2010: Year in Review

By Tanya Branitska, Graduate student at CERES, University of Toronto

Nearly a year has passed since newly elected President Viktor Yanukovych entered office. With that in mind, it’s time to see what the year 2010 was like for Ukrainian politics.

After the doors of the Supreme Council comically shut behind him on inauguration day, Yanukovych made sure thereafter to keep all the doors he could open. Perhaps the most significant marker of his tenure was the reversal of the 2004 Constitutional reform, which effectively turned Ukraine into a presidential-parliamentary republic again, as it was under former President Leonid Kuchma. Still, some experts claim that  “superpresidency” is a more precise definition of Ukraine’s current regime.

Yanukovych also won control over the legislative branch again (also as under Kuchma’s tenure), and the appointment of Prime Minister Mykola Azarov and the cabinet of ministers has become solely the president’s charge. Throughout 2010, the conflation between the president and the judicial branch has also become more dubious. Moreover, the heads of the State Security Service (SBU), State Property Fund, Antimonopoly Committee and the General Prosecutor have also been subordinated to the president.

(Media Credit/Associated Press)

Moreover, the Cabinet of Ministers is also under the president’s control, as he can issue decrees that annul the cabinet’s decisions. However, the newly constructed power vertical virtually ensures that the president and the prime minister would never disagree on an issue. The ouster of Tymoshenko’s government and the appointment of Azarov as prime minister became a token of unity between the executive and legislative authorities. Another ally in the new authority coalition is the Constitutional Court, which shows extensive support for the President’s decisions. The only body that has stayed neutral in the new shuffle was the Supreme Court. However, the rights of the court were extremely limited and the son-in-law of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Yevhen Kornijchuk was arrested.

The consolidation of the “holy trinity” of power was complemented by the expulsion of the previous government and the general harassment of the opposition. The two most prominent cases were those against Yulia Tymoshenko and Yuriy Lutsenko, both of whom are being prosecuted for alleged abuse of office. However, there was a number of smaller cases that figured only vaguely in the news, but have no lesser meaning than those mentioned above: Yevhen Kornijchuk (former first deputy minister of justice), Georgiy Filipchuk (former minister of environment), Bohdan Danylyshyn (ex-minister of economy), and Valeriy Ivashchenko (ex-minister of defense).

In April 2010, Yanukovych decided to put an end to Ukraine’s “double-vectored” foreign policy. During Russian President Dmitri Medvedev’s visit to Ukraine, the leaders signed a deal extending the Russian Black Sea Fleet’s stay on its Crimean base in Sevastopol for up to another 25 years. Then, in June, Yanukovych signed a law that effectively ended Ukraine’s bid for NATO membership. Both moves sparked uproar from the opposition, and sent clear signals to the global community that Yanukovych’s Ukraine sought a fast-track rapprochement with Russia.

(Media Credit/UNIAN)

So far, the greatest level of protest against these new policies has not come from opposition leaders, but from Ukrainian civil society, a sign that 2004’s Orange Revolution had not counted for naught. In November 2010, the notoriously unbalanced new tax code, which gave breaks to big business and left small- to medium-sized ones in peril, brought more than 10,000 representatives of small and medium businesss to the streets of the capital. Only after then was the law vetoed and a new version adopted. Still, the protestors’ tents on Independence Square were dismantled by the police, and the leaders of the demonstrations were later charged with physical damage to the square.

In sum, the first year of Yanukovych’s presidency was marked by the renewal of the president’s strong grip on every level of social, political and economic life of the state. Although this tendency will surely bring stability to the state, it will surely countinue to hinder freedom of speech and the observance of human rights. Thus, Yanukovych has so far made a rather strong and clear statement about his further intentions.

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