14 Feb 2011

What Do Ukraine and Traffic Lights Have in Common?

On December 20, Ms Yulia Tymoshenko, Ukrainian ex-PM was charged with corruption. She has allegedly misused the money gained by selling the pollution quotas assigned to Ukraine under the Kyoto protocol. Currently, Ms Tymoshenko is the leader of the Ukrainian opposition. So far, we have welcomed the prosecution of current or former high rank officials and there is no need to dismiss it now. The Ukrainian authorities are responsible for taking the appropriate measures to ensure the rule of law as long as they have the evidence to do so, even if that would mean the prosecution of all the members of former cabinets since independence. At first glance it seems that Ukraine switched its revolution from orange to green. Will we have a red one soon as well?

It is only now that I begin to understand what Mr Putin meant by “Russia will never be as weak as in the beginning of the ‘90s”. It was in fact in the beginning of the ‘90s that the Soviet Union ceased to exist. So what would make for a strong Russia today? One that would claim more openly its influence on former USSR territories? So far we reckon the following: Mr Lukashenko has won the elections in Belarus once more, Mr Yanukovych is back and seems determined to have a corruption-free opposition, while the Moldovan Communist Party might form the next government. Russia is slowly moving to its west. Its west, not ours. From ours it never left. Of course, there is still the semi-crippled Georgia (since August 2008) standing as an example for those who find it absolutely necessary to claim sovereignty from Russia.

In the context of current political developments, an interesting theoretical question arises: when does anti-corruption work start stepping on its own tail? That plays of course into the broader question of what is the connection between anti-corruption, democracy and state performance. I do not plan to reinvent the wheel, so to keep it simple, democracy should provide for the right accountability links that make for an efficient control over the use of public resources, which in return should lead to higher state performance. It is true though that dictatorship keeps things simpler: direct control over the use of public resources which could lead to higher state performance, but most often does not. Unfortunately, except for South Korea, Taiwan and Singapore, benevolent dictators who would deliberately pursue creating clean administrations have not been encountered. It is for that reason that I also doubt the Ukrainian anti-corruption spree.

After being charged, Ms Tymoshenko declared that she is the victim of a witch hunt. That can be true in the scenario where it is in the best interest of President Yanukovych and his party to have a weak opposition, while the judiciary is under the control of the executive and the Ukrainian ex-PM is innocent. However, that can only happen in dictatorial systems. As opposed to dictators, democratic leaders have their best interest in publicly debating policies and public choices, regardless of whether they are in power or in opposition, because that is most likely to be translated into political gains. Therefore, they need oppositions to exist and maintain their democratic status. The reverse would incur costs, which would otherwise be voided in dictatorial systems. So, which is it for Mr Yanukovych and Ms Tymoshenko?

A calculation of Ms Tymoshenko’s wins and losses might also render interesting results. A while ago she was embracing the orange revolution along with Mr Yushchenko. The former Ukrainian President failed miserably in achieving what he promised. His failure led to an instant transfer of political capital from him to his PM, who proved to be a stronger counter candidate for Mr Yanukovych in the presidential elections earlier this year. So how will Ms Tymoshenko’s political game end up? In 2020, will she be the Ukrainian of Suu Kyi of Ivo Sanader? That depends on the verdict given by Ukrainian citizens: witch hunt or anti-corruption?

Author: Sinziana – Elena Poiana

*Disclaimer: This article presents the views of the author and it is not the official position of the institutions supporting this project.