Let us recall the events of a year ago. Ukraine was in dire straits after the Euromaidan and due to the Russian aggression. Despite this, we had to hold early presidential elections to fill the power vacuum left by Viktor Yanukovych’s flight from the country. The situation looked highly unenviable for the future president, while the responsibility was clearly overwhelmingly great. Based on the day’s realities and programs on offer, the voters did their job well, electing the president in the first round. Petro Poroshenko received a tremendous support from his fellow citizens, getting 54.7 percent of the vote with 23 candidates on the ballot and 59.48 percent-strong turnout.
One year on, we can evaluate how much Poroshenko has risen to his challenge over that time. We will not dwell on the detailed analysis of his program as a presidential candidate, listing the key slogans only. The main one was “To live in a new way!”б accompanied by “To live free!”, “To live comfortably!”, “To live honestly!”, and “To live in a secure country!” Certainly, the presidential term lasts five years, but we can already outline major trends which saw us definitely living in a new way, but still neither more comfortably nor more honestly nor in a more secure country.
In fact, Poroshenko’s plight does not look that much different from those of his predecessors, who also disappointed the public and lost a substantial chunk of public support after a year in office. There is an important caveat, though. Actually, it was against this system, known for its lack of real change and constant frustration, that people fought at the Euromaidan’s barricades. However, they have not been able to organize into an effective structure that would be able to represent the public interest in politics. Therefore, Poroshenko’s election as the president was an objective result of contemporary politics, since people had to choose from what was on offer. Of course, though, there was a hope that the huge post-Euromaidan outpouring of people’s energy and the Russian danger would make the new government finally rely on the public rather than the usual rules of clan-oligarchic system. The difficult situation of the country was offset for the president-elect by public and Western support. Therein lay Poroshenko’s chance, the chance to change himself and the nation.
However, he has missed it. We can now state that the cycle that was started in the 1990s during the presidency of Leonid Kuchma has not yet been completed. There was a chance to end it in the presidential election of 1999 after Kuchma’s first term, but the society was not ready then to vote in a progressive candidate. Next opportunity came after 2004, when the opposite happened: the society, through the Orange Revolution, brought to power a candidate who was not ready for real change. A similar situation has developed after 2014. A striking evidence of the presence of the past system in the present politics is the presence of its creator Kuchma at the negotiation table as Ukraine’s representative in Minsk and in the Constitutional Commission.
Viktoria PODHORNA, a political analyst:
“One cannot call the first year of Petro Poroshenko’s term a total failure, if only because the Сabinet’s scorecard looks even worse. I would grade Poroshenko’s performance as ‘C,’ the lowest passing grade, because he faces a high level of distrust from the public and the Western partners which Ukraine depends on.
“Very few Ukrainian presidents have managed to keep public support after their first term ended. There are obvious reasons for it in Poroshenko’s case, though. There is more to it than just reactions of voters who are commonly getting disillusioned after the election. The presidential policy is vague in terms of strategic priorities, which people expected him to set out. He was elected as the person who would bring peace through a military victory or a peace settlement, people voted for it. However, in his first year in office, he neither conducted war nor won peace. A dangerous situation in the east has led to prolonging and gradual freezing of the conflict, but there is no guarantee against major hostilities restarting.”
“We all say that there are no reforms in this country, and this applies not only to the Cabinet but the president as well. He has sufficient influence in many fields to make a difference, including foreign policy, defense sector, law-enforcement agencies, Prosecutor General’s Office, and courts. In addition, decentralization is delayed as well. Had the head of state made some steps towards reforms at least, the Cabinet would be forced to bring about fundamental shifts that would ensure Ukraine’s movement toward the West.
“We had great hopes on Poroshenko’s foreign policy, but the Riga Summit of the Eastern Partnership has made it clear that support for the foreign direction of his policy is absent even among friends of Ukraine. Besides our continuing failure to get arms from abroad, the visa-free travel regime drive has also led to major questions arising about our leadership’s actions. The Western partners’ questions echo those asked by the Ukrainian public: where are the reforms, decentralization, changes, concrete steps to build a real army? Poroshenko’s stance is not very different from Yatseniuk’s one, for both keep asking for the West’s help. This might have been fine if reform steps were taken as well. Some experts say that reforms need more money, but I do not think so. In addition, had we needed funds to carry out real reforms, the West would have provided them. The fact that it has not done so to the extent needed speaks of distrust.
“As for Poroshenko’s failure to make good on his election promises, there are many cases of it. The most acute issue that saw Ukrainians and the West united in criticism is Poroshenko’s continuing role in big business, even as he wields the authority of the state. How can we expect any deoligarchization to happen in this country if the president himself remains an oligarch? Therefore, he should start with himself, only then other oligarchs may follow this path. It is a strange situation, especially for the Western world, which has politics founded on clear institutional rules that ensure democracy, stability, and success of the nation. It is also one of the reasons behind our failure to carry out reforms.
“On the other hand, the president has demonstrated a flexible PR attitude, being more careful and attentive to others’ opinions in communicating with the voters. Still, I do not think he is sincere, for his actions are not transparent. He monitors the public opinion and knows what the voters need, especially opinion leaders, and adapts his office’s PR policies to suit their interests. Thus, he has kept his support, despite the lack of reform and his status as an oligarch.
“As for his choice of appointees, Poroshenko has always taken the steps reaffirming his wish to balance the interests of existing elites. The political elite has changed only slightly, both in parliament and at the regional level, and worse still, the president has helped to ensure that representatives of the old regime and system stayed in power, for the state apparatus has not been replaced as well. There is no political will on the part of the head of state and the Cabinet to implement reforms of the state apparatus and replace officials, even if low-ranked ones. This is especially important for law-enforcement agencies, prosecutors, and courts where the president not only shows a lack of principled position, but actually covers up the status quo. So, if nothing was done after the Euromaidan, deaths of the Heavenly Hundred, and the great loss of life in eastern Ukraine, one should not expect any changes in the near future.”