Saturday, January 31, 2009

Are They for Real? Ukraine's Cantankerous "Leaders"

This seems almost surreal. After months and months of political wrangling, accusations, and mudslinging, it seems that neither President Viktor Yushchenko nor Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko care about the country anymore. Their unwarranted respective “emergency” addresses (i.e. intensified bad-mouthing) to the nation yesterday proved just that.

Indeed, the vast majority of Ukraine's population is sick and tired of the fragmented ruling coalition government, or, conversely, a lack of government thereof. The people prefer to not see or hear from their so-called leaders anymore, yet the authorities can't seem to understand that.

Instead, Mr. Yushchenko and Ms. Tymoshenko are adding more fuel to the fire at the precise moment they should be taking a step back to allow new, fresh, and uncompromised faces to come to the fore, as the battle for the next presidential election in Ukraine starts to heat up.

Mr. Yushchenko must not be following the polls, which show that his approval ratings have been in the low teens for the past several years—and not showing any signs of improvement. The firebrand Ms. Tymoshenko, Ukraine's erstwhile richest women who made her first foray in the early ‘90s by selling homemade (bootlegged) copies of "Rambo" (and later in the murky oil and gas trade), would be keen to stay out of squabbling with the President, but that is apparently proving too difficult to do.

The results of this impotent government are as follows: record high inflation, surging unemployment, and a freefall in the national currency, the hryvnia. This is in addition to similarly drastic falls in many of Ukraine's main exports, such as aluminum, a dramatic slowdown in Ukraine's hitherto thriving construction industry, and a new and much belated gas deal with Russia (which means that, at least over the long term, Ukraine will be paying significantly more for its gas supplies). All of the aforementioned symptoms—except a worldwide slump in commodity prices—are direct or indirect results of the Ukrainian government’s incompetence.

Make no mistake about it: this paralysis is the government's collective fault. First and foremost, both Prime Minister Tymoshenko and President Yushchenko should admit to being culpable of these failures and resign. Unfortunately, as the case in Iceland showed this week, having a government resign is no quick solution to the underlying problems. At least in Iceland there quickly emerged an alternative figure to the ruling elite who commands a fair amount of popular support, but few Ukrainians can imagine another generation of politicians who will replace the incumbent elite. So equally as disappointing is the fact that there aren’t any fresh faces in Ukrainian politics, despite the marked increase in press freedom that the Orange Revolution provided.

And the sheer hypocrisy of Ukraine's government is repulsive, too. At precisely the moment both the President and PM individually call for national consolidation—a paradox if I ever saw one—they fling more mud at each other while simultaneously attempting to exonerate themselves of all blame.

Thankfully, Ukrainians know whom to blame for such a mess.

Perhaps when voting in the next presidential elections, the electorate will remember this childish behavior at a time of crisis and boycott the election in whole unless a bona fide alternative candidate emerges. There might not be much upside in doing such, but what is abundantly clear is that there is not much of a downside, either.

The economy is expected to contract by about five percent this year. Inflation is at 30% per annum. And thousands are being laid off by the week. If this continues, the country might not even survive until the next presidential election, for another rebellion, this time a counter-Orange Revolution, may result.

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