Orange progress is going to waste

Orange progress is going to waste

Ukraine`s constitutional set-up has left its politicians semi-paralysed in the face of the economic crisis. Why is it that Ukraine has become one of the worst casualties of the global economic recession?

Ukraine`s constitutional set-up has left its politicians semi-paralysed in the face of the economic crisis.

Why is it that Ukraine has become one of the worst casualties of the global economic recession? Economists might point to its overdependence on steel production but the crisis is as much constitutional as it is economic: the Ukrainian state finds itself semi-paralysed in the face of the challenge. 

Ukraine has made a great deal of political progress. The Orange Revolution made Ukrainians free. They can say and read and watch what they like. Elections are fair and reflect the popular will. But even Ukraine`s closest friends cannot pretend that its politics is as it should be.

The rule of law is weak and corruption is a major problem. And then there is the sheer intensity of political competition, which goes beyond all reasonable European norms and holds the country back from achieving its national goals.

Personality clashes play their part, as does ideology, but the dysfunctional constitutional arrangement exacerbates these problems. Indeed, economic reform without constitutional reform will be difficult, if not impossible, and almost certainly unsustainable.

Electoral reform that gives greater power to individual voters and less to the party machines – susceptible as they are to corruption – must be a priority. The ultimate goal must be full transparency and a robust ethical code.

An even greater problem is the lack of clarity about the roles of the president, the prime minister, the cabinet and the parliament. As in Poland in the mid-1990s, Ukraine is ‘blessed` with a hybrid presidency. The president has considerable autonomy in the foreign policy sphere and over certain appointments, but control of economic policy is contested. The Ukranian parliament, dominated as it is by businessmen with narrow sets of interests, has been lax in its job of coming up with legislation. The presidency can articulate broad aims but not realise them. The job`s more substantial power, however, is that of veto. The result has been that nothing gets done. Out of frustration, the temptation for any president operating within this straitjacket is to sack the prime minister. The parliament responds by sacking the foreign minister – a presidential nominee – and attempting to impeach the president. In the middle of all this politicking, the focus on economic reform is lost.

The differences between the major parties in Ukraine are not nearly as wide as those in some other countries. The constitution, however, encourages division and stasis, not co-operation and progress. Personal interests too often obscure the national interest.

Many Ukrainian politicians recognise that constitutional reform is necessary, but the discussions have been interminable. The deterioration in the economic situation, however, makes it an urgent priority.

Three approaches are vital in the preparation and adoption of a new constitutional settlement. First, politicisation, factionalism and any attempt to modernise the constitution in the interests of any one political leader or grouping must be avoided. That is why I warmly welcome President Viktor Yushchenko`s call to declare a moratorium on political quarrels and hope to see his example followed by all parties.

Second, the process must involve and engage ordinary Ukrainians to ensure the new settlement expresses the will of the people. And third, preparation of a new constitution should draw on domestic and international experience and expertise, not to impose an existing constitutional blueprint but to avoid the pitfalls and harness the positive elements of what has been done elsewhere.

Only when the failings in the architecture of the Ukrainian state are adequately addressed will Ukrainians enjoy the full benefits of the Orange Revolution. That architecture is making a bad economic situation even worse and is jeopardising Ukraine`s integration into the European family. The design of the Ukrainian state must be corrected and strengthened, now.

Aleksander Kwasiewski was president of Poland in 1995-2005.

By Aleksander Kwasniewski, The European Voice

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