Ukrainians want reform, oligarchs block it


Ukrainians are growing increasingly frustrated with their government and the slow pace of reforms, especially when it comes to tackling corruption, according to a new nationwide poll released today by the International Republican Institute’s (IRI) Center for Insights in Survey Research:

The poll found a record 76 percent of respondents believe the country is heading in the “wrong direction.” Public satisfaction with the president has declined from 25 to 17 percent since November and support for the national government and parliament has declined to single digits.

Stephen Nix, IRI’s director of Eurasia, says the low public support is understandable in light of Ukraine’s many challenges, including an economic crisis, ongoing conflict in eastern Ukraine and recent political upheavals like the firing of a prominent anti-corruption reformer in the Prosecutor General’s Office and this week’s resignation of Prime Minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk. Still, he says, there remains reason for optimism.

“The Ukrainian people understand the crippling effect of corruption on their political and economic development. That’s why their desire for change remains strong,” said Nix. “It’s up to the country’s President and new Prime Minister to effectively lead the charge and implement concrete reforms.”

While Ukraine suffers from many types of corruption, it is the penetration of its politics by the super-rich oligarchy that forms the main obstacle to reform, argues analyst Andrew Wilson. Kyiv should focus on cutting these links, rather than dismantling the oligarchy itself, he writes for the European Council on Foreign Relations:

  • The oligarchy is kept in power by a series of vicious circles: the need for vast sums of money to win elections, the network of political appointees funneling cash into campaigns, and the placing of allies in government.
  • Europe is in a strong position to help break these circles, especially as Ukraine lacks alternative allies. Europe should make clear that it will back Kyiv if the oligarchs work to destabilise the government, or even turn to Russia.
  • The EU should coordinate more closely with local activists, take a tougher line with the leadership, and push for reform to the justice system and party finance. It faces a difficult balancing act after the Netherlands vote, but shutting down the hope of closer ties with the EU would disempower pro-reform forces.


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