Ukraine: A door opened to ‘civilisation’

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

After his victory in Ukraine’s presidential elections comes the
hard part for Viktor Yushchenko, says Ivan
in Transitions Online.

In the past, Ukrainians often referred to Western democracies as
“civilized,” with the inherent implication that post-Soviet Ukraine
was not. The “Orange Revolution,” which led, on 26 December, to the
victory of the opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko in rerun
elections has opened the door for Ukrainians to a new, “civilized”

The results suggested, though, that many Ukrainians do not
accept either that the West is civilized or that the Ukraine of
President Leonid Kuchma was uncivilized (or both). The preliminary
results in the final round showed Ukraine almost as deeply divided
as the fraud-marred earlier rounds had suggested. Yushchenko won
51.99 percent of the vote compared with 44.19 percent for Viktor
Yanukovych, the serving prime minister and Kuchma’s hand-picked

Still, the divide is significantly narrower than it appeared
after the second round. With a new election law in place,
Yushchenko made gains in practically every deep eastern and
southern region, areas that had in previous rounds looked deep
blue, the campaign color of his rival, Viktor Yanukovych. (The
exception was the Sumy oblast, Yushchenko’s home region, which he
won in both the second round and the rerun.) These gains may not
have been dramatic (ranging from 0.4 percentage points in
Zaporizhiya to more than two points in Dnipropetrovsk) but they
alone were large enough to overturn Yanukovych’s second-round
“victory.” They were especially significant given that there was
little time to enact the amendments to the electoral law and that
other aspects of the regional structures of power and influence
remained unaffected. 

In only two regions was Yushchenko trounced: in Donetsk, where
he won a mere 4.21 percent, and in the neighboring region of
Luhansk, where his return was just 6.21 percent. Both are areas
where political, economic, and media life is dominated by
Yanukovych and Renat Akhmetov, the businessman who did most to
bankroll Yanukovych’s presidential bid. 

Yushchenko is, then, the president of a Ukraine that is less
divided than many thought. He is also the convincing victor.
Compare, for example, his results with those of Kuchma in 1999. In
1999, Kuchma’s lowest vote counts were 17.11 percent (in Vinnytsia)
and 19.57 percent (in Poltava). But he won 50 percent in only six
of Ukraine’s 27 regions, even through he faced a much weaker
challenge. By contrast, Yushchenko won over 50 percent in 18
oblasts and over 60 percent in 17. (Exit polls were higher than the
actual results, indicating Yushchenko leading by 15 to 20

Still, that these elections have polarized the country is hardly
surprising, given Yushchenko’s pro-reform and pro-Western agenda
and Yanukovych’s pro-status quo and overtly pro-Russian agenda. The
elections have emphasized almost exactly, in votes cast, the extent
to which Ukraine is still not sure about which course to

Yushchenko now enters a murky period of uncertainty, knowing
that he carries the burden of huge expectations from the majority
of the population, that he must neutralize the suspicion and
anxieties of many in the east, and—since this was a revolution and
therefore a challenge to the established order—that he needs to
break the old system. 

A stubborn, and lonely, loser

Divisive the elections may have been, but Yushchenko’s victory
and the old system’s defeat could, at first glance, look decisive.
Though not overwhelming, Yushchenko’s margin of victory is large.
He has won legitimacy, as international observers have recognized
the 26 December vote as legitimate (or, in the words of the
1,370-member OSCE observer team, it brought “Ukraine substantially
closer to meeting international standards”). With one exception, no
major politician in Ukraine has disputed the election results in
public. Parliamentary speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn, a former close aide
to Kuchma, congratulated Yushchenko on his win. Supporters of
Yanukovych are now trying to accommodate themselves to the new
realities of power. Several pillars of the Kuchma establishment
have committed “suicide.” (On 27 December, Transport Minister
Heorhiy Kirpa was found dead at his country house. Kirpa, who was
at one time viewed as a presidential contender, had been suspected
of siphoning off hundreds of millions of dollars from the state.
Three weeks earlier, Yuriy Liakh, the chairman of the Ukrainian
Credit Bank, apparently cut his own throat with a letter opener,
leaving a suicide note. Liakh was a close business partner of
Kuchma’s right-hand man, Viktor Medvedchuk.)

The one exception is, of course, Viktor Yanukovych himself.
Yanukovych has refused to accept the decision overturning his
second-round “victory” by 2.85 percentage points, alleging that the
greatest day of fraud in the elections was not in the second round
on 21 November but in the third round on 26 December. Yanukovych
has not only refused to recognize the election results; for a time,
he also tried to hold on to his seat as prime minister and call
cabinet meetings. He failed. Opposition supporters blockaded the
government building, and even erstwhile supporters such as Lytvyn
spoke out against him. He resigned two days later, on 31 December
(though Kuchma accepted his resignation only on 5 January).


To read the article in full, visit the Transitions Online website.

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