Tuesday, 17 January 2012

The latest in the watch on Ukrainian democracy

2012 starts with a grim tone in Ukraine: Ukrainian democracy dropping in the ratings, Yulia Tymoshenko’s appeal overturned, state budget reduces social spending for dubious purposes and 90 percent of public protest banned.

The 2011 Democracy Index compiled by the Economist Intelligence Unit holds Ukraine in 79th place out of 167 countries; a 12 rank drop from 2010. The index is based on indicators categorised into five key areas: electoral process and pluralism, civil liberties, functioning of government, political participation and political culture. Ranked countries are rated from full democracies to flawed democracies, hybrid regimes and authoritarian regimes.
Ukraine’s 2010 and 2006 positions, 67th and 52nd respectively, placed Ukraine among the world’s flawed democracies. The 79th position on the current index means Ukraine is now a hybrid regime. Russia, though possessing a lower overall 2010 position of 107th, has experienced a drop in 2011 to 117th, which, although not as severe a fall as Ukraine’s 2011 result, secures Russia’s position in the authoritarian regimes category.
British experts have stated that support for democracy within the population has fallen in Ukraine as well as in 10 other Eastern European countries. Ukraine seems o have undone many of the democratic achievements brought about by the Orange Revolution, such as free elections, free mass media and an unprejudiced attitude among the authorities towards opposition. The sentencing and imprisonment of Ukrainian ex-Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko is considered an example of abusing the judicial system to promote political interests(2). If this trend continues Ukraine is bound join the category of authoritarian regimes along side Russia, Nigeria, Jordan, Morocco and Ethiopia.

People First Comment: Not only has Ukraine fallen 12 places in the 2011 Democracy Index, it is in the unenviable position of recording the 6th highest fall in all the 128 countries surveyed as the following table indicates.

Highest falls in democratic standards 2008 to 2010
Rank Country Fall Background
1 Madagascar 1.63 Military Coup
2 Iran 0.89 Authoritarian Islamic regime
3 Ethiopia 0.84 Civil war
4 Egypt 0.82 Regime now overthrown by public protest
5 Gambia 0.81 Authoritarian quasi military regime
6 Ukraine 0.67 Dysfunctional political system

It should also be noted that Ukraine had the highest fall in democratic standards in the whole of Eastern Europe and that includes Russia where the fall was only 0.22.

Deeper analysis of the report indicates that during this period some parts of the Ukrainian democratic system faired very well with the election process and pluralism ranking equal to that of the USA and civil liberties equal to that of Argentina which is one of the highest in South America, however in the three other categories of the functioning of government, political participation and political culture Ukraine scored badly and on par with Peru, Paraguay and Serbia.

This report is really a reflection of the former government rather than that of today so it is hardly surprising that the results have unfolded as they have bearing in mind the political chaos of the period. What will be interesting is next years ranking which will give a clear picture of the impact of the Viktor Yanukovych presidency on democracy in Ukraine as by current standards we can anticipate an even more impressive decline.

In the final week of 2011, Kyiv Appeal Court issued a decision to overturn the appeal against the sentence brought upon Yulia Tymoshenko. The imprisoned ex-Prime Minister is to continue serving a 7-year sentence for overseeing gas deals that lost the state Hr 1.5 billion (almost $200 million).

The decision by Kyiv Appeal Court has only strengthened criticism from Ukraine’s intellectual elite who have for some time chastised the authorities for allegedly destroying democracy, the foundations of justice and human rights as well as Ukraine’s hopes for European integration. On the delivery of the decision Yuliya Tymoshenko thanked her supporters in Ukraine and abroad. The following step in this case will be a hearing at the European Court of Human Rights that is preliminarily set for March 2012.

This final court decision in Tymoshenko's case has provoked a distinctly negative reaction from the international community. The U.S. Department of State immediately pronounced its disappointment with Tymoshenko's sentencing and the ongoing violations of the principles of democracy and supremacy of law in Ukraine. It also expressed hopes that the Ukrainian ex-prime minister would be released from prison and allowed to participate in the parliamentary elections in autumn 2012.

The French Ministry of Foreign Affairs criticised the decisions taken by Ukrainian justice system, describing them as rash and not compliant with rights for defence. Catherine Ashton, High Representative of European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, also emphasized the defects of Ukrainian justice. Finally, the Ukrainian World Congress expressed its concerns with Tymoshenko's trial, specifically stating that it did not comply with international standards for justice and independence. Thus, ymoshenko's case remains one of the principal reasons for Ukraine's worsening international relations.

People First Comment: The decision to jail Tymoshenko must go down as one of the greatest political blunders of this century. In one stroke the presidential administration has totally destroyed the president’s entire national and international credibility and turned him and his administration into a pariah. In addition they have clearly demonstrated to the world at large that they are not going to take any notice of internationally recognised legal due process or the rule of law and that has now set the tone not only for this Presidency but also for the nation as a whole. The problem is that his administration would appear to neither care nor even notice as they continue to feed the President bad advice and irresponsible decision making.
The crazy part about the whole venture is that it was simply not necessary. He won the election, he was ahead in all the polls and Tymoshenko as leader of the opposition was floundering like a beached whale. All they needed to do was to maintain a level head and she would have destroyed herself without the President having to lift a finger. Now she is Europe’s most famous political prisoner, an accolade she hardly warrants.
It was only natural that the President might want to exact some sort of revenge after his humiliation after the Orange revolution but wiser heads should have prevailed. Somebody should have whispered in his ear that the only person who suffers as a result of such malice is the bearer. Instead they have consigned him to one of the darker periods of Ukrainian history.

On Dec. 28, President Victor Yanukovych signed the Ukrainian state budget for 2012. Budget revenue is fixed at Hr 332.8 billion ($41.7 billion) and budget expenditure at Hr 358 billion (44.8 billion) leaving an approximate budget deficit of Hr 25 billion ($3.1 billion).
But even representatives of the authorities severely criticise the government's financial plan for the current year.
Hanna Herman, the president’s adviser, states that the new budget is less transparent and even more conducive to corruption. For example, there is no separate expense item for students' stipends or development of the Ukrainian language. Experts, including a significant number of politicians, state that the current budget will require revision as soon as spring 2012 because it is not effective for Ukraine's development.

№ Expenses on bodies of state power(8) 2011 2012
1 Funding for State Executive Office Hr 1.051 billion ($131 million) Hr 1,403 billion ($176 million) – increased by $45 million (+32%)
2 Interior Ministry Hr 13,858 billion ($1,732 million) Hr 14,435 billion ($1,804 million) – increased by $72 million (+4.15%)
3 Security Service of Ukraine Hr 3,022 billion ($378 million) Hr 3,258 billion ($407.3 million – increased by $29.3 million (+7.75%)
4 Ministry of Defense Hr 13,689 billion ($1,711 billion) Hr 17,402 billion ($2,175 billion) – increased by $464 million (+27.11%)
5 Prosecutor General's Office Hr 2.3 billion ($286 million) Hr 2.5 billion ($313 million) – increased by $27 million (+9.4%)

While expenses on military and policing agencies, the president's administration, Rada and the government are increased, many important social expenses are being cut. Particularly, the Ministry of Social Policy will get only $6.7 billion, which is $1.15 billion less than in 2011 (-17.16%), the Ministry of Health will get Hr 7 billion ($880 million) while at the same time the authorities have allocated Hr 7.5 billion ($935 million) for Euro 2012. Increases in minimum wages and pensions will not cover the inflation rate. The budget for 2012 will inevitably cause a further increase in poverty in Ukraine, which in turn will not fail to result in mass protests and meetings.

People First Comment: According to this budget the Presidential administration is currently costing the country $482,192 per day to run… whilst some 70% of the nation is living in relative poverty and 12.3 million are living on less than $3 a day. That’s $14 million a month or is equal to the monthly salaries of approximately 122,223 state workers.
In this age of austerity and even taking into consideration all the ‘ants’ that toil daily in Bankova Street or tend the Presidential estate this would seem just a tad over the top. This budget would ease the suffering of some 160,730 people every single day and yet nobody in this government seems to care as they have cut social protection by $1.15 billion and want to spend more on ego building football matches than on the Health Service.
The Ministry of the Interior is costing almost $5 million a day, the SBU $1.12 million a day and the Ministry of Defence almost $6 million a day and that comes to a grand total $12.12 million a day and it achieves absolutely nothing for the nation or its people. Finally there is one ray of sunshine in that the General Prosecutor’s office budget has been increased to $857,534 per day so the public now have the right to expect at least some progress in the fight against corruption…

Ukrainian Parliament Commissioner for Human Rights Nina Karpachova has stated in her report that Ukrainian courts now forbid over 90% of protest actions, thus revoking the citizens' rights to the freedom of expression, association and assembly. According to the Ombudsman of Ukraine, the Ukrainian people long for open and direct dialogue with the authorities and demand that public opinion and public interests be taken into account; the authorities seem to think avoiding communication with the people is in their interests. This discredits the reforms, which are supposed to be doing the opposite of adding new limitations to human rights, as guaranteed by both the Constitution and more recent legislation.

To attract Ukrainian and international attention towards the violations of human rights the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union has once again awarded the “Golden Thistle” anti-prize to the most dangerous violators of human rights in Ukraine. Kyiv District Administrative Court received its “prize” for flagrant violation of the right to assembly, through multiple prohibitions of meetings and protest actions on Kyiv's central square Maidan Nezalezhnosti. Prime Minister Mykola Azarov, Vice Prime Minister Serhiy Tihipko and Minister of Finance Fedir Yaroshenko won the nomination for illegal actions towards judicial authorities and disrespect to the institution of justice(10). Tongue-in-cheek though the awards may be they highlight just how badly respect for human rights at the highest level in Ukraine has degraded.

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