Aug. 5 marks one year since ex-Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko was jailed during her trial, after which she was convicted and sentenced in October to seven years in prison.
Since then President Viktor Yanukovych has managed to swallow and digest the most severe Western and domestic criticism since 2004, when the fraudulent presidential election triggered the Orange Revolution and Yanukovych’s ultimate defeat that year.
It is clear now that Yanukovych can and may go much further to secure his political future and the continual enrichment of his family and his cronies.
His infamous loss in the 2004 presidential bid and the regret that followed taught him that a bad victory is better than a fair loss. International observers found the 2004 presidential vote fixed in favor of then-candidate Yanukovych, the nation’s prime minister at the time. Viktor Yushchenko won a second vote that year, becoming president.
Since then, Yanukovych and members of his team have long regretted not reaching the presidency in 2004. They still keep saying that Yanukovych’s victory was stolen from him.
Considering this history, the odds are high that the guys in power will not make such a mistake again during the Oct. 28 parliamentary elections.
Earlier this year, ex-Interior Minister Yuriy Lutsenko was sentenced to four years in prison. A number of other former government officials during that time managed to get away with suspended sentences. Meanwhile, more criminal changes pile up against Tymoshenko and Lutsenko, who are Yanukovych’s major political opponents.
There has been much criticism of Yanukovych’s backtracking on democracy, freedom of speech and rule of law. Human rights violations, censorship, self-censorship and blatantly slanted coverage in the news media are all on the rise. There have been numerous dubious court decisions and criminal charges against politicians and civil activists in the last year.
All the while, Yanukovych has gotten used to such criticism – regarding it as little more than a nuisance. There are many clear-cut signs that Yanukovych and his team are not going to turn around and start improving the situation, but instead are driving a high-speed train in the same direction.
The recent out-of-the-blue criminal cases launched against Ukrainian news website LB.ua and TVi television channel are reminders that the criminal justice system is enforced from above. These cases – and the fear they generate – may spawn even more self-censorship as journalists and media owners try to stay out of harm’s way.
Yanukovych also seems to be marching away from democracy and into autocracy in other ways.
In June 2011, for instance, two months before Tymoshenko’s arrest, Yanukovych bowed to Western criticism and vetoed legislation that would have exempted state-owned companies and publicly-financed enterprises from holding competitive bids. The procurement measure also allowed excused these enterprises from publishing the amounts of their orders and the winning bidder.
At a government anti-corruption meeting on June 8, 2011, Yanukovych acknowledged that crooked deals amount to 10 to 15 percent of the state budget, or roughly $7.4 billion, ending up in the pockets of corrupt officials.
But earlier this week, more than a year after the earlier veto, Yanukovych signed nearly identical legislation to the measure that he vetoed and ferociously criticized just one year ago.
While such hypocrisy is no surprise on the political arena, his flip-flop on the procurement issue is another signal that Yanukovych is more resistant to criticism.
This “I-could-care-less” style of governing shows that he does not fear Ukraine losing hundreds of millions of euros in European Union grant money because of the state procurement law, which many critics say will fuel corruption in public spending. What’s more important for the president is that his close allies are allowed to make huge profits on providing overpriced goods and services to state-owned enterprises at taxpayers’ expense.
Yanukovych and Prime Minister Mykola Azarov have pledged repeatedly that they will do everything to make sure the Oct. 28 parliamentary elections are free and fair. But if it appears their team is losing – and the polls show it might – the ruling party will have two options on Election Day.
The first option is to lose the elections fair and square, and live with it – including loss of control of parliament.
The second option is to have a dirty victory with cheating. Such a vote will not be recognized by international observer missions as meeting democratic standards. This will lead to more condemnation from the EU and the United States and, potentially, from even from Russia if President Vladimir Putin decides to put more pressure on a weakened Yanukovych.
But winning – even winning a dirty election -- will ensure that Yanukovych and his Party of Regions remain in full control of the country.
What do they have to lose in such a scenario?
Plenty, but not enough for them.
It will be even harder for the Ukrainian government to get a low interest loan from the West or any financial assistance. Yanukovych will not be welcome in major Western capitals. Some Ukrainian officials in law enforcement and some politicians, even, could be banned from getting visas to the EU and America.
measures are not likely to scare the administration. Yanukovych has
gotten used to the company of his post-Soviet partners. Thus, in the
year since Tymoshenko’s imprisonment, the president and his team
have shown that they’re aim is to win at all costs.
Kyiv Post staff writer Yuriy Onyshkiv can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org