Listening to the fevered commentary that greeted the two most recent East European elections, you`d think the Soviet Union had risen from the dead. In both Belarus and Ukraine, the pundits fretted, pro-Moscow troglodytes had dominated the polls.
In Ukraine, the results seemed to crush the fragile hopes of the Orange Revolution, barely a year old. In Belarus, fledgling protests were quickly squelched, dashing hopes for change.
But look again. Belarus certainly remains Europe`s last dictatorship. And yes, voters in Ukraine gave a plurality to Viktor Yanukovych, the former prime minister, figurehead of the old regime and friend of the Kremlin, while the Orange Revolution`s hero, President Viktor Yushchenko, placed a dismal third. But this was a setback for one party, not for the democratic spirit of the Orange Revolution.
Put aside the fact that this was the first fully free and fair ballot in the country`s history, and look at the numbers. While Yushchenko`s Our Ukraine party lost ground, other Orange parties made it up. In the end, 55 percent of Ukraine`s new Parliament will be held by groups that led the Orange
Revolution-identical to the victory in December 2004.
Charismatic Yulia Tymoshenko`s party won nearly 30 percent of seats, making her the likely prime minister in an Orange coalition.
Nor is rival Yanukovych`s strong showing all it seems. Without a legislative majority, the Regions Party cannot dictate any backward policies. And it, too, is deeply fissured. On one side is the motley gang that tried to steal the last presidential election.
On the other are the pragmatic politicians associated with the billionaire Rinat Akhmetov, the party`s de facto leader. They talk of economic reform, corporate-tax cuts, European integration and the need to heal the rifts between eastern and western Ukraine.
There are other important signs. Crisscrossing Ukraine recently, I met multibillionaires and trade-union leaders, media magnates and editors of small but influential Internet sites, bankers and civic activists. Ukraine was changing, they told me optimistically, and emphasized that they-not government-are the solution to the country`s problems. This reflects deep social and economic changes over the 15 years since independence.
In this sense it might not matter who becomes Ukraine`s next prime minister. Parliament will be controlled by a pro-growth, pro-Western majority. Yushchenko retains substantial powers and is committed to liberal economic policies. And while Tymoshenko has challenged questionable privatizations (as well as the government`s recent natural-gas deal with Russia), she too is a confirmed free-marketeer.
Just days after the election, she called for radical cuts in corporate-tax rates coupled with incentives to spur high technology. Despite a reputation as a populist firebrand, her closest aides now say she has matured into a politician who understands the need for moderate policies. All this is a clear signal of the Orange Revolution`s enduring strength, not its impending
The article was monitored by The Action Ukraine Report (AUR) Monitoring Service, Morgan Williams, Editor.
OPINION: By Adrian Karatnycky
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Karatnycky, the former president of Freedom House, heads the Orange Circle, a New York NGO founded to assist Ukraine`s democratic transition.
Karatnycky, the former president of Freedom House, heads the Orange Circle, a New York NGO founded to assist Ukraine`s democratic transition.