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27 April, 2015

Perception of Reforms

Sociologist Iryna Bekeshkina on the public’s expectations of change, perceptions of reforms, and the government’s lack of preparedness for them

Interviewed by Roman Malko

During our study last December, when we asked people whether they are willing to suffer for the success of reforms and for how long, 10% of respondents were willing to tolerate as long as necessary, and 33% said they would survive another year or two. That’s 43% overall. More than 40% were not prepared to tolerate reform. About half of them did not believe in the success of the reforms, and the same number said that they are already having trouble making ends meet (this was primarily poor people). The Razumkov Centre recently published the results of a study conducted in the first half of March. Despite the significantly worsened financial situation compared to December of 2014, 13% (almost unchanged since December) are willing to tolerate as long as necessary, and at least 29% agreed to live in this state for another year or two. However, it should be noted that this data was collected in the period before the population received the latest utility bills, so it is quite difficult to predict how this will affect the statistics, how the population will accept these reforms, and what their reaction to these changes will be.

Since approval ratings for the government are always a means of measuring the accuracy its motions, it is noteworthy that, for instance, the Popular Front’s (led by Premier Arseniy Yatsenyuk – Ed.) approval rating declined to 4-5% from 20% during the last election. Arseniy Yatsenyuk’s approval rating also fell accordingly. The population believes that the government is responsible for the reforms, and it is clear that people are not happy with what is happening. This is especially true of higher prices. For example, I don’t understand why the price of domestic products more than doubled so rapidly (in just one day, in fact) even while these products were lying on the shelves—apples, for example, went from 8 UAH to 16 UAH. The price of certain cereals rose unexpectedly twice, even though their cost was hardly dependent on the dollar. The population has a set of questions that unfortunately cannot be answered. Someone must be profiting greatly from their hardship.

RELATED ARTICLE: Economic reforms in Ukraine

Falling ratings are now typical for almost all parliamentary political forces. Only Samopomich, a party led by Lviv mayor Andriy Sadoviy who is not in parliament himself, maintained its prior rating, and Petro Poroshenko and his party suffered smaller losses. Now we are even seeing a fall in the ratings of the Opposition Bloc (comprised mostly of ex-Party of Regions MPs – Ed.). This means that the population does not see politicians and leaders that they feel they can trust. That’s why they’re willing to wait until an alternative appears. There used to be one—the political field was clearly divided nearly in half between government and opposition, elected from among the two. There were those who supported the government, and those who did not go to the polls. Because the ratio was about 50/50 (regionally), then those who managed to get more voters to the polls were sure to win. Generally, those who had previously supported the government were later disappointed and were not going to vote, so the opposition stood to win. Today, almost half of the population (especially those who once sympathized with the Party of Regions) is not willing to vote.

Populism has been growing for many years in Ukraine, and it is clear that there are now political forces that will put it to use, especially in the Opposition Bloc. They have several assets at their disposal, including TV channels and financial resources. Populism fed us for years, and elections were often a kind of auction in which the candidate who promises more wins. The population voted for the “promisers”, and when the latter found themselves unable to fulfill their promises, the population turned to support the opposition. Opposition parties have won every election (excluding only the 1999 campaign, when Leonid Kuchma won re-election) as well as party lists for the parliamentary and presidential elections. Unfortunately, people who are fed sugar-coated promises for too long feel a real shock when it’s time to finally treat the diseases they’ve acquired. Such treatment is very painful (and far less sweet!).

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In addition, we need to understand both the place and influence that partners or donors to Ukraine play in these processes, including the IMF to which the government is quite closely tied. Perhaps if this relationship did not exist, the government would not be forced to take these drastic and painful steps. But otherwise Ukraine could not get the loans that it needs in order to survive. Attracting investors is also impossible without reforms, because the current state of law enforcement and the judiciary provides no guarantees for property owners. This is not just a matter of war—it is only in the East—yet illegal corporate raids on land and property have not ended in the peaceful central and western regions.

What is currently lacking is an understanding of the situation: we now have tremendous opportunities, but we risk losing them.

What is preventing reform? First, the lack of will. Secondly, each official is surrounded by different interests and political forces with which he or she must agree in Parliament, and they put forward their demands. This is a fairly complex process, it is not transparent. It’s all happening behind closed doors. For example, it is still not clear why no one has been chosen to head the Anti-Corruption Bureau. Almost a year has passed, and the contest to determine finalists is over.

When the government did nothing all year to fight corruption, then suddenly began making arrests at a meeting of the Cabinet of Ministers, it seemed like a PR trick intended to keep the voters happy. If not bread, then circuses. Clearly, the administration wants to show how active it is in fighting corruption, but this is primitive.

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