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 Ukraine’s pro-western reform project hangs in the balance, - Financial Times

Kyiv could move towards greater EU integration or slide back into cronyist authoritarianism.

This is reported by Financial Times, Censor.NET informs.

Two years on from the protests that ousted pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych, Ukraine's revolution is confronting its central paradox: many of the leaders who emerged from it were veterans of the oligarch-dominated political system it aimed to sweep away.

Kyiv has been in political ferment since a foreign-born, technocratic economy minister, Aivaras Abromavicius, resigned five weeks ago. He alleged that cronies of President Petro Poroshenko - himself a billionaire businessman - and prime minister Arseny Yatseniuk - another of the protest leaders but a political veteran - were blocking reforms to preserve their access to lucrative cash flows.

Read more: US Ambassador Pyatt: It's reforms that matter, not personalities in Cabinet

Mr Yatseniuk survived a subsequent no-confidence vote, but was badly weakened. Ukraine is now grappling with whether to appoint a new premier and government - potentially a wholly non-political, technocratic one - to keep it free from vested interests.

While this still seems unlikely, a broader question is whether to call early elections to accelerate political renewal.

At stake may be the future of Ukraine's pro-western reform project. Decisions in coming days will be critical in determining whether the ex-Soviet republic continues towards greater integration with the EU and more transparent, democratic governance. Or whether, as after its 2004 "Orange" revolution, it slides back into the cronyist authoritarianism typical of most post-Soviet states, and back under Moscow's influence.

Read more: Petro Poroshenko Bloc has candidate for PM, program, and votes, - faction leader Lutsenko

"Ukraine had a revolution, but no revolutionary change," says Mikheil Saakashvili, the former Georgian president who led his country's 2003 pro-democracy revolution and subsequent reforms, and has been appointed a regional governor in Ukraine by Mr Poroshenko.

Mr Saakashvili is forming an anti-corruption movement and holding roadshows across the country, to enthusiastic receptions. Without change that ordinary Ukrainians can feel, warns Mr Saakashvili, the country could see a backlash by pro-Western activists - or "restoration" of the old, pro-Russian system.

He advocates elections now, calling for "one more push" to get rid of the vested interest networks that have captured politics. Opponents and supporters alike suggest that is because elections could open a path for him on to Ukraine's national political stage.

Read more: "Three forces mostly interested in early elections in Ukraine: populists, oligarchs, and the Kremlin," - Yatseniuk

Mr Yatseniuk, the current premier, made clear in a Financial Times interview last week that he is fighting to keep his job. He argues his government has already made Ukraine an "entirely different country" from two years ago, despite its struggles with parliament.

One senior political power broker, however, puts the chances of a new premier being appointed at 60 per cent. A leading candidate is Natalie Jaresko, the US-born finance minister, who political insiders say has held talks over the job and drawn up a "dream team" for a technocratic government.

Ms Jaresko is highly regarded by Ukraine's international partners such as the IMF and the investors it urgently needs to rebuild an economy shattered by long misrule, war with Russia in the east and Russian trade restrictions.

But many in Kyiv question whether she and a non-political cabinet, however smart, could operate effectively in the shark-infested waters of Ukrainian politics.

"A technocratic government? OK, excellent idea. But how can you make sure there will be enough support in the parliament?" asks Victoria Voytsitska, a young MP from the pro-reform Samopomich party.

Another candidate under consideration for premier is Volodymyr Hroisman, the parliament speaker. Mr Hroisman is seen as close to Mr Poroshenko, which some fear could concentrate too much power in the president's hands.

The parliament elected in October 2014, initially seen as reformist, has proved more recalcitrant than expected, blocking 60 per cent of government bills.

The assembly is partly made up of a new, reformist political generation, particularly in the half of its seats elected through party lists. But in the other half of the assembly, members still come from single-mandate districts where oligarchs and other wealthy interests can buy seats by "sponsoring" candidates and outspending everyone else.

The Poroshenko and Yatseniuk teams oppose early elections - not least because their own popularity ratings have fallen sharply among recession-weary and war-weary Ukrainians. They say any new parliament would be even more fractured, with populist and radical parties gaining ground.

Serhiy Leshchenko, a leading investigative journalist and now one of the parliament's young anti-corruption crusaders, suggests even a Jaresko-led government would prove only a stopgap before early polls.

He advocates pushing for a new election law to reform party financing and introduce so-called "open party lists", a mechanism allowing voters to influence which candidates get elected to represent each party.

"We have to be planning for elections at any moment," he says.


 
 
 
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