Sam Seitz

Ukraine has entered into a dangerous period of political instability today after Arseniy Yatsenyuk, the prime minister, came within 32 votes of losing to a vote of no confidence. While the prime minister survived the vote, the fact that 194 lawmakers voted to remove him demonstrates a fundamental lack of trust within the government. There is also little belief within Ukrainian society that the new government has been able to make any meaningful strides in rooting out and eliminating the corruption that existed before the Euromaidan uprisings. Indeed, polls demonstrate a complete lack of trust among the public. Oxana Shevel of Tufts explained the issues well over at the Monkey Cage:

Dissatisfaction with the government in Ukraine has been brewing for some time, in light of a devaluing currency, a hike in utilities prices against a drop in the living standards, and allegations of continued corruption in the highest echelons of the government. According to a representative poll from December 2015, just 8.7 percent of the population trusted the government and only 16.8 percent trusted the president. According to another representative 2015 poll, only 7.8 percent and 12.3 percent, respectively, believed that the prime minister and the president want to eradicate corruption.

There is much at stake. First, the fact that the prime minister lacks strong support within the parliament all but guarantees no significant legislation or policy will be implemented until at least July, the next time a vote of no confidence can be held. Of course, the prime minister could choose to resign on his own volition, but the fragmented nature of Ukrainian politics and general lack of legitimacy among the public would likely make the selection of a new prime minister/cabinet a rough, drawn-out affair. All of this politicking is occurring at a time when Ukraine is desperately seeking a 17.5 billion dollar rescue loan from the IMF to resuscitate its economy. Infighting and poor governance would likely imperil any chance of receiving that loan, something that Ukraine’s struggling economy could desperately use.

More broadly, though, the issue at stake is whether or not Ukraine can develop the modern, legitimate, accountable political institutions that are crucial for an effective transition to democracy. At a time when Poland and Hungry are becoming increasingly illiberal, it would be truly fantastic for at least one Eastern European country to be successfully shifting towards democracy instead of away from it. Ukraine took a brave step when it demanded an accountable, representative government that wasn’t simply a Russian pawn, and since then it has made progress towards creating a more free and effective democracy. However, these types of regime transitions are empirically unstable, so let’s all hope that this recent spat of political tension is simply growing pains for the fledgling democracy and not a sign that Ukraine’s future is filled with the same infighting, corruption, and patronage that defined its past.