Election Pain Yields New Ukraine

What the foreign papers are saying.
Dec. 9 2004 5:19 PM

Election Pain Yields New Ukraine

"Orange Revolution" spurs constitutional reforms.

Tymoshenko: Most Wanted?
Tymoshenko: Most Wanted?

If you've lost track of the power struggles defining the ongoing "Orange Revolution" in Ukraine, don't feel too bad: The Kyiv Post says it's possible even the protesters braving the cold on Khreshchatyk, Kiev's main thoroughfare, are a bit flummoxed by the compromises that finally brought the two-week-old revolution to an end. The deal may not be terribly exciting, but true democracy often lacks of high drama. And in fact, the compromise measures passed overwhelmingly by Ukraine's parliament—setting the country on a course for a new presidential election on Dec. 26, which pro-Western opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko is likely to win—is "a massive victory for the Ukrainian people and civil society," according to the Post.

Kiev erupted in celebration last Friday when the country's Supreme Court ruled that the Nov. 21 elections had indeed been rigged, as most of the world outside Russia already believed. It might have been too early to raise the vodka glasses at that point. The center of action moved from the streets to the halls of Parliament, where legislators began debating the fate of the country's Central Election Commission, which had initially declared the candidate favored by the Kremlin, Viktor Yanukovych, the winner.

In the end, legislators hammered out an agreement that goes far beyond the disputed poll. In a bid to keep the country from splitting apart on linguistic and geopolitical lines, a deal brokered by the European Union heralds a major change in the way the country is governed. The BBC calls it "a major shift in who wields real authority in the country." Put simply, Ukraine is moving from a presidential system, where the preponderance of power lies with an independent executive (akin to Russia and the United States), to a parliamentary system similar to that used in most of Europe.

Not everybody is pleased. The measures weaken the power of the next president, who is likely to be Yushchenko. A few hard-line Yushchenko allies opposed the compromise, calling it capitulation—most notable among them Yulia Tymoshenko, a woman who is now drawing almost as much attention as Yushchenko himself. Tymoshenko is a polarizing figure, whose much-admired face mysteriously appeared on Interpol's Web site on Tuesday under a "wanted" notice before quickly disappearing. "To her admirers, she is Ukraine's answer to Aung San Suu Kyi; a Marianne for the post-perestroika generation," writes the Independent's Tom Reed in a gushing profile.

Meanwhile, focus is shifting to the ramifications of the Orange Revolution outside Ukraine. In Brussels, NATO and Russia issued a joint endorsement of the new elections, but at another summit meeting in Bulgaria, Russia and the United States butted heads over Ukraine in a confrontation with distinct Cold War echoes. In the wake of the Ukraine crisis, Moscow has become increasingly vocal in its criticism of the United States, which it accuses of playing "sphere of interest" political games and applying "double standards" when criticizing other country's electoral practices. Russia also stands accused of reneging on its pledges to withdraw troops from Moldova and Georgia; the United States says it will not reduce its forces in Western Europe until Russia gets out of these former Soviet republics.

There is talk now of a possible domino effect, as post-Soviet authoritarian regimes across Central Asia fall prey to democratic uprisings. A comment from Agence France-Press sounds a note of caution, however: "Without the incentive of European Union membership that many Ukrainians hope for, democracy may be a long time coming to Central Asia."

Scott MacMillan is a freelance journalist who lives in Cairo.

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