Four years ago, on May 25, in wartime, Ukrainians elected Petro Poroshenko president in the very first round. According to the Rating sociological survey group, two months ago – in March 2018 – 12 percent of the respondents approved fully or partially of President Poroshenko’s performance, while 81 percent disapproved of it fully or partially. Can the current president be reelected for a second term with this level of trust? No one knows. Moreover, Mr. Poroshenko has not yet officially announced his participation in the forthcoming elections. But there was a precedent.
The only one in Ukraine’s contemporary history who managed to become president for a second time in spite of a low rating is Leonid Kuchma.
Yet the Verkhovna Rada’s resolution of November 5, 1999, says those presidential elections were rigged.
Today, Mr. Poroshenko also has a not-so-high rating, to put it mildly. So, to be able to win, he should at least report on what he has done in the office of president. The chances of being reelected will depend on the results of his achievements or errors. At least, this is the way things are done in civilized countries.
Presidential elections are less than a year away. What has the current president managed to achieve, what are the pluses and the minuses? What are his chances to stay behind in office if he takes part in the elections?
“THE PRESIDENT COULD HAVE CARRIED OUT A SUCCESSFUL ANTICORRUPTION REFORM”
Ruslan RIABOSHAPKA, expert:
“Anticorruption reform went on steadily until it began to pose a threat to the ruling coalition. Rapid progress in the passage of the effective anticorruption law gave way to obstacles and attempts to place the process under control.
“Yes, the president submitted a bill on the National Anticorruption Bureau (NABU) to parliament and saw to it that a competition was held for the office of NABU director and his first steps were taken to establish the bureau.
“Problems began when the Presidential Administration read the anticorruption law’s chapter on the e-declaration of incomes: from then on, everything was done to prevent e-declarations from being an effective instrument to combat corruption.
“At first, on the initiative of an MP who represented the President’s political bloc, they tried to defer and essentially ease the procedure of e-declaring. When they failed, the president’s coalition and his BPP (Petro Poroshenko’s Bloc) and People’s Front partners began to hinder declaring by using the information protection and special communication service, staging provocations with fake declarations, blocking the Register of Declarations, and launching a virtual terror against those who struggled for these declarations. After the declaration process still began to work, they chose a different way: they established control over the National Agency for Prevention of Corruption which examines declarations and tried to establish control over the NABU which is supposed to bring people to justice for false information in declarations and unlawful enrichment.
“As a result, we can say that the anticorruption reform has succeeded only to a certain extent. What is more, it is the leadership – both the president and the parliamentary coalition he relies on – that are to blame for this halfway reform.
“The president could have carried out a successful reform, but he chose a different way, making an all-out effort to slow down anticorruption transformations.”
IN PROCESS BUT NOT DONE
Kateryna HLAZKOVA, Executive Director, League of Ukrainian Entrepreneurs:
“It is important for entrepreneurs to conduct business conveniently. Today, the Ukrainian business climate is not much favorable so far. A lot of bills that could improve the situation either remain on paper or were ‘lost’ on the way to parliament. One of them is a draft law on replacing the profit tax with the tax on withdrawn capital. It is today the most glaring example of populism. The vast majority (if not all) of businesspeople and the government favor the introduction of this tax, but nothing has been done in the past two years.
“The president has repeatedly named the tax on withdrawn capital among the top-priority initiatives, and he has been officially saying at business forums that he supports this draft law. The Ministry of Finance, international donors, and, what is more, Ukrainian business are also saying they support this legislative initiative. But the bill is still not in parliament. Under the current legislation, this law is to be passed before July 1, and in this case it will come into force as soon as January 1, 2019.
“Introducing the tax on withdrawn capital is one of the reforms that Ukraine’s real business proposes and is ready to struggle for. This initiative is equally important both to small- and medium-scale businesses, which want to increase their productive capacities, and to big corporations which are prepared to make investments and reinforce their positions in Ukraine.
“The League of Ukrainian Entrepreneurs made public in May a list of 10 top demands to the government, which include legislative initiatives that regulate the tax policy, employment, and performance of state control and regulation bodies. These can give a noticeable impetus to economic growth and encourage businesses to withdraw from the ‘gray zone.’
“The moratorium on a land market is one of the main factors that slow down the development of farming in this country. Land must be a commodity. There are all legislative prerequisites for establishing the land market, so a decision must be made.
“What also worries business is the question of inspections. Granting unlimited powers to controllers and conducting ‘surprise checks’ carries the risk of corruption and may produce an inverse effect – entrepreneurs will go to the ‘gray zone’ en masse.
“We think that revision and liberalization of the labor law and reduction of taxes on the wages fund, as well as reduction of the unified social tax and the personal income tax, so that their aggregate rate is 20 percent, is a more effective way of keeping people off the gray economy. Reducing taxes on the wages fund is one of the key demands of business. In most businesses, this is the biggest item of expenses. We raise minimal wages annually, but this problem can be solved by just easing the tax burden.
“Reducing taxes and wage deductions and introducing the tax on withdrawn capital are supposed to produce a systemic effect for taking business out of the gray zone, establishing civilized entrepreneurship, laying the groundwork for higher wages, and improving the social security of employees.
“Among the other important business-related reforms are hard-currency liberalization and changes in corporate law. Yet the general tendency is that most of the reforms in Ukraine still remain in the process of implementation.”
“THE PRESIDENCY OF POROSHENKO IS NOT WORSE THAN THAT OF HIS PREDECESSORS”
Viktoria PODHORNA, political scientist:
“Petro Poroshenko became the president of Ukraine at a most difficult time, when there were no other candidates with sufficient political and managerial experience and the ability to assume responsibility for the country. This is why Poroshenko not just became the president – he became it in the first round.
“However, we should not forget that public trust in consensus about Poroshenko was based on the promises to achieve peace, regain the Donbas, carry out reforms, and ensure justice.
“Has the current president managed to meet his commitments? The answer is in public opinion polls. This answer is NO. Although President Poroshenko managed to avert the ‘hot phase’ of the war, hostilities are still going on. The Minsk Agreements do not guarantee peace and regaining of the Donbas. Moreover, they freeze the conflict in the indefinite ‘no peace, no war’ condition for a long time. Have any successful reforms been carried out?
“Unfortunately, the attempts to implement 2014-15 reforms ended up in a slowdown. Moreover, we can more and more see the president pursue an anti-reformist policy based on his intention to preserve the existing post-Soviet model of Ukrainian politics and state in spite of public demands.
“Today, not only experts, but also the majority of ordinary Ukrainians understands one way or another: the Ukrainian state needs systemic changes because it is showing an extremely poor ability to perform its key functions, such as protection of territorial integrity and provision of security, justice, and development.
“However, the president in fact ignores the necessity of such changes.
“Besides, we can see strategic uncertainty in Poroshenko’s policies – inability to shape and pursue a strategic policy, i.e., one based on the interests of most Ukrainians and aimed at strengthening the Ukrainian state’s positions and its ability to address the country’s key problems at the external level and particularly at the level of domestic policies. Without this, Ukraine will never be able to emerge as a strong state and defend its interests in the world. This is the key duty of the president of Ukraine at such a difficult and crucial time for this country.
“We should add to this a double-faced policy (formal and informal). This shows especially clearly when Poroshenko declares a pro-European and Euro-Atlantic choice but, informally, is doing his best to slow down the key reforms, without which Ukraine will never be able to become part of the European Union. Moreover, in response to Western demands to continue the promised (and, what is more, mentioned in Ukraine-EU Association Agreement) reforms, Poroshenko announces the danger of losing ‘a part of sovereignty.’ Or when he publicly advocates a consistent struggle with the aggressive Russian policy and, at the same time, has economic interests in Russia.
“And the last question: has justice been restored? The answer is obvious: NO. There is no fair trial in Ukraine. Small- and medium-scale business remains under the pressure of unreformed repressive tax authorities, the reform of the uniformed services is fragmentary and incomplete, the reform of civil service is in its infancy, the country’s resources are still in the hands of oligarchs and kleptocrats, there is no real political representation of society, etc. All of these reforms have either not been implemented or have been slowed down.
“As a result, Ukrainian society is taking a negative attitude to Poroshenko’s policy, and, as we can see in the latest sociological surveys, the current president is today only the 4th most trusted potential candidate in the 2019 presidential elections.
“This means not only mistrust towards Poroshenko’s political course, but also the exhaustion of public consensus about his presidency and the prospects of a second term in office. In the view of the majority, Poroshenko has met none of the commitments he took: PEACE (ending the war), REFORMS, and JUSTICE (namely, overcoming corruption, de-oligarchization, independent judicial system).
“Meanwhile, perhaps for the first time in the history of independent Ukraine, no confidence in Poroshenko also signals mistrust towards and a loss of consensus about the PRESIDENCY as such. Today, none of the prospective candidates has a sufficient support of voters. The percentage of their supporters ranges between 10 and 12 points, and about 40 percent of Ukrainians do not know who they will vote for.
“The Poroshenko presidency is not worse than that of his predecessors, but it shows that there is something wrong with the very institution of presidency in Ukraine. For, even after the Revolution of Dignity, the president still remains in the post-Soviet format and gravitates towards authoritarianism and monopolism, rather than towards democracy and observation of power distribution. And very often Poroshenko copies the policy of not the EU and the West, as could be expected, but the policy of the now hostile Russia. This includes specific attitudes to the media, the real role of the Security Service and the Prosecutor General’s Office (which are forced to perform uncharacteristic political and repressive functions); endless attempts to restrict the capacity of civil society; excessive influence of the president on the economic policy, on regional and local authorities, and on the political process as a whole.
“Therefore, the most crucial question today is whether Ukrainians are prepared to entrust ‘the president’s mace’ to one of the candidates or, maybe, it is worthwhile to carry out a constitutional reform which will alter the pattern of the political system and redistribute powers between various political institutions.
“However, Poroshenko’s unhidden desire to run for a second term, in spite of a dwindling public support, and win at any cost (while there is also Yulia Tymoshenko, another candidate with the same vision of a victory at any price), means that if one of these candidates wins the election, this will be a zero-sum victory – in other words, a victory for one and a loss for all the others, a loss for the country. It is a dangerous prospect for this country.
“Meanwhile, the president should display wisdom not by demonstrating his personal ambitions and lust for power but by halting the race of presidential ambitions which look like a show of actors, not political leaders, and by starting to change the political system with the aim of establishing a more balanced, more democratic, and fairly-distributed system of institutions, where ordinary people would have greater clout and representation in politics.”
“TODAY, IN ADDITION TO THE HOSTILE EASTERN FRONT, WE HAVE A ‘BARED,’ WARY OF UKRAINE, WESTERN FRONT”
Aliona HETMANCHUK, director, New Europe center:
“Compared to all of the previous presidencies, that of Petro Poroshenko is in the grip of perhaps the most acute external crisis in addition to internal ones. The ability to enlist international support for resisting Russian aggression became the most sought-after quality of a 2014-18 president of Ukraine. Poroshenko has done this job quite well. He has achieved as much as it was possible to expect from the international community in this time – the imposition, maintenance and sometimes increase of sanctions against Russia, expulsion of it from the G8, and the US decision to supply lethal defensive weapons to Ukraine. What became a favoring wind for Ukraine are Russian hybrid attacks on the key Western countries (US, France, Germany, UK), which promoted Ukrainian discourse about Russia as a source of threats, not opportunities.
“Ukraine has also managed to persuade its international partners to continue pursuing the ‘security first’ policy towards settling the Donbas conflict. The buy time strategy, one of the Poroshenko presidency’s characteristic features, worked in the context of observing the Minsk Agreements. Even in the fourth year of his presidency, Poroshenko managed to maintain friendly relations with such a critically important partner of Ukraine as German Chancellor Angela Merkel (Yushchenko and Yanukovych spoiled their relationships with the German leader in the very first year of presidency).
“Poroshenko has thus played the role of president of a victim country quite well in the past four years, although this, unfortunately, did not stop the war in the east. As for being the president of a winner country or at least a reliable partner country, it is open to question.
“In addition to the EU visa waiver, which is an undeniable achievement, there is a problem of dishing out promises which are not fulfilled and provoke friction and distrust on the part of important international partners. Our key partner, the European Union, seems to be showing lack of trust. Both Kyiv and Brussels are seriously frustrated over their reciprocal dialog. There seems to be rather a high level of mistrust between Ukraine and NATO. While the ‘buy time’ tactic worked in the context of observing the Minsk Agreement, ‘buying the time’ and delaying the decisions that still had to be made weakened the positions of the president and Ukraine, for he failed to meet his commitments to implement reforms related to European and Euro-Atlantic integration. Ukraine has lost trust as a country which, instead of striving for rapid reformation, is looking for excuses about why one reform or another cannot be carried out now.
“Obviously, the leadership underestimated the fact that the West will not support Ukraine only on the grounds that its territorial integrity was violated. The interconnection between visible domestic transformations in Ukraine and the impression of the latter abroad turned out to be much stronger.
“One of the greatest failures of the Poroshenko presidency is the loss of friendly and trustful relations with our European neighbors. In addition to a hostile eastern front, we have a ‘bared,’ wary of Ukraine, western one.”
FIVE POSITIVE RESULTS OF THE PRESIDENT
Olesia YAKHNO, Candidate of Political Sciences:
“Ukraine has been in new realities since 2014, when domestic challenges (demand for reforms during the Revolution of Dignity) were complemented with foreign ones caused by Russian military aggression and the necessity to restore Ukraine’s territorial integrity. These tasks are equally vital for the preservation of Ukrainian statehood. As criticism dominates in our public space, let me begin with the positive results we have managed to achieve in the past few years.
“1. Major steps in the direction of Euro-Atlantic integration, including the EU visa waiver and ratification of the Ukraine-EU Association Agreement. As far as relations with NATO are concerned, Ukraine has received the status of an aspirant state and had the highest level of cooperation among nonmembers of the Alliance.
“2. Preventing a full-scale war with Russia and thwarting the attempts to destabilize the situation from the inside. Ukraine’s defense capability was strengthened. This includes increase in the overall strength of the army, switching to a contract-based army, an essential rise in funding the army as a whole and of servicemen’s salary in particular. Besides, there has been essential progress in training highly mobile airborne troops, and Special Operation Forces were formed in line with NATO standards. We received lethal defensive weapons from the US (Javelins) and developed our own antitank missile system Stugna. Another important indication is that the level of public trust in the army is now almost the same as in the church.
“3. Preservation of the international coalition in support of Ukraine, continuation of EU economic sanctions against Russia, and intensification of US sanctions. Lawsuits were filed against Russia to the UN International Court of Justice and some very important UN resolutions were passed, including one about Crimea. Ukraine successfully sued Gazprom at the Stockholm Arbitration Court and achieved success at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague.
“4. Overcoming negative tendencies in the economy, transition from economic survivability (prevention of default and stopping the fall of GDP) to macroeconomic stabilization and a (so far) small growth. Political, economic, and informational vulnerabilities to and dependencies on Russia were reduced. Ukraine has reoriented from CIS to other markets.
“5. Very important reforms in the judicial system, pension provision, health care, and decentralization were launched.
“As for tasks/challenges/problems, I would single out the following spheres:
“1. There is no high-quality communication. The leadership usually excuses itself after being accused by opposition politicians instead of explaining its pre-panned steps in good time.
“2. Some societal groups put up corporate resistance to certain changes (judges oppose changes in the judicial system, doctors do so in the medical sphere, MPs come out against restrictions of parliamentary immunity).
“On the whole, we can say that President Poroshenko puts emphasis on long-term, strategic, subjects. This comprises humanitarian issues (including indispensable efforts to establish the Single Local Orthodox Church), defense and security matters (including NATO membership), structural reforms, etc. No one knows how soon this will produce an ‘electoral result,’ i.e., derive solid support from society. But, in any case, these steps must be taken to preserve and develop Ukrainian statehood.”