The Orange Revolution at the Crossroads

By Kuzio, Taras | Demokratizatsiya, October 1, 2006 | Go to article overview

The Orange Revolution at the Crossroads


Kuzio, Taras, Demokratizatsiya


Ukraine is in the second year of an Orange coalition following the election of Viktor Yushchenko as president in January 2005. President Yushchenko came to power on the back of the Orange Revolution, ostensibly the fifth democratic revolution in a postcommunist state.1 The Orange Revolution and Yushchenko's electoral victory have brought a number of positive developments, such as media freedom, greater civil society activity, free and fair elections, the breaking of ties between oligarchs and organized crime, and lower levels of corruption and rent seeking at the senior levels.2 These developments led to the New York-based Freedom House to upgrade Ukraine from "semi-free" to "free" in 2006, the first CIS state to be moved into this category. These positive developments, which place Ukraine on a different trajectory than Russia and the bulk of the CIS,3 are not in doubt. What is potentially in doubt is to what degree these positive developments could be rolled back after the return of Viktor Yanukovych as prime minister in August 2006, following six months of crisis that placed a dark shadow over

Ukraine's first free and fair election on March 26, 2006. Ukraine's Orange coalition fell into crisis in September 2005 and has not reunited; Yanukovych's return to the government in August 2006 has led to an irreversible split in the Orange coalition. Negotiations to rebuild an Orange parliamentary coalition took place over three months following the March 2006 parliamentary elections. However, following the defection of the smallest of the three political parties that created the coalition, the Socialist Party (SPU), the Orange coalition disintegrated before proposing its government.

During the coalition negotiations and parliamentary crisis following the March 2006 elections, acting secretary of the National security and Defense Council (NRBO), Volodymyr Horbulin, stated that Ukraine is in the midst of a "crisis of constitutional reform." The head of the presidential secretariat, Oleh Rybachuk, also believes that Ukraine has slipped "into a political and constitutional crisis." The "crisis" was fuelled by a fully proportional election4 and the introduction of constitutional reforms, which transformed Ukraine from a semipresidential to a parliamentary-presidential republic. Some of the "crisis" is therefore attributable to the switch to a new political system that will be beneficial to Ukraine's democratization in the medium term. Postcommunist countries that have adopted parliamentary systems are better at democratizing than those in the CIS who have superpresidential systems.

The origins of Ukraine's crisis lie in Yushchenko's failure to take advantage of the wide range of powers he inherited from the July 1996 semipresidential constitution during his first year in power. These powers were never used to break with the Leonid Kuchma era, push through a government program of radical reforms, or press charges against senior members of the Kuchma regime for abuse of office, corruption, election fraud, and violence against journalists and politicians. Since the majority of those who could have been charged following the Orange Revolution are now inside the Party of Regions (PR) parliamentary faction, where they have immunity, there is no discussion of charges being pressed during the current Parliament's term.

President Yushchenko's indecisiveness in 2005-06 included four strategic mistakes:

1. Removal of the Yulia Tymoshenko government in September 2005, dividing the Orange coalition only seven months before the elections;

2. Signing a memorandum with defeated presidential candidate Viktor Yanukovych that included proposals such as amnesty for election fraud committed during the 2004 elections. The perception of Yushchenko backtracking from the values of the Orange Revolution was reinforced by Prime Minister Yuriy Yekhanurov, who supported a cooperative relationship with the oligarchs, whom he positively described as Ukraine's "national bourgeoisie";

3. …

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