Un­der­min­ing progress

Kyiv Post - - Opinion -

Life would have been so much dif­fer­ent and bet­ter to­day in Ukraine if Pres­i­dent Petro Poroshenko, fresh off his land­slide elec­tion fol­low­ing the EuroMaidan Rev­o­lu­tion, had taken the side of the peo­ple — the pub­lic, civil so­ci­ety and Ukraine’s in­ter­na­tional friends.

In­stead, Poroshenko sided with the sta­tus quo of en­trenched cor­rupt in­ter­ests among bu­reau­crats and oli­garchs, who still con­trol par­lia­ment and most of the news me­dia. In this re­gard, Poroshenko is sim­ply an­other oli­garch — al­beit the reign­ing one — with a TV sta­tion.

And that’s partly why Ukraine is in the po­si­tion it is to­day, more than three years af­ter the up­ris­ing that drove Pres­i­dent Vik­tor Yanukovych from power — de­pen­dent on for­eign aid, starved of pri­vate in­vest­ment and $75 bil­lion in debt.

The pres­i­dent squan­dered the good­will of the peo­ple. He is un­pop­u­lar, no mat­ter who is do­ing the polling. It may be too late for him to re­cover by the 2019 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion. Un­for­tu­nately, as peo­ple take their re­venge at the vot­ing booth, they could elect an even worse leader.

The pres­i­dent is be­hav­ing more au­to­crat­i­cally as law en­force­ment agen­cies ha­rass anti-cor­rup­tion ac­tivists while Poroshenko presents him­self to the world as a mod­ern demo­crat. He’s not. If he were, he would not have been ob­struct­ing, foot-drag­ging and stalling on trans­for­ma­tional re­forms. Ukraine still has no new Supreme Court (the one that’s coming might not be an im­prove­ment), no anti-cor­rup­tion court and no changes in the work­ing of the Gen­eral Prose­cu­tor’s Of­fice, In­te­rior Min­istry and Se­cu­rity Ser­vice of Ukraine. Par­lia­ment left many tasks un­done, in­clud­ing re­forms in health, pen­sion, pri­va­ti­za­tion, elec­tions, agri­cul­tural land mar­ket and on and on. The fail­ures deepen the pub­lic’s sense of in­jus­tice. Ukraine’s lead­ers have been try­ing to bur­nish the na­tion’s im­age abroad to at­tract pri­vate in­vest­ment. They’ve trav­eled far and wide, staged con­fer­ences, spent money and cre­ated new agen­cies such as Ukraine In­vest.

And then Poroshenko turns around and un­der­mines progress by can­cel­ing po­lit­i­cal critic Mikheil Saakashvil­i’s Ukrainian cit­i­zen­ship on July 27. With his blow against Saakashvil­i, Poroshenko has riled up a po­lit­i­cal critic who was polling at 1.8 per­cent sup­port. This critic speaks sev­eral lan­guages, is liv­ing in New York — the news me­dia cap­i­tal of the world — and gives interviews to CNN and any­one else who will lis­ten about the in­jus­tice done to him by Poroshenko.

Let’s stip­u­late this: De­spite Rus­sia’s dis­mem­ber­ing war, the na­tion is in its best shape since in­de­pen­dence, Poroshenko is the best of the five pres­i­dents, par­lia­ment is the best ever and the peo­ple are liv­ing freer than ever. The na­tion is much im­proved mainly be­cause of its peo­ple. But it still can­not break free from its Soviet ways be­cause its po­lit­i­cal lead­ers, like Poroshenko, are still stuck in this past.

Ukraine de­serves bet­ter. It is poised for an eco­nomic break­through on many fronts — ex­port-ori­ented man­u­fac­tur­ing, agri­cul­ture, in­for­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy, ser­vices and others. But it’s not go­ing to hap­pen with­out rule of law — with­out politi­cians let­ting go and let­ting in­de­pen­dent demo­cratic in­sti­tu­tions and a com­pet­i­tive mar­ket econ­omy flour­ish. Don’t take our word for it. Ask in­vestors why they’re mostly by­pass­ing the coun­try. They’ll tell you.

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