REVIEW: Article

Ukraine’s Elections and Their Impact on Relations with the United States

Before the 2006 parliamentary and local elections in Ukraine, many officials and political pundits at home and abroad said that the process was going to be the last proof of a viable democracy in this country.

Today, we can proudly affirm that the test was successfully passed. Over 900 observers representing a wide spectrum of countries and international institutions were unanimous in their highly positive evaluation of the entire election campaign.

“These elections can only be described as free and fair, and so it is the Ukrainian people who are the real winners,” said Alcee Hastings, President of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Parliamentary Assembly. They are totally free and fair—for the first time in the history of the newly independent Ukraine.

Moreover, many observers and experts stressed the unprecedented freedom of the media providing equal access to all rival parties, the absence of the notorious “administrative resource,” the professionalism of the Central Electoral Commission and most importantly—a high political culture of the voters. Almost 70 percent of them turned up at the polling sites patiently waiting to get their four one-yard long ballots and scrutinizing the programs and leaders of the candidate parties. “In a clear break with the past, all Ukrainians demonstrated their commitment to the democratic process,” noted Renate Wohlwend, Head of the delegation of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly.

These profound democratic changes have become possible thanks to the Orange Revolution whose main driving force was the people of Ukraine who raised their voices against massive election fraud, the authoritarian system of power and corruption. The recent election is the best answer to those who claimed that 2005 was the year of lost opportunities. It was rather the year of democracy building when many important measures aimed at enhancing democratic institutions, combating corruption, dismantling shadowy schemes in the economy, carrying out structural changes and radically improving living standards were taken. By ensuring transparency and the democratic character of these elections, the new Ukrainian leaders fulfilled one of the major promises given to the Ukrainian people at the Maidan in 2004.

Recent elections have reconfirmed Ukraine’s choice, which is development based upon the principles of democracy and market economics. They have completed Ukraine’s post-Soviet transition.

After the election, a new government representing a coalition of democratic forces will continue to implement the reform program of President Victor Yuschenko. It will have to reinvigorate growth, further pursue structural changes in the economy, take decisive steps to modernize the agricultural sector and complete the overhaul of the taxation system by reducing the value added tax (VAT), introducing real estate taxes and broadening the taxation base. The new government also will have to enhance business confidence, attract foreign direct investment, complete Ukraine’s accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO) and start negotiations on the creation of a free trade area with the European Union.

A formidable task is to overhaul the largely inefficient energy sector by cutting energy waste and developing energy saving technologies, upgrading facilities, diversifying sources and supply routes and stepping up national energy production.

Chief priorities also include reforming the judiciary to ensure its independence, stepping up the fight against corruption, radically improving the healthcare system and reforming community services.

There is no doubt that the new government will pursue a coherent foreign policy, with European and Euro-Atlantic integration as major objectives. An extremely important role in this respect belongs to the President who retains his powers in this area and remains the key figure in the foreign policy arena.

In the immediate wake of the election, the President approved the Ukraine-North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Target Plan for 2006, and we are confident that we will receive an invitation to join the NATO Membership Action Plan later this year.

It might be expected that the issue of Ukraine’s joining NATO and other NATO- related topics will account for an important part of our bilateral political dialogue with the United States. It won’t, however, be limited to this area, as we have on our common agenda a whole range of other important issues, such as combating international terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs), fighting organized crime and trafficking in human persons, countering the spread of HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis, cooperating within the Air Missile Defense (AMD) framework and resolving ongoing conflicts.

Democratic change in Ukraine has created new opportunities for our bilateral interaction in promoting democracy, ensuring respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, including close cooperation in international fora.

Within this context, I would like to stress that we are conscious of the relevance of Ukraine’s experience vis-à-vis the formation and development of other new democracies. Ukraine’s success with respect to economic reforms and good governance by far exceeds its domestic dimensions, which have a direct bearing upon the processes unfolding in our own neighborhood. As a result, we—together with Georgia—have put forward the Community of Democratic Choice (CDC) initiative based upon our common under-standing of the need to make our region free of all remaining divisions, human rights violations and unresolved conflicts. We are grateful to the US for supporting the CDC concept, and we are looking forward to working together within this framework.

Several recent events, such as reinstating the generalized system of preferences (GSP) benefits for Ukraine, granting by the US of market economy status to Ukraine, signing the bilateral WTO protocol and graduating from the Jackson-Vanik amendment, removed the remaining obstacles to the dynamic development of Ukrainian-American trade and economic relations. Now it is up to our business communities to take advantage of this extremely propitious situation to translate the huge potential of this sphere into specific language of commercial contracts and investment.

I am also sure that quite soon we will see a substantial increase in people-to-people contacts, tourism and cultural exchanges.

It can be concluded with confidence that the Ukraine-American relationship based on shared democratic values, mutual trust and growing economic interests is indeed becoming a strategic partnership. We, in Ukraine, very much value this new dimension to our relationship with the United States and are ready, in cooperation with our American partners and other democratic nations, to enhance our contribution to freedom, sustainable development and international security.

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Ambassador of Ukraine to the United States