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Yanukovych’s Two Years in Power

Yanukovych’s Two Years in Power

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This policy brief assesses the current Ukrainian government's performance and chances for reform.
This policy brief assesses the current Ukrainian government's performance and chances for reform.

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Categories:Types, Research
Published by: German Marshall Fund of the United States on Mar 02, 2012
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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Foreign Policy and Civil Society Program
March 2012
1744 R Street NWWashington, DC 20009T 1 202 745 3950F 1 202 265 1662E info@gmfus.org
Two years ago, Viktor Yanukovych was inaugurated asthe fourth president of Ukraine.He stated his intention to carryout much needed economicreforms largely neglected byhis predecessors and promised
to x dysfunctional state
institutions. But Yanukovych hasinstead accumulated enormouspower, making all branches of government de facto subordinate
to his ofce. With parliamentary
and presidential electionslooming in the fall of 2012 and2015, he has two options. Either
he falsies the elections and uses
his formidable police apparatusto pacify the restive society, orhe negotiates a transfer of powerand immunity guarantees withthe opposition.
 Yanukovych’s Two Years in Power 
by Mykola Riabchuk 
wo years ago, on February 25, ViktorYanukovych was inaugurated as theourth president o Ukraine, as thenation o 46 million was strugglingwith both authoritarian and, many believe, colonial legacies. Earlier thatmonth, he had narrowly won thesecond round o the elections, 49 to 46percent, against the incumbent primeminister, Yulia ymoshenko. In realgures, however, he got almost hal amillion votes less than in 2004, whenhe, as the incumbent prime ministerhimsel, ran against the Orange candi-date Viktor Yushchenko. A smallernumber o votes secured him victory because his Orange rivals did theirbest to deeat themselves. Within veyears, they had lost almost 3 millionsupporters who elt disappointedwith their eeble policies, permanentinghting, and complete ailure todeliver on extremely high expecta-tions o the Orange Revolution. Many o their ormer supporters reused tochoose between the bad and worseoptions. One-third o Ukrainian votersstayed home. O those who showed upat the polling stations, 5 percent casttheir ballots against both candidates.(Tis option has now been eliminatedsince such a protest vote is harmul,primarily or the incumbents.)Yanukovych stated his intention tocarry out much needed economicreorms largely neglected by hispredecessors. He also promised to xdysunctional state institutions that,never strong, had become even weakerbecause o the squabbles betweenthe Orange party prime minister andpresident. Tis tur war, which resultedin a near-collapse o the constitutionalorder, had been inevitable since the2004 constitutional amendments,adopted hastily during the revolu-tion as a part o the compromise withthe previous regime, institutional-ized the split between the presidency and prime ministry. Te country became unmanageable because neitherthe old authoritarian methods northe new democratic instruments,which required a rm rule o law,i.e., vigorous legal and institutionalreorms, were useable. Yanukovychcould go ahead with reorms or moveback to the authoritarian rule o Leonid Kuchma, aptly described by analysts as a “blackmail state.” Such astate is based on three pillars: perva-sive corruption, tight surveillance,and selective application o law. Tegovernment keeps everybody on thehook, taking ransom partly in money but primarily in loyalty.Rather predictably, Yanukovych movedback to the system he knew muchbetter since he served under Kuchmaas both a governor, in 1997-2002,
Foreign Policy and Civil Society Program
The “Orange fatigue” was too greatto mobilize an active resistance
and/or to evoke any signicant
international reaction.
and the prime minister, in 2002-2004. His master planwas apparently to re-establish some Vladamir Putin-style“vertical separations o power” that looked suitable or himand his neo-Soviet Party o Regions and excusable or theirpurported reormist goals. Within two years, he subjugatedthe parliament, purged the Constitutional court, manipu-lated the 2010 local elections, canceled (in a highly dubiousway) the 2004 constitutional amendments that restrainedpresidents power, and staed all the executive bodies andlaw-enorcement agencies with his buddies (most o themrom his native Donetsk region). He also emasculated thedisobedient Supreme Court by creating “branch supremecourts,” authorized the anti-constitutional “SupremeCouncil o Justice” (bunch o his picked-up loyalists) tosupervise and penalize judges, and launched a large-scaleoensive on civic reedoms, independent mass media, andpolitical opposition, including criminal persecution o hispolitical rivals.Not that this
had passed unnoticed. On thecontrary, the opposition cried oul rom the very rst stepso Yanukovych’s team dating back to the de acto parlia-mentary coup d’etat in March 2010, when the new govern-ment was ormed in an illegal, anti-constitutional way, andwhen the local elections scheduled or May were arbitrarily cancelled. But the “Orange atigue” was too great to mobi-lize an active resistance and/or to evoke any signicantinternational reaction. Yanukovych and his “anti-Orange”government capitalized substantially on this benet o doubt. Some people, indeed, expected them to re-establisha sort o order, or better or worse, aer the embarrassingdisarray o the Orange years. Some had a good reason tobelieve that aer both the populist policies o their quarrel-ling predecessors and the severe shock o the global crisisthat shrank the Ukrainian economy by 15 percent, the newgovernment would have little choice but to reorm.Tis, however, has not happened. Te proessed order hasinstead returned the country to something close to a policestate and downgraded it in the international rankings o human rights and civic reedoms. Corruption has becomeeven more rampant, bureaucracy unaccountable, and publictrust in the state institutions is at a 20-year low. As to the“reorms,” most o them are simply austerity measuresimposed on the general public and not on the governmentand government-riendly oligarchs. “ax reorm” meantprimarily higher taxes or small businesses; energy reormmeant a hike o utility costs or households; and “pensionreorm” meant an increase o the retirement age. No single“austerity measure” greatly aected the interests o thewealthiest and most privileged groups like oligarchs, topocials, or members o the parliament. Only a ew lawswere passed that could be considered genuinely reormist,like the anti-corruption law or the law on access to publicinormation — aer pressure rom the InternationalMonetary Fund and some other international organizations.But these have been watered down very quickly by amend-ments, by-laws, and overt sabotage during implementation.Within two years, Yanukovych accumulated enormouspower, making all branches o government de acto subor-dinate to his oce. He seems, however, to have neither theskill nor will to use this power or any genuine reorms,beyond providing his riends and relatives with state assets,resources, and governmental positions. With his and hisParty o Regions’ public approval ratings approachingone-digit gures, and the parliamentary and presidentialelections looming in the all o 2012 and 2015, respectively,he has only two realistic options. Either he alsies theelections and uses his ormidable police apparatus to paciy the restive society, with the resulting international ramica-tions, or he negotiates a transer o power and immunity guarantees with the opposition through some riendly butbasically ambiguous oligarchs who also covertly cooperatewith the moderate opposition.Tere are actually two more scenarios or Yanukovychto ollow, but both o them are much less plausible. Onestipulates that he engage in genuine reorms, eradicatecorruption, and become a popular and respected leader. Tesecond envisions the Ukrainian opposition as strong andconsolidated enough to win elections without the supporto and inevitable compromises with riendly oligarchs,completely removing the regime rom power and launching

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