlling presidential power, but it did not bring with it good governance, reduced corruption or cronyism, democracy, rule of law etc.  In fact, Ms Tymoshenko, Mr Yatseniuk and ex-President Yushenko are all on public record several times, stating the 2004 Constitution of Ukraine created what was neatly summarised as “an absolutely ungovernable country – Yulia Tymoshenko, November 2009.

Thus the 2004 Constitution is not an answer in and of itself either for the long term – it is seriously flawed.

One of the very few consistent vibrations felt within Ukrainian politics is the unhealthily strong influence of the oligarchy.  Not simply withing the Party of Regions, but across all political parties.

The oligarchy will, of course, still do very well in Ukraine no matter what – even if robustly transparent tenders were publicly available for perusal as a matter of course.  After all, even in those circumstances certain tenders require companies of a certain size and with a certain cash flow/balance sheet to take part – and there are few countries that do not require “x%” of any contract winner employing a minimum stated percentage number of local workforce as part of the terms – an acute political issue when unemployment and underemployment are a consistent spectre within Ukraine.  As I have written before, tenders are not simply about price – in any nation.

I mean seriously, does anybody think Rinat Akhmetov will suffer unduly under President Klitschko for example?  Or Dmitry Firtash, Viktor Pinchuk etc?  He, or any other presidential wannabe wouldn’t take their calls?

Thus my few weeks sat in paradise has caused me to ponder what is probably the biggest and most difficult short, medium and long term issue faced by Ukrainian politics – how to control and curtail the political influence of the oligarchy?

For example, limits on party funding/donations and public declarations thereof?

The removal of “party lists” and making all electoral seats “first past the post”?  Would this help – or would it simply raise the cost of buying “party list seats” to would-be MPs?

How to finance elections strictly from the public purse legitimately and honestly with a thoroughly feckless political class and politically controlled institutions of state?

The answer to the oligarchy question has a certain resonance to a question necessarily requiring answers across “the western democracies” when it comes to “big business” – except in Ukraine big business normally has only one shareholder per company nominally identified as an “oligarch”.

Unfortunately despite a lot of reading of some very clever academic thought over the past fortnight, few nations have answered this question well – except perhaps Mr Putin in Russia who basically told the oligarchy they could keep their money if they stayed very clear of the political playground, or single party China that has more $ billionaires in government than any other nation on earth and no political opposition.

To be frank neither model is exactly appealing to a democracy advocate as neither can be described as anything approaching a genuine democracy.

Thus, as “the west” wrestles with how to constrain the real and perceived influence of “big business” within the corridors of power and amongst the voting constituency respectively, Ukraine must find a way to constrain the direct political influence of the oligarchy – and that is far, far easier said than done when due consideration is given to how political parties  are funded – or not – in Ukraine.

Some would say that there is a least a perverse honesty about oligarchs funding political parties overtly and “owning” MPs, compared to the more opaque inferences and expectations of “big business campaign donations” and “lobbying” of committees and committee members behind closed doors.  Democratically unhealthy as it may be for oligarchs to literally “own” stables of MPs who will vote per their specific master’s whim, it is arguably more transparent than the shenanigans embarked upon by “big business” and the political class when looking “west”.

Whatever the case, changing the name on the President’s door and reverting to the 2004 Constitution may provide the immediate opportunity to put the brakes on the current momentum toward a fatal democratic disaster, but it does not guarantee a “U turn” resulting in a consolidated and robust democracy – and in no way do either – or both – occurrences deal with the very difficult issue of reining in the direct influence of the oligarchy today, tomorrow, or years from now.

Perhaps this is a battle for another day considering current circumstances – or perhaps a battle well worth considering and pondering in the public domain now whilst significant voter ire wafts through the Ukrainian air – After all it will be the oligarchy owned MPs that vote to return to the 2004 Constitution and further to subsequently amend it into something workable – not to mention every other legislative act for the foreseeable future – regardless of whose name is temporarily on any presidential or prime ministerial chair, and regardless of which constitution is in force.

If the long-running protests are to achieve their desired aim of good, responsive, inclusive, lawful, transparent democratic governance, then removing the current president and/or reverting back to the 2004 constitution can only be seen as mere steps toward a far greater goal.

It is perhaps wise to look beyond the departure of the current president (whenever that may be) and also beyond any return to the 2004 Constitution.  Consideration should be given now as to how to curtail the ever-present oligarchical spectre that directly haunts the politics and policies of Ukraine – lest a different political abyss face Ukraine in the future.

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