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Democracy Watch, 2011 - Issue 15

05-13-2011 05:13 PM CET | Politics, Law & Society

Press release from: People First Foundation

With Internet access ever on the rise Verkhovna Rada seeks to initiate dialogue with the people, whilst at the same time spreading accusations of foreign involvement in Ukrainian affairs. At the same time President Yanukovych comes close to an apology as public favour dwindles further.

Does Verkhovna Rada really want to hear the voice of the people?

The Parliament Committee on Freedom of Speech and Information has approved the draft regulation №8007 regarding the public discussion of draft laws online, on the website of Verkhovna Rada. The project is aimed at encouraging citizens to express their opinions on different draft laws for deputies to take into consideration. It is suggested that every citizen willing to participate will have to register. Oleksandr Feldman, a member of the Party of Regions faction in parliament and author of the initiative, believes that broader opportunities for the discussion of draft laws are indicative of the general democratisation of society.

Meanwhile research carried out by GfK Ukraine demonstrates that the majority of Ukrainians believe that the government does not work in the people’s interests. According to 84% of respondents, those in power do not care about the lives of those beneath them. 80% of respondents are certain that their opinion is worth nothing and 78% believe strongly that they have zero influence on what is happening in Ukraine. Besides this, 83% of Ukrainians agree that the majority of people in power strive to profit at the expense of common people.

Considering the situation depicted by this data, deputies will likely have problems engaging the public in open dialogue – at best to be met with the all-to-typical Ukrainian apathy or at worst opening a channel to a torrent of earnest dissatisfaction.

People First Comment:

Congratulations to Oleksandr Feldman for initiating this step towards real democratic due process. The more open and transparent the Rada becomes the more faith the public will have in the work of elected deputies however this is a double edged sword as it is one thing to engage with the public it is another to heed their opinions. What will be interesting to watch is the extent of public reaction and the extent to which the Rada promotes this public opportunity. The opposition, unfortunately, keeps paying lip service to public engagement hoping to be re-elected to parliament as they are desperate to retake power.

Sadly this administration has a track record of paying lip service to public opinion and doing exactly the opposite. The new tax law and the new election laws are prime examples where the government trumpeted their cooperation with the international business organisations and some of the world’s most prominent democracy NGOs only to virtually ignore the majority of their advice. If the same thing happens with public comment on draft legislation then this administration may well find its self limited to only one term as public scepticism turns into voter anger.

Yanukovych is disappointed – the public is unsurprised

During the President’s annual address to parliament he expressed discontent with the results delivered by the governing authorities during the first year of his presidency. Yanukovych noted that he and his team have managed to implement only one third of what they promised for 2010, blaming the government together with society for being unprepared for the changes as suggested. In his speech the President assured Verkhovna Rada of his intentions to break through societal apathy, lack of accountability of politicians and overcome the bureaucracy and corruption within the governing authorities.

However, Yanukovych has continuously lost the trust of the people since his inauguration, as proved by the social survey carried out in late April by Razumkov Centre. If the Presidential elections were to be hosted in the near future Yanukovych would receive 16.7% of the votes, representing a dramatic drop in his personal rating. Yet all the other political figures possess even less credibility: Yulia Tymoshenko with 13.3% and Arseniy Yatsenyuk with less than 10% of the peoples’ favour.

Should the president allow the implementation of his initiatives, aimed at improving the overall quality of life in Ukraine, to be delayed further he risks losing the little support he has left.

People First Comment:

At last the President, in his speech, has reached the inevitable conclusion that it takes much more than just a strong captain to ensure that the ship sails in the right direction. Sitting behind a big desk barking orders may have worked in the soviet era when orders from above were backed up by one of the largest secret services on earth but they are little more than yapping when the civil service and the much of the security apparatus is working in their own interests. Even the President’s vertical power structure has done little to reduce bureaucracy, government incompetence, corruption, laziness and greed.
In any normal large institution the organisation would have a mission, a vision, a strategy to achieve the vision and a set of tactics in order to implement the strategy. Every member of the team would be fully briefed on his or her role, each would be enthused, encouraged and rewarded for their efforts and at the end of each year the team would be able to look back on a whole series of real achievements. The problem with the management structure of the government of Ukraine is that it is not based on enthusiasm and supportive management, it is based on fear and personal interest.

Few bureaucrats actually make decisions as this would mean they would have to take responsibility for the outcome. Most simply use their position and power as a means of exhorting money from those that need their grace and favour and as a result nothing really happens. History has taught us that authoritarian government is possibly the most ineffective form of government yet invented therefore is it really any wonder that the President is so disappointed.

Party of Regions points fingers abroad and raises fears of revolution in Ukraine

Oleksandr Yefremov, leader of the Party of Regions fraction in the parliament, has issued a public statement claiming that a foreign investor has donated funds towards implementing projects in Ukraine reflective of the recent revolutions in North African countries. He claimed that Jorge Soros had directly invested funds to prepare a protest group of young Ukrainians. After Yafremov’s statement a newspaper owned by a well-known deputy from the Party of Regions published information from an anonymous source claiming that Jorge Soros and Boris Berezovsky also financed the recent protests against the new tax code. These claims were refuted not only by Berezovsky, director of the International Renaissance Foundation (established by Soros), but also by the organizers of the protests against the tax code and representatives of the Security Services. The Security Service of Ukraine has also informed that there have been no investigations concerning International financing of a North African style revolution in Ukraine, nor has there been any enquiry received from Ukrainian deputies about the activity of Soros in Ukraine.

In the meantime the Party of Regions has started work on a new draft law designed to expose the financing of civil organizations in Ukraine. The authorities may even attempt to restrict the activity of foreign and non-governmental organizations on the territory of Ukraine – mimicking the situation in Russia and Byelorussia. Vadym Kolesnichenko, one of the authors of the draft law, stated that the procedure according to which civil organizations receive foreign grants must be regulated by law.

Commenting on the new government’s initiatives Yevgen Bystrytsky, Executive Director of the International Renaissance Foundation, mentioned that the very idea of restricting the activity of international non-governmental organizations in Ukraine goes against the country’s commitment towards integration with the EU.

People First Comment:

This is all very reminiscent of the McCarthy anti communist witch hunts of 1950’s America where the state spent millions of dollars and wasted years of court time looking for ‘Reds under the beds’. It is also yet another copy of the tactics used by then President Putin to ‘control foreign influencers however in his case it was more a retaliation against the British for the accusations of state sponsored assassination.

Perhaps Party of Regions should spend their time a little more productively looking at the impact of their policies on society as these are the real causes of social dissent. The reason why small business owners are up in arms is because the new tax law deprives them of their right to earn a decent living, educate their children and care for their parents.

We believe that civil organisations are the partners of effective government. People who do not trust or believe in political parties and government will continue to come together in civil organisations. And this has nothing to do with money.

Ukraine Internet enters the home

The percentage of the population of Ukraine with access to the Internet is on the rise, as evidenced by the research into global trends in Internet access carried out by GfK global in partnership with GfK Ukraine. According to estimates, the number of Ukrainians with at-home Internet access increased by 45% from the end of 2009 till the end of 2010 and now accounts for 26% of the population (11-12 million people). Before long nearly every Ukrainian family will have access to the Internet at home, providing unprecedented access to information. The home has now become the primary place for access to the Internet, accounting for 77% of Internet users in Ukraine.

The development of Internet access is particularly active in towns with 50-100 thousand people. This statistics show that the most of Ukraine is covered by the World Wide Web providing Ukrainians from every region with information free from the filters imposed upon the pro-government mass media. This together with growing popularity of social networks broadens opportunities for the development of democracy and makes it difficult for those in power to manipulate the population through misinformation.

Consequently, when the parliamentary elections are conducted in Ukraine Internet will serve as one of the primary information platforms and will prove its value as an increasingly influential communications tool.

People First Comment:

There was a time in this part of the world where the government machine controlled every single word, where the public were literally brainwashed with party dogma and party information, where the world was an illusion of security. 1999 put an end to the illusions of security just as the internet is putting to an end to the ability of governments and political parties to control what we read, see and hear. Today it is possible to chat to friends on the other side of the world in real time for kopeks. The sources of information both true and false are limitless and this freedom has changed the political landscape for ever.

There are those in political circles both in Ukraine and outside who feel this deluge of information can be controlled and even censored. This is not trying to hold back the tide, its the equivalent of trying to hold back a tsunami. The authorities just have to learn to live with the reality as all legislation and restriction will do is drive this thirst for information underground which will incur the wrath of voters and the international community. The opposition in its turn should realise that Internet will continue to be an alternative opposition until their suggestions stop being as primitive, self serving and naïve as they are today.

Most liberal and forward thinking governments in the world have recognised the inevitability of the information revolution and sought ways to use it to advantage. In the UK for example the government is ensuring that internet access is available to every household to enable more effective local and national government. In Sweden much of the health service and social services are now online. In Ukraine the biggest problem for the government is not the means of communication, it is what to communicate. After all if you don’t have well considered and fully budgeted plans you have nothing to measure your achievements by and therefore little to tell an interested public.

Quote of the week:

Government has become a fat, lazy behemoth, spawning parasitic bureaucracies resistant to reform… We need a more radical reduction in taxation as well as a stripping down of government agencies to essential social services. Funding is imperative for public education, public transportation, repair of roads and bridges and free medical clinics for the poor.

Camille Paglia
American author, teacher, and social critic

Democracy Watch is the weekly monitor of the People First Foundation and serves to raise public awareness of how government and parliamentary action is impacting upon Ukrainian democracy and democratic due process. The information is copyright free and may be reproduced but we ask that any comments are reproduced in full and with reference to the People First Foundation.

People First Foundation
1 Skovorody Street, Kyiv 04070, Ukraine
Telephone: +38044 536 1508 / Fax +38044 536 1509

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