Ukraine’s frozen political crisis

The traditional method of postponing a problem and freezing a crisis isn’t going to work this time.

On 16 February, the Ukrainian parliament attended a session for the presentation of an official government report giving an overview of the first year in office. This moment was considered by experts and the whole society as a key opportunity to solve the political crisis the country is facing. But, in typical style, the Ukrainian political elite in parliament chose to postpone the decision.

In fact, parliament barely criticised the government for failing to push through reforms. The parliament managed to collect enough votes on the first issue – to recognise the government’s work as unsatisfactory – but not enough on the second vote for its resignation. Many MPs who had voted against the government and deemed its progress “unsatisfactory” then refused to vote in favour of its resignation. When asked why, they said that they can’t see that it will be possible to assign a new government. This point of view isn’t entirely illogical. Experts disclose other reasons for the lack of votes in favour of resignation, accusing some clusters of influential MPs of supporting high level corruption and thereby preserving the counter-reformist status quo.

The government will continue to work until the next parliamentary session, which is scheduled for September. Society is dissatisfied, with 71 percent of citizens supporting the government’s resignation, despite the votes of MPs. Social networks (which serve as a good indicator of mood of the active part of civil society) exploded with criticism, accusing MPs of being led by the interests of oligarchs, and political leaders (including President Petro Poroshenko). A day before the vote the president stated that the government should be “completely rebooted”, but left it to Prime Minister Arsenii Yatsenyuk to determine how this should be done. He emphasised that the ruling coalition has to be preserved, and early parliamentary elections are undesirable. After failed voting, President Poroshenko had to choose his public relations strategy carefully – either he could look like the keeper of a hidden agenda and a master of backstage agreements, or look like a weak leader, which would erode support in his own faction. He chose the latter. Many MPs of his party knew nothing about the backstage agreements and themselves operated fairly and transparently. Consequently, a number of them feel disillusioned and are extremely disappointed in their leader.

The traditional method of postponing a problem and freezing a crisis isn’t going to work this time. Two important factions stated their resignation from the coalition. Lawyers argue about whether the coalition is in fact split or still alive, because the two remaining factions still have enough of a mandate together. The president has the right to call for new elections, but isn’t obliged to do so. Now, the political situation is frozen and the level of uncertainty remains high.

The scenarios for Ukraine that I described in my previous article are still possible. The next meeting of parliament is scheduled to take place in the middle of March, in spite of the urgency with which many important laws need to be adopted. Politicians will use this time to find a solution, but social tension is high, and the threat of Russian provocations stops active citizens from engaging in open street protests. Some young extra-parliamentary political parties and groups of civil activists have started a campaign to collect one million signatures for the government’s resignation. A number of people believe that Ukraine needs a technocratic government with strong support from civil society and the West.

Western ambassadors and politicians are in regular contact with Ukraine to maintain stability and balance, but it is difficult to imagine how one might respond to the people’s aspiration for reforms while Ukraine continues to retain its underhand procedures at the same time, or how corrupt political players might resolve to change their ways overnight and finally play by the rules.

The European Council on Foreign Relations does not take collective positions. ECFR publications only represent the views of their individual authors.


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