Building a Democracy

By Viktor Yushchenko, the president of Ukraine (THE WASHINGTON POST, 29/11/06):

Two years ago an authoritarian regime’s attempt to hijack the presidential election in Ukraine failed. As official results were announced, disbelief provoked millions of citizens to pour into the streets in protest. They took a stand against those discredited officials who hid behind law enforcement bodies in an attempt to prolong their corrupt hold on power. Those days and weeks are known as Ukraine’s Orange Revolution.

In the time since, my main goal as president has been to institutionalize democracy and guarantee that it is irreversible. Many of the wrongs in my country have been corrected. We are maintaining our unwavering commitment to the principles of freedom. We agreed to shift constitutional powers from an authoritarian presidency to a coalition government formed by parliament to end the country’s political impasse. And we abolished state censorship of the media, while also forbidding interference in news reporting.

This year free and fair elections were held at national, regional and local levels. Overseeing the peaceful and democratic transition of power was my unique test, as it brought back to office my former political opponents.

But along with our national successes and economic achievements under two “orange” prime ministers, there have been disappointments and miscalculations. Infighting among my political allies has been the biggest disappointment. Some “orange” politicians have ignored their fundamental duty to deliver results for the public good. Instead, gaining political power and seeking the limelight have become their goal. As our country’s democracy continues to mature, I am convinced that a young cadre of leaders will rise through the ranks of Ukraine’s democratic parties to create a political renewal.

On my watch, the corruption that has historically emanated from the president’s office ceased. Thousands of election officials, tax collectors, foot patrols, road police and customs agents were brought to justice for petty corruption. Yet the biggest abusers of public office remain at large because of unreformed prosecutors and corruption in the courts. I have recently initiated a number of anti-corruption bills to reform the criminal justice system and the courts, and I will continue to press parliament for speedy action.

Because we were preoccupied with domestic political reforms this year, we failed to communicate effectively with our international partners. I want to explain where Ukraine stands and where we are heading. Democracy and stability — two interdependent principles — form the basis of my agenda. To this end, I will continue constitutional reforms that facilitate the effective work of government and prevent a return to authoritarianism or the usurpation of power.

Today there is a balance of political power between two directly elected democratic bodies: the president and parliament. The prime minister, although not directly elected, represents a majority of the parliamentarians. Bills specifying the role of the governing coalition and the opposition have yet to be passed. But let there be no mistake: Together we share responsibility for shaping, executing and controlling laws and state policies.

Second, constitutional reforms are incomplete, and as a result there is a political asymmetry. We will continue refining a reliable system of checks and balances between the presidency, parliament and coalition government to expedite policy decision making. To meet these objectives, I have commissioned a group of constitutional experts to recommend amendments to strengthen our nascent democratic institutions.

Third, our law on national security promotes participation and membership in pan-European and regional systems of collective security. Membership in the European Union and NATO, as well as good relations and strategic partnerships with Russia and other countries in the Commonwealth of Independent States, are not romantic ideas of the Orange Revolution — they are founded in Ukrainian law. The president, coalition government and parliament determine the speed with which these goals are reached.

Most important, the democratic debates in Kiev’s halls of power are now centered on ideas about competing economic theories, values and worldviews. Our current system of checks and balances requires policy coordination, party coexistence and political compromise for us to move forward. Not everyone likes the new rules of the game, and some are having trouble playing in this new reality — but Ukraine’s democracy is here to stay.

As president, my historic mission is to guarantee that Ukraine’s national goals are reached not through political dictates but through an institutionalized democratic process that brings together governing bodies and citizen groups. I am convinced an inclusive democracy is one of the most significant and lasting achievements of the Orange Revolution.