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Democracy Watch 2011, issue 35

11-19-2011 04:50 PM CET | Politics, Law & Society

Press release from: People First Foundation

/ PR Agency: Whites Communication
Insulated from the people the government is pursuing a corruption policy that has only increased the number of political prisoners and complicated visa regime process with EU. The situation is unlikely to be helped by the governing coalition ignoring the recommendations of the Venice Commission and approving a biased election law.

Ukraine – EU: excessive migration, slow liberalisation
The simplification of visa regulations with the EU remains one of the main items on the Ukrainian agenda. The recent complications in relations between the EU and Ukraine might have revealed the state of this issue. Some deputies have remarked that the embassies of certain EU member-states have began to tighten visa requirements for Ukrainian citizens. However the EU mission in Ukraine assures that there have been no additional visa requirements applied to Ukrainian citizens. According to First Vice-Prime-Minister Andriy Klyuev, the Ukrainian authorities are going to fulfil all of the main requirements of the EU-Ukraine Action Plan on Visa Liberalisation in the near future(1). Ordinary Ukrainians, when denied visas, will most definitely doubt the sincerity of Europe's supposed intention to protect Ukrainian democracy.

It is worth mentioning that illegal migration from Ukraine to the EU has decreased. Brussels has continued to allocate money with the last loan tranche of 30 million Euros transferred this October to help strengthen Ukraine’s migration policy and build immigration detention centres for foreign citizens which have no legal right to be in Ukraine. In general, migrants heading to the EU would better choose Byelorussia or the Baltic states for their transit route. Yet European concern are not without cause, out of all the illegal immigrants arrested in EU this year 88.5% are from the CIS and only 10.2% - from South-East Asia or Africa(2).

People First Comment: According to EU sources around half a million people enter the EU illegally or out-stay their visa every year and that 88.5% of those arrested are from CIS countries… That could mean that every year around 450,000 people leave the CIS. These are not babies and babushkas they are young people in their working prime who are prepared to risk everything for a better life. What does that tell you about the standard of living, prospects and freedoms in the countries of the CIS… and yet Ukrainian politicians doggedly continue with the same outdated policies. If they carry on at this rate then the CIS will be virtually empty in a few short years.

So what is the most likely impact of the visa free regime? EU officials believe that there may be small blip in the numbers just as there was when Bulgaria and Romania were given visa free status, but if the above figures are anything to go by not only will Ukraine be drained of its workforce but it will also become a conduit for every better life seeker in the CIS. In recent surveys 93% of students said they emigrate from Ukraine given the chance. 53% of families said the same. These figures have increased by 250% since last year so this simply does not correlate with the statements by the government on their success in reform and in real GDP growth. Clearly the people do not agree.

At present the only thing that is stopping them is the dangers associated with illegal migration. The impact of mass migration would also mean a massive influx of immigrant labour into Ukraine from CIS countries. Once here many will seek to cross into the EU further compounding the EU’s immigration problems. This is a bomb waiting to go off and if and when it does the impact on Ukraine could well be very marked indeed.

Fight against corruption or political prosecution?
The Ukrainian authorities have rushed headlong into the fight against corruption, however, they tend to concentrate on levelling accusations against their political opponents particularly those who ‘abused their office’ while Tymoshenko was in government. Strangely though, even with Tymoshenko, Lutsenko and others in jail, Ukraine is still considered one of the world’s most corrupt countries. Over 90% of entrepreneurs believe that corrupt practices have strengthened in recent years. One in every four foreign companies in Ukraine deal with corruption at the customs office(3). Only 5% of respondents in the last social survey conducted by the Kiev International Institute of Sociology believe that corruption has reduced in 2011 compared to 2009 – 41% of respondents believe it has increased.

But according to the President of Ukraine the true fight against corruption is the criminal prosecution of former state officials from Tymoshenko's government. This July the government tightened anti-corruption law in order to combat corruption. Yanukovych mentioned at the time that 10-15% of the state budget for public purchasing is usually siphoned off into the pockets of state officials with over 400 deputies previously under investigation or on trial for corruption charges(4). The number of state servants arrested for corruption is increasing but the phenomena of corruption in Ukraine continues to erode the governing system and society of Ukraine. Also it should be noted that the number of political prisoners is growing steadily.

People First Comment: A senior member of the international business community recently commented that under President Kravchuk corruption was… tolerable, under President Kuchma it was unacceptable, under President Yushchenko it became intolerable and under President Yanukovych it has turned into a standard for state policy. This would seem to match with Ukraine’s position on international corruption index where the nation has fallen seven places in one year, the highest fall on record.

The administration insists that his government are fighting corruption, that Tymoshenko and Lutsenko are the first of some 400 cases the prosecution service are now processing. If this is true then it will be a revolutionary step in the right direction but many now doubt the veracity of the comments. The court cases against Tymoshenko, Lutsenko and other opposition members were a media circus orchestrated in part by the Prosecutor’s office to demonstrate that they were flexing their muscles and by the opposition parties who sought to use the cases to advantage.
One might well expect the Prosecutor’s office to be equally triumphant over the other 398 or so other cases with lists of the accused and the crimes published widely but… there has been nothing but silence.

No lists, no accused, no trials therefore even the most loyal must be asking questions. Where are these thieving bureaucrats? Are they in jail? Are they still working? What are their political affiliations? What are their crimes and when might they be tried? Unless we get some answers soon many will believe that the only crime committed here is another massive lie foisted upon the people of Ukraine.

The new law on the elections would strengthen the authoritarian powers of the Party of Regions
The draft law on parliamentary elections submitted to parliament by the governing coalition on October 10th has earned much criticism from international organisations and from within the country. The Venice Commission noted that the law requires considerable refinement. Previously the Commission had criticised the draft law for its choice of the mixed system, its raising of the threshold for gaining mandates from 3% to 5% and its banning of electoral blocs in addition to its flagrant disregard for the opposition's recommendations. The Venice Commission has concluded that the electoral system chosen through the draft law fails to meet the recommendations of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe(5). At the same time the Venice Commission welcomed the decision of the President of Ukraine not to introduce the draft law himself, deferring it instead to the Verkhovna Rada.

According to Andriy Magera, Chairman of the Central Election Commission of Ukraine, if the mandate barrier is increased to 5% the interests of 40% of Ukrainians will not be represented in parliament. This seems to contradict the vocally affirmed government principle of increasing democratisation. Magera also mentioned that the draft contravenes the Constitution of Ukraine due to the resultant inequality of representation among political parties in the election commissions of various constituencies(6). Moreover the draft law suggested by the parliamentary majority is almost identical to the one on local elections which, when introduced last year, created broad opportunities for falsification and abuse of authority. It is considered likely that the parliamentary elections of 2012 will be non-transparent and undemocratic if the draft law is approved, the diplomatic arms of Europe and the USA remain on standby whilst the Ukrainian opposition remains passive. (5)

People First Comment: The strategy of the current administration is nothing short of delusional. The country is demanding free and fair elections of parties that truly represent the people whilst the politicians seek to cement their totalitarian positions under the guise of democracy. Looking at the math’s it’s 45 million people verses 450 deputies… that’s 100,000 to 1 and not even a blind bookmaker would consider such odds. Sadly there is an arrogant belief in the halls of assumed power that money buys power and as a result they are somehow invincible. Kaddafi thought he was invincible and loved by his people as did just about every dictator in history. They say that power corrupts but it also blinds and absolute power blinds absolutely.

It is blatantly obvious that the new election law is an attempt to steal the next election. It would be a clever and considerably cheaper ruse than the usual ballot stuffing and vote buying if it were not for the fact that the authorities have handled it is such an amateur way. NRI and IRI, two of the USA’s bastions of democracy have already pulled out of the drafting process simply because they could recognise the scale of the lie right from the start.

The EU has said that it will not recognise any Ukrainian government where the system is not fair and where the opposition is not fully represented. This would mean that all discussions and negotiations with the EU would grind to a halt until a new election was called and run in a proper and legitimate way which means that we could be in for a long period of diplomatic isolation.

Insulated government
After the veterans' protests outside the main parliament building Verkhovna Rada has been enclosed within a metal fence – finally isolating the people's deputies from the people the represent. Volodymyr Lytvyn, current Chairman of Verkhovna Rada, said that he did not know who was responsible for the fence. Leader of the Regions Party parliamentary faction Oleksandr Yefremov also denied any involvement in the separation of deputies from the rest of the country. Oles Doniy, a parliament member representing the opposition Our Ukraine – People's Self-Defence faction, informed that the fence is a symbol that democracy is now locked out of reach in Ukraine. He believes that truly democratic Western governments do not separate themselves from the people(7).

Kyiv City Administration further exacerbates the problem by constantly attempting to ban civil rallies in the centre of the capital through the district courts a direct violation of the constitutional right to assembly. They have introduced a provision according to which large protests cannot be organised closer than 100 meters away from governmental buildings. History shows that the last person to practice separation from the Ukrainian people was Kuchma in 2000; four years later he faced the ‘Orange Revolution’.

The drop in the credibility ratings of leading Ukrainian politicians is also indicative of the gap between the government and the rest of the population. Only 10% of Ukrainians support Yanukovych and 80% of the people do not support or cannot understand his policy – as shown by the research of the Razumkov Centre. In addition only 5% of the people approve of the activity of Prime-Minister Azarov(8).

People First Comment: If you have ever been to the British parliament in London you will be struck initially by the high cast iron fence and by the level of security but that is where the similarity with Verkhovna Rada ends. The fences and security around the UK parliament are not there to exclusively protect the parliamentarians themselves but to protect the institution of parliamentary democracy from those who might seek to tear it down.

In democratic society the public has the right to watch almost all parliamentary proceedings not just on television but live and from within the chamber. It is your right to be able to see your MP and to discuss matters of concern; all you need is an appointment. The security is there in the UK because, through out history, people have tried to blow up Parliament. In fact every year on the 5th of November the British celebrate with fireworks and bonfires the failure, in 1605, of Guy Fawkes and Jesuit conspirators to blow up the King and Parliament. Since then the Nazi’s, Irish Republicans, and more recently Muslim fundamentalists have sought to do the same.

The fences around Verkhovna Rada serve a very different purpose as nobody has yet sought to reduce the building and the occupants to rubble. This fence is to keep the people out, to keep the citizens of Ukraine from being able to meet and discuss matters of concern with their parliamentarians. In fact Verkhovna Rada today looks more like a private business club than the seat of Ukrainian democracy. The public are clamouring for greater openness and greater transparency and the Rada responds with a 2 metre high fence. Perhaps Ukrainian Deputies need to take a look at the outside world and realise that no amount of high fences and barbed wire will keep out a determined electorate as certain North African potentates have recently discovered.

Quote of the week:
It is not enough to merely defend democracy. To defend it may be to lose it; to extend it is to strengthen it. Democracy is not property; it is an idea.

Hubert H. Humphrey
American Democratic Politician, Vice President

People First Foundation

1 Skovorody St

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