27 October 2010
America is yet again in the thick of a particularly nasty election campaign, characterized by propaganda ad spots that would make Goebbles proud. It is inescapable, especially here in Washington, and nastier than ever.
Living in the Beltway Bubble (don't charge me of "elitism" – I was bred in the Midwest and the product of a state university) it is important to remember that while have achieved the dubious distinction in the U.S. of attaining democracy nirvana (we love lecturing other countries about our enlightenment, do we not?), other countries in the world have even nastier election campaigns. Ukraine is the ultimate case study, perhaps. If any Tea Partier, progressive die hard, or liberal-cynic wants to see a brutal and extreme campaign, it is in Ukraine.
Ukraine, like the U.S., is once again in the throes of yet another election (democracy overload). This time, local officials are battling it out for the first vote since Yanukovych took power in March. According to on-the-ground reports, these elections are quite significant. Reports suggest not only that democracy is receding, but that continued regression may solidify opposition to Yanukovych, a man of the ancien régime.
Despite the gains of Yanukovych early this year, the party of power (vlada) will ensure that it receives the outcome it wants for the October 31 local elections. It is using virtual politics from the Kuchma era: refusing to register candidates due to "incorrect applications," selling ballots, and "carousel" voting. Authorities are particularly active in preventing Tymoshenko's Batkivshchyna party from participating in the elections. In Lviv, a clone of Batkivshchyna was registered, while real Batkivshchyna had to fight in courts for the right to be the "real" party. Ironically, members of Deputy Prime Minister Serhiy Tihipko's Strong Ukraine party are being denied registration.
There are also anecdotes of economic pressure told to me by one Ukrainian professor. One director of publishing house in Lutsk was simply "substituted" by another guy who came from Lugansk. And the reason is very simple - an old director cooperated with the former administration, while the new guy represents the current political force in power. Another had to leave his post as a newspaper editor after publishing a critical material about the Yanukovych – despite the fact that it was an interview and not even his own material.
Not surprisingly, Tymoshenko says that people will go to the streets if polls are rigged (only 8.5% of Ukrainians believe that local elections will be fair). There is merit to these statements beyond the usual oppositional cries. During the crisis, Ukrainians were busy with survival and still are – prices for some products have doubled in the past few months, while everything else is "stable." Extolling the benefits of stagnation – as opposed to the 2009 pledge to ensure stabilnist' after the crisis and dysfunctional orange government – is hardly a viable election campaign platform.
The past few years have shown that disappointment and disillusionment in politics leads to a pendulum swing. Rada elections, likely to take place in the spring, are a prime opportunity to do this – barring the vlada doesn't steal votes. Ironically, the Constitutional Court's recent decision to tinker with the institutional framework of executive/legislative power increases the likelihood of early parliamentary elections.
The outcome of October 31, exactly 6 years after the first round of the Yushchenko-Yanukovych presidential election, may be that there is a strong possibility that Ukrainians will be convinced that changes are needed and they will be ready to get rid of the current power.