For the past several weeks now, Ukrainian President Poroshenko and Ukraine’s Parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, have been trying to build a consensus on the formation of a new Cabinet, as it has become increasingly obvious that the current one has lost most of its credibility and ability to govern. Following a parliamentary vote of non-confidence, the President had asked for the resignation of the current Prime Minister, Arseniy Yatseniuk, but could not muster enough votes in Parliament to force the issue. Since then, Yatseniuk has been desperately hanging on to his office, with increasingly urgent pleas for support. Poroshenko is quite aware that his own days are becoming numbered because the general Ukrainian population is rapidly losing confidence as to whether he really has the commitment or desire to root out corruption and clean up the Yanukovych rot that still permeates the Ukrainian government, particularly the courts and the judiciary.
Over the past two weeks, a number of names have been put forth as candidates for the Prime Minister’s job, the most intriguing being the U.S. born investment banker Natalie Jaresko, currently the Minister of Finance. Jaresko indicated she would be willing to take the job, but only if she could insure that her cabinet were skilled and able technocrats and not oligarchic political hacks. Nobody is under any doubt that she would seriously undertake to clean up the corrupt mess within the government, and so this makes her a popular choice with reformers and most western governments who are keeping Ukraine’s economy afloat. By the same token, it makes her a very unpopular choice with the Ukrainian oligarchs, whose deep pockets still control Ukraine’s parliament and the various political parties to a large degree. Because the parliament is fairly fragmented and power is shared within a fragile majority coalition, the spectre of a committed reformer actually coming into power has put the fear of God on Ukraine’s back room power brokers.
It was therefore not surprising when late last week, the Poroshenko bloc within Parliament announced that their proposed candidate for the PM post was Volodymyr Groysman, the current Speaker of Ukraine’s parliament, and a close colleague of Poroshenko’s. In simple terms, they were proposing more of the same old, same old. It would seem that neither Poroshenko nor most of the politicians have the stomach for real change and real reforms, and are simply proposing a game of political musical chairs. There are simply too many powerful vested interests with too much to lose to embark on a genuine anti-corruption effort.
This was conclusively demonstrated recently by the fact that the former disgraced Prosecutor General, Victor Shokin, who everyone thought had resigned over a month ago, surprisingly returned back to work in his “former” post. Apparently there weren’t enough votes in Parliament to ratify his resignation.
Since returning, knowledgeable insiders have reported that Shokin has stepped up his efforts at derailing or stonewalling any of the few real anti-corruption prosecutorial investigations that are currently under way. To add insult to injury, his office has opened up a legal case against the Anti-Corruption Action Centre, Ukraine’s leading NGO that shines a spotlight on corruption in Ukraine and the complicity of the Prosecutor General’s office in it. The whole situation has degenerated into absolute farce.
It is time that Poroshenko made up his mind on whose side he is on, the oligarchic vested interests or the people of Ukraine. He cannot pretend to be a Ukrainian patriot while allowing the decrepit system built by former Presidents Kuchma and Yanukovych continue to suck the country’s economy and its impoverished population dry.
No doubt, there are legal, constitutional and political hurdles to overcome, but it is time to demonstrate bold leadership and not the kind of wishy-washy, half-hearted reform efforts of the past two years. This may be the last chance for Poroshenko to demonstrate that the Ukrainian people did not make a mistake when they elected him to lead the country into a new future. Failure to do so, will undoubtedly lead to a “Third Maidan”, and Poroshenko may well find himself fleeing the country like his predecessor.
Ukraine certainly deserves better.