Today Ukrainians head for the polls, the endpoint (or midpoint depending on your opinion) to a colorful campaign where only the candidates appeared to be having fun. It’s too bad that Ukrainians don’t have little buttons they can press to kick candidates off the campaign trail. Instead of a having to choose from a list of 18 potentials, and then between two in an expected run-off, they could have simply kicked everyone off the island. The reject all vote sounds good to some. So much so that one candidate is reported to have changed his name to Vasyl Protyvsikh, or Vasyl “Against All” with the hope to garner some votes. But alas, democracy is what it is. Too often you vote for the candidate you get rather than the one you want.
If there is one story dominating this election it is the “widespread disillusionment” of the electorate. As Flavor Flav rapped in a different context, “Everybody sayin’ it / Everybody’s playin’ it / rolling on the scales / Cause’ everybody’s weighin’ it.” The promised fruits of the Orange Revolution have rotted into compost. Take BBC’s profile of the Boyko brothers, who own a bus company in the town of Shampan outside of Kiev. During the Orange Devolution they used their fleet to ferry protesters for free. Now their fight has turned to keeping their business alive. “I don’t know who to vote for,” Ruslan told the BBC. “There is no-one worth voting for, we’re in a state of political depression.” Unfortunately for them, the website Sell Your Vote, where thousands of Ukrainians were trying to turn their vote into quick cash, has been closed by the authorities. The Boykos can’t even recoup a little capital to help revive their business or at least buy some political prozac.
Despite, or because of, all the disillusionment, Viktor Yanukovich is Ukrainians’ preferred choice. But he’s not Wall Street’s. The barons of global financial capital are hoping for a Tymoshenko victory because it would result in “a faster resumption of the International Monetary Fund’s austerity program.” According to the Wall Street Journal,
With a Yanukovych victory, “a minority government or broad coalition would struggle to push through tough measures to get the IMF program back on track,” Neena Altaf from JPMorgan Chase & Co. said, adding that Yanukovych would probably end up having to call early parliamentary elections, delaying the IMF program until the third quarter. That probably wouldn’t affect Ukraine’s ability to service its debt, but payments for natural gas could become a problem.
But Tymoshenko might be able to put together a workable coalition without the need for early elections, paving the way for IMF-geared reforms.
To unlock the IMF financing, Ukraine would need to bring its budget deficit close to the target of 6% of gross domestic product, compared with an estimated 7.0% to 7.5% currently. The Rada has yet to adopt the 2010 budget.
Though Tiger-Yulia would have an easier time implementing IMF austerity–which almost always means slashing government social spending (i.e. social benefits, pensions, subsidies)–, Ukraine will be in desperate need of IMF billions no matter who the President will be. Ukraine’s National Bank is on the verge of defaulting on hundreds of millions of short-term bonds and might not be able to pay for much needed Russian gas. Therefore, Ukraine needs more loans to pay off its previous loans which will inevitably result in needing more loans to pay off those. And the Ponzi scheme continues. Welcome to debt slavery my Ukrainian friends! But alas, what is good for international finance capital is good for the people. Or so we are led to believe.
There are other interesting notes about this election day. Like for example, the brewing scandal about “several hundred” members of the Georgian security forces arriving in Ukraine along with election monitors. The purpose of their arrival is unknown, but according to Ekho Moskvy, “a majority of the [Georgian] arrivals are military personnel, several of them have documents with different names, and practically all of them have security training and have experience in hand-to-hand combat.” Spokesmen from Yanukovich’s Party of Regions claim that the Georgian security have arrived to “disrupt the elections.”
Clifford J. Levy of the New York Times reports that both Yanukovich and Tymoshenko have employed the help of American campaign advisers. Yanukovich has Paul J. Manafort in his camp to help craft his “anti-incumbent strategy.” Manafort is the business partner of Rick Davis, who managed John McCain’s presidential campaign. Tymoshenko has hired the former firm of David Axelrod, who is now a senior adviser for Obama. When it comes to American campaign tactics, it appears that Yanukovich is benefiting:
Mr. Manafort’s influence was apparent on Mr. Yanukovich’s visit this week in Dneprodzerzhinsk. His old style tended toward rambling speeches that seemed more suited for a Politburo meeting than a campaign rally. But throughout his day, he spoke in short, crisp sentences that rarely strayed from his theme of the Orange Revolution’s failures.
It seemed, however, that Mr. Yanukovich’s advance team could have used a strategy session. This city is named for Feliks Dzerzhinsky, founder of the Soviet secret police, and the campaign put Mr. Yanukovich right in front of a statue of Mr. Dzerzhinsky himself.
Ms. Tymoshenko is a native of this region, but it is now a Yanukovich stronghold. And there were people in the crowds who were once Orange backers.
Maybe Levy thinks standing in front of Dzerzhinsky was a politically incorrect faux pas, but it’s possible that having Yanukovich in front of Iron Felix was intentional. Many Ukrainians hunger for a strong, decisive leader, and standing in the chekist’s shadow is one way to symbolically suggest that Yanokovich is that man. Having an Iron Felix might certainly satisfy the desires of Andriy, a taxi driver from the eastern town of Dnipropetrovsk. He told Time, “We should line them all up against a wall. They promise everything, but give us nothing.”
Then there is this amusing bit from an AP story on employment of American political consultants. Apparently, American readers need help pronouncing such long, Slavic names like Yanukovich, Timoshenko, and Yushchenko. Even “Yulia” is a tongue twister. To help his readers, AP writer Desmond Butler provided phonetic pronunciations: Yulia (YOOL’-yah) Tymoshenko (tee-moh-SHEN’-koh), Yushchenko (yoo-SHEN’-koh), Yanukovych (yah-noo-KOH’-vich). Are Americans really that STOO’-ped when it comes to the yoo-KRANE?
Americans may be fumblers when it comes Ukrainian names, but when it comes to presidential elections, they might have more in common with Ukrainians than they think:
In the end, the difference between the two may be as much about style as it is substance, with both widely seen as opportunists whose backers are eager to gain power. But Ukrainians, despite their disillusionment with the people running the country, still want to have a say in their country’s future. “Ukrainians are ready to be mobilized,” says Dmytro Potekhin, a civil society activist. “There’s just no one to mobilize them.”
This sounds eerily familiar . . .