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Why the populist demonstration in Kyiv will not result in “great political reform”

Photo: UNIAN
Article by: Vitaly Portnikov
Source: Espreso TV
Translated by: Anna Mostovych

Do not expect the “immediate improvement of life” in Ukraine either today or tomorrow.

It is interesting to observe the political battles in Ukraine through the prism of events in the neighboring Republic of Moldova. At the same time that demonstrators were gathering by the walls of the Ukrainian parliament building and speakers were demanding voting for laws that they ambitiously called the ”great political reform,” the Constitutional Court of the Republic of Moldova adopted another historic decision.

According to this decision, the president of the country does not have the constitutional right to refuse to appoint ministers presented by the government. And in the event of his repeated refusals, the right to appoint passes on by decree to the speaker of parliament and the prime minister of the country.

The outraged President Igor Dodon was forced to accept this decision by the Constitutional Court but promised to “sort things out” with the judges after the parliamentary elections.

What does all this have to do with Ukraine? Everything. Until recently, mass oppositional demonstrations were held in Chisinau and not in Kyiv. In their makeup, the Chisinau organizers were similar to the ones in Kyiv. They represented a real alliance of the dissatisfied — a segment of the parliamentary opposition, the non-parliamentary opposition, and social and anti-corruption activists.

The main enemy was the “captured state.” Captured, of course, by the oligarchs. More precisely, by one oligarch — the leader of the Democratic Party of Moldova, Vlad Plahotniuc. Essentially, it was a synonym for the struggle against the “rule of the shysters.” The main demands were to fight corruption and enact political reforms.

It cannot be said that the demonstrators lost. On the contrary, in many respects they forced the government to make concessions. For example, in the matter of restoring the procedure for the nationwide election of the president. In Moldova, the parliament elected the president and the opposition believed that this made the head of state into a “puppet of the oligarchs.”

On the eve of the president’s reelection, the atmosphere was so tense that the authorities were forced to make concessions and return to the procedure of nationwide presidential elections. That decision, by the way, was made not by the parliament but by the Constitutional Court, which found that the procedure had been violated in 2001 when the decision was made to abandon nationwide elections.

Demonstrations by the opposition actually ended then and everyone began to prepare for elections for the head of state. But disappointment awaited the anti-corruption activists and the extra-parliamentary opposition during these elections. Because the winner of the elections was not one of their representatives but a pro-Russian candidate, the leader of the socialists, Igor Donon.

And there is nothing strange in this. Because when the opposition comes from the street and moves into the voting booths, the winner is someone who has a developed party structure, access to the media, machinery for agitation, and money.

If we were to translate this situation into Ukrainian realities — in our case, it is Mikheil Saakashvili and the anti-corruption activists who are simply pulling chestnuts out of the fire for Yulia Tymoshenko.

If they succeed, some would face extradition, others would be labeled foreign agents, according to the Russian model. Such is the logic of a transitional period.

But one more disappointment awaited the new president of Moldova and his supporters after the election. It turned out that the Constitutional Court changed the election procedure and the parliament had not changed the Constitution. Who would have thought! And the functions of the president remained the same as for the parliamentary republic. That is, ceremonial.

Igor Dodon turned out to be the “Moldovan monarch” to the government of Vlad Plahotniuc. All that remained was to prepare for parliamentary elections. But here a trick occurred as well– the parliament changed the electoral system. It abandoned total elections by party lists and decided that half of the voting would be by majority districts. In other words, it arrived at the same system that now operates in Ukraine and that everyone wants to replace.

But there was an contrary idea in Moldova — that elections by party lists make the deputies “hostages” of the party leaders and that elections by majority constituencies will make them friends of the voters. And Plahotniuc and Dodon deftly used this notion.  Their parties — irreconcilable enemies — voted for the new reform together.

But the extra-parliamentary opposition, together with the activists, actually lost the chance to get into the new parliament. And the new deputies lost the chance to oppose the government. This is because under the new legislation they can be recalled from parliament if they go against the will of the voters. It is strange that the Ukrainian populist have not yet thought of it!

One should draw certain conclusions from this entire sad story. Ukrainian conclusions. Each time when the next Ukrainian — and now even non-Ukrainian– politician needs to organize a demonstration he will promise the same thing to the citizens — open lists, fight against corruption, removal of immunity. Now this has been called “the great political reform.”

But this is not a great political reform but a great political demagoguery. It is the product of unscrupulous populists who are accustomed to disrespecting citizens, to considering them idiots.

Because the great political reform is the reform of the Ukrainian Constitution. It is the rejection of the duality of power, the choice between the presidential and parliamentary forms of government. It is judicial reform and the completion of decentralization. It is the demonopolization of the economy. It is the reform of the infrastructure that many demonstrators near the Rada consider to be nonsense when compared to their demands. But it is not nonsense.

If a person is dying from poor quality medicine, then what difference does it make under what list he chooses a deputy — open or closed? If it is impossible to obtain good quality education, then what difference does it make if the deputy is selected or not? For this person will have only one prospect in life — to do dirty work and die from an illness that has been treated for a long time in other countries. There is, it is true, the chance to leave and not be a witness to populist chatter and the disgusting struggle among clans.

Infrastructure reforms are a long and complex process. Especially under conditions of war and the loss of territory. Certainly, you have not forgotten that we are in a conflict with Russia? But, by the way, this conflict has lasted in Moldova for more than two decades and that country is not in control of a portion of its territory either. It is this unfinished conflict that has become one of the reasons for the degradation of Moldovan statehood.

The Moldovans also thought that if the shooting ended and if only part of the territory was taken, it would be possible to work calmly in the territory that remained. But that was a mistake. Territory with an uncertain status is a gangrene that affects the entire organism. In Moscow this is understood perfectly.

If we fail to return to the rules of international law in one form or another in the coming years — with the Donbas and with Crimea– we can put a cross on Ukrainian reforms. But even this return is not a matter of  days.

I am not going to call on my fellow citizens to be patient, especially since patience is not at all the appeasement of the authorities but control over them. A judicious and responsible citizen understands all that without my appeals. But I will still note that the ” improvement of life today” should not be expected today or tomorrow.

Such an improvement can only be the result of serious successive structural reforms, the successful end of the conflict with Russia, the rejection  of populist political forces by society, and the consolidation of the responsible segments of the political elites not for the sake of rapid enrichment but for the sake of reforming the state.

Otherwise defeat and collapse await the Ukrainian state, and for Ukrainians, poverty and hopelessness for many decades.

Source: Espreso TV
Translated by: Anna Mostovych
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