Fear of democratic backslide under Yanukovych as Ukraine prepares for elections

In the same month as voters went to the polls in the country that spawned the ‘Rose’ Revolution in 2005, voters in the country that launched the ‘Orange Revolution’ in 2004 will elect a new parliament on October 28.

Unlike in Georgia, where the election has so far augured a peaceful transition of power following a mostly free and fair election, Ukraine’s parliamentary elections seems likely to showcase conditions that are only partly free and fair.  In, Ukraine, the once-robust push for democratic reforms and a stronger rule of law has stalled in the past eight years, with the country’s chief opposition leader, Yulia Tymoshenko, languishing in prison on politically motivated charged.

The former president whose candidacy launched the Orange Revolution, Viktor Yushchenko, is widely unpopular after his presidency was marked by infighting among various pro-Western allies (including Tymoshenko) and the failure to live up to the promise of his candidacy.  Despite being poisoned in advance of the election and a rigged vote that aimed to install the pro-Russian Viktor Yanukovych as president, Ukraine re-held the election under international pressure — Yushchenko won the second election and served as president until 2010.  In the first round of the 2010 presidential election, however, Yushchenko barely won over 5% of the vote.

In that same election, Yanukovych (Yushchenko’s rival in 2004), won a narrow election against the more pro-Western prime minister Tymoshenko (Yushchenko’s subsequent rival).

Since 2010, Yanukovych and his prime minister Mykola Azarov have governed Ukraine with a more pro-Russia foreign policy, but have backtracked somewhat on human rights and rule of law — the most notable instance being Tymoshenko’s trial on charged filed almost immediately after the 2010 president election and her imprisonment in 2011.  Her former minister of internal affairs, Yuri Lutsenko, has also been tried and convicted.

Tymoshenko was found guilty of abuse of office with respect to brokering the Russian gas pipeline deal in 2009 as prime minister.  The European Union and outside observers believe the charges and imprisonment are politically motivated, despite insistence from Yushchenko (after the fact) that the pipeline deal was criminal.  The deal came after Russia had shut off access to gas flows for 13 days to Ukraine and accordingly, much of southeastern Europe.  Yanukovych and Yushchenko both argue that the deal was unfair to Ukraine, although Tymoshenko is hardly a Russian shill and, in any event, the more pro-Russian Yanukovych administration has not so much as tried to renegotiate the deal following Tymoshenko’s conviction.

So it’s not incredibly clear how a former prime minister’s conduct in negotiating an agreement under duress is criminal conduct.

As such, there’s cause for concern that the upcoming elections will memorialize a significant backslide for Ukraine’s fragile democratic institutions.

Ukrainians will elect the 450 members of the unicameral parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, half of whom will be elected by proportional representation (only parties that win over 5% of the vote will be eligible to be awarded seats) and the other half will be elected directly in districts — a significant change from the last elections in 2007, which were fully determined by proportional representation.

Ukrainian politics is highly polarized between Russian-speaking Ukrainians in the east of the country more oriented toward Moscow and Ukrainian speakers in the western half of the country more oriented toward the European Union.   Continue reading Fear of democratic backslide under Yanukovych as Ukraine prepares for elections

First Past the Post: October 16

Foreign Policy considers the Cuban Missile Crisis on its half-century anniversary.

Hilary Mantel has won her second Booker Prize in four years.

German finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble outlines a new plan for stabilizing the eurozone.

In Ghana, former president Jerry Rawlings is boosting president John Mahama in advance of December presidential elections.

Prosecutors will appeal the acquittal of former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert, complicating a potential political comeback.

Pity the chaebol.

The Financial Times thinks Spain is ready to seek that European bailout.

FARC, Colombian government to kick off talks in Oslo tomorrow (maybe)

Colombian government negotiators and representatives of the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) are making their way to Norway today in advance of peace talks set to commence tomorrow (although delays may prevent some FARC members from arriving until later in the week).  

Although it’s probably too optimistic to predict that the Oslo talks will result in a definitive peace after 50 years of conflict, there are nonetheless signs for optimism — in many ways, think of the Oslo talks as the opening salvo for bringing the FARC issue back into the political sphere, rather than just the military sphere.

The peace talks are a somewhat audacious move for Colombia’s president Juan Manuel Santos, who has increasingly emphasized a political solution to decades of fighting between FARC and Colombian police and military forces — Santos recognized last year that Colombia was engaged in an ‘armed conflict,’ and has indicated support for victim restitution and land reform legislation.  Santos previously served as the national defense minister from 2006 to 2009 in the administration of Álvaro Uribe, and he was a key player in the Uribe administration, which is widely credited with a military operation that reduced drug production throughout Colombia and all but defeated FARC over the past decade.

So FARC, which had long ago resorted to financing its operations in part through the drug trade, is entering the negotiations from a greatly weakened position.

There’s no disputing that Colombia has experienced a renaissance since the truly bad days of the 1990s — it’s marked GDP growth in every year since 1999 — even in 2009, Colombia’s economy grew by 1.65%, and last year growth hit nearly 6%.  As tourism and foreign development have returned to Colombia and as drug violence has receded, more Colombians are moving out of poverty, and both Uribe and Santos can take credit for creating a more secure environment for economic growth.  In agreeing to the talks, Santos is hoping that he can work with FARC to make those gains permanent.

But with Uribe sniping in the background about the peace talks, and with Uribe ally and former finance minister Óscar Zuluaga already running for president against Santos in 2014 (quite possibly with Uribe’s endorsement), Santos personally will have much at stake in moving toward progress through the Oslo talks.  Uribe has taken a hard line against his one-time protegé, criticizing Santos for cozier relations with Colombia’s neighbor Venezuela and for engaging FARC in peace talks.  Uribe was much more at odds with the leftist politics of Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez and Cuba’s Fidel Castro than Santos has been (notably, both of them — and especially Castro — worked behind the scenes to bring about the negotiations, which initiated in Havana and will likely continue in Havana after Oslo).

Attacks from Uribe and his hawkish allies are likely to increase once talks get underway.  Although José R. Cardenás writes in Foreign Policy that the talks aren’t without risk for Colombia, and that the “only thing the FARC should be negotiating is the terms of their surrender to the Colombian state and some measure of accountability for the mayhem they have caused over the past decades,” Sergio Fajardo, the governor of Antioquia, tells Americas Quarterly that the payoffs could be huge:

 I believe that giving ourselves the opportunity to live in peace is an obligation we have in Colombia. My children were born amid violence. We deserve peace and it is the responsibility of our government to find it. If we achieve peace with the FARC it will be a great relief. We still have many problems, but it would be a great step forward. There are mistakes we can’t make again. We cannot clear an area of the country without a serious and solid agreement. I believe the time to negotiate is when your opponent has put down its weapons.

The talks will focus on five key areas:

  • agricultural development and agrarian reform — how to create social programs to boost the education, health and welfare of rural Colombians, many of whom are former coca farmers and, potentially, how to break up the large latifundios to redistribute land to rural peasants;
  • political participation — how to normalize Colombian politics and secure democratic norms to prevent the future radicalization or militarization of Colombian politics;
  • ending the conflict — how to enact mechanics of a ceasefire, how to integrate FARC guerrillas back into mainstream society and how to deal with immunity and/or other security guaranties;
  • drug trade — how to maintain Colombian success in the reduction of drug trafficking, and how to enact public health and other programs for prevention; and
  • conciliation — FARC is seeking a truth commission and compensation for the victims of human rights abuses.

That’s a large agenda, though in many ways the five points are mutually reinforcing: land reform and development and better social programs will dissuade farmers from resorting to coca production, and a disarmament and ceasefire will lead to further integration of FARC into the Colombian political mainstream, giving onetime FARC leaders a stake in Colombia’s continued success. Or so a successful plan would go.

Neither Santos nor the reputed leader of FARC, Simón Trinidad, will participate directly in the Oslo talks.  But keep an eye on Rodrigo Granda, FARC’s ‘foreign minister,’ who’s been in Havana laying much of the groundwork for the negotiations with Colombia’s government, and who’s under no illusions about the difficulty ahead:

We mustn’t get our hopes up too high. We will get to know each other; we are two enemies who in many cases will be seeing each other face to face for the first time. We’ll have to start out by building trust. We will undoubtedly clarify some questions about how the talks will work – rules, places, schedules, but nothing of great significance.

In seeking a political solution to the standoff, it’s important to remember the genesis of the fight was political.

Continue reading FARC, Colombian government to kick off talks in Oslo tomorrow (maybe)