Monday, May 15, 2006

Ukraine’s parliamentary election: or how society has outgrown politicians
The day of March 26 was eagerly awaited by the people of Ukraine and widely anticipated by its politicians.
The people waited for this day because the 5th parliamentary elections would finally be over.
The politicians expected to harvest the votes proportionately to their financial investments.
126 multi-colored parties competed for 450 seats in the national parliament.
Politicians have lost. They did not believe people could mature so fast.
People have won. They have outgrown politicians in their political maturity.
Here is how it happened
Many skeptics predicted a very low voter turnout. Nevertheless, 67.7% registered voters expressed their will on that cold Sunday.
That will went contrary to numerous politicos’ predictions and expectations. For instance, a year ago no one could predict that the Orange Revolution lead party, Our Ukraine, would fail to win a parliamentary majority. Well, the recently formed block National Union, Our Ukraine, gained trust of only 13.94% of the voters.
Why did not so many millions of those who only 16 months ago battled freezing temperatures to overhaul the rigged presidential elections express their trust in Viktor Yushchenko’s party this time?
First, some of the promises given on the Independent Square were withdrawn and some were simply not delivered. High-profile criminal oligarchs did not get prosecuted and put to justice. Instead, they were allowed to roam free and join the opposition Party of Regions.
Second, the government did not deliver on its promise to fight corruption, nepotism, and lobbyism. When his circle of friends was accused of corruption, the President took them under personal protection before any investigations could be started.
Third, the President promised to respect the Constitution, but he, himself started violating it shortly after being elected. He carelessly misread the mandate people had given him.
Fourth, honesty, transparency, and justice were rudely betrayed. People got offended not so much because the justice minister did not have a degree in Jurisprudence, but because he lied about it. People lost their trust not because the President’s son drove around in a $600,000 BMW, but because they did not know where he got it. People were outraged when a journalist, who tried to find out, was personally chastised by the President. They truly expected the President “to walk the talk.”
Another major factor that caused the defeat of the Orange Revolution team was the political technology failure in forming the Our Ukraine coalition. What I mean by "technology" is the array of methods used in politics. For example, creation of several smaller parties with several big names to draw away some voters, or like Leonid Kuchma did in 1999, inflating the possible triumph of the Communist Party and portraying himself as an opposition. So people had to choose as if between the two evils. The Our Ukraine coalition was created for the elections and for the President. It was built from top down as a new ruling party. It lacked the grass-roots approach.
Why the Orange Revolution party lost the majority?
Voters realized they have the power to influence the political process. They know that they brought President Viktor Yushchenko and his “orange” team to power through their unequivocal rejection of Russia’s meddling into internal affairs of the newly independent Ukraine. For most people, electing Yushchenko meant voting for the true independence of their own country. They clearly saw how the previous regime lead by former president Leonid Kuchma was quickly bringing Ukraine back into the economic and political sphere of influence of the Russian Empire. Russian president Vladimir Putin does not make a secret of his main goal to restore the mighty Soviet Russia through economic, financial, and cultural re-enslavement of the previously occupied Ukraine, Belarus, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, etc.
The people of Ukraine made their clear choice to move toward the West and join the European Union. When I ask my friends in Khmelnitskiy, Kiev, Lviv, and other Ukrainian cities why they want to become an integral part of Europe, the first thing they tell me is they are tired of corruption. They want their children to grow up in a society where merit outweighs rank, where good education and diligent work may ensure decent living.
So when the new government did not show any serious intentions to fight corruption as one of the major prerequisites to be considered for EU membership, people responded with their votes. They no longer believe in empty pre-election slogans and undelivered promises. They no longer “sell” their votes for pre-election ”donation” programs, such as pension and salary raise. People demand a long-term considerate policy to ensure the continuity of movement toward building a civic society.
All these, and other well-deserved and reasonable expectations, were largely betrayed by the new government.
Another major reason for the popularly-elected President’s party defeat in the parliamentary elections was the earlier split of the Orange Revolution team. When the Prime Minister Yulia Timoshenko was fired by the President last September, the people of Ukraine clearly understood that the new people in power cared more about their personal political ambitions than about the country and its people they were elected to serve. Seeing her as a victim of infighting, many voters chose to give their voices to the Yulia Timoshenko Block party, which garnered 22.27%.
The party of revenge
Party of Regions was the first to cross the finish line at the parliamentary elections on March 26. Its candidates gathered 32.12% of the votes, most of which came from the North, South and East of Ukraine. These are the regions bordering Russia and still pro Russian. Many people there remain loyal to the nostalgic memories of heavy-industry assured jobs, cheap vodka, and subsidized housing. Soviet-era mentality is largely prevalent there, still. They voted for the pro-Russian party en mass not only because it promises to make Russian the second official language, or because their Moscow-backed candidate lost his presidential race during the Orange Revolution of 2004. These people feel offended and left out of the current political process.
This particular electorate was artificially created by the Soviet Union and later by the pro-Kremlin regime of Leonid Kuchma, the second Ukrainian president who ruled for 10 years. In the 1930’s, heavy industry giants who served the military-industrial complex were built in those particular regions to ensure the process of irreversible sovietization of Ukraine’s population. Remarkably, those regions suffered the least during the Stalin-made famine that lost the lives of some 8 million independence-minded Ukrainian farmers. The coal mining regions became economic and ideological outposts of Soviet imperialism.
So, if the old, criminal regime had split the country, the new “orange” government failed to stitch it together. This failure increased the numbers of the opposition. Therefore, the “easterners” did not just vote to revenge their presidential candidate for last year. They voted for the idea of a society that once was. Even though, the Communist Party barely passed the 3% margin to qualify for representation in parliament.
Their choice must be respected and understood because it can be explained.
What’s next?
Do democratic forces with their split team, split country, and reiterated desire to join the West through admission to EU still have a chance?
Yes, they do. In order to do so, they have to form a coalition of the Yulia Timoshenko Block, Our Ukraine, and Socialist Party of Ukraine.
This alliance would guarantee the majority in the newly elected parliament, Verkhovna Rada. More so, this union of the progressive political parties will have a real chance to defend the declared democratic principles of the Orange Revolution. The people of Ukraine might have lost trust in the new government, but they firmly believe in the principles declared by the poisoned presidential candidate, Viktor Yushchenko, on the Independence Square in Kiev in November of 2004. That’s what people voted for. They did not vote for a person simply because he was a victim of the dark forces. The voters elected the idea of JUSTICE. What makes their choice so powerful is that it can never go away, like presidents, prime ministers, chancellors, kings or queens.
The people of Ukraine have changed! They actively demand the elected politicians to deliver on their promises. Voters did not by into mom-and-pop or celebrities parties with their last-minute sugar-coated lures. They dismissed most of the 120 parties with their self-interest agendas.
By their choice, the people are directing the political process and hold the politicians accountable.
The people of Ukraine have clearly outgrown their politicians.
The author is Modesto-Khmelnitskiy committee chair, Modesto Sister Cities International

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