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Opinion: Democracy Triumphs in Ukraine

Ute Schaeffer (ncy)December 27, 2004

With over 95 percent of votes counted, pro-Western opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko won the Ukrainian presidential election. DW's Ute Schaeffer assessed the task he faces.

Ukrainians have high expectations of President-Elect YushchenkoImage: AP

Ukraine's next president is Viktor Yushchenko. The political change the West hoped for and the Ukrainians demanded has happened. And it has been legitimized by a free and fair election. But the real work has yet to be done. Creating a democracy and the rule of law will require more time and be significantly more cumbersome than re-staging the ballot.

The campaign wasn't about personalities or even election platforms over the past few weeks. It was a contest between an overly powerful state that pulled all the stops to put "its" candidate in office against a democratically oriented public, courageous students, protesting journalists, critical businesspeople.

They triumphed. Democracy triumphed. Now, democracy must be established at all levels of government and business. It's a formidable task.

The voters gave Viktor Yushchenko a clear mandate: more democracy and genuine life prospects. Yushchenko is supposed to quickly improve the standard of living -- in the countryside, too -- and ensure that pensions and stipends are both regularly paid and increased.

Daunting work ahead

Ukraine Opposition Wahlen Stichwahl TV-Duell Präsidentschaftswahlen Viktor Juschtschenko
Viktor YushchenkoImage: AP

The meshwork of political and business interests will be more complicated to deal with. Yushchenko will have to maneuver cleverly, since the competing groups that have very profitably split up politics, business and the mass media between themselves pursue quite different aims. None of them will be willing to cede power.

Yushchenko will have to fight the corruption and cronyism that pervade Ukrainian politics, business and society -- a task that cost him his job as prime minister in 2001. The issue is implementing efficient economic policies whose profits don't only benefit a select few, but rather as tax money paying into social costs and developing the infrastructure. It's a matter of drastically modernizing industry and business so Ukraine can sell its products better. And, not least, it's about a multifaceted foreign policy upon which Ukraine, with its many borders, is existentially dependent.

Yushchenko can gauge what will be expected of him. He has asserted his position in Ukraine's political system with its numerous groups and knows how to cater to the differing political interests. Thus, many people say he lacks the political leadership qualities. On the other hand, the only way to survive in Ukraine's fractured political spectrum is to find a balance and bring all parties together.

More than words required of Europe

So far Europe has offered Ukraine little more than warm words. Now is the time for the western neighbors to finally turn towards Ukraine. The political change that was ushered in by the election doesn't merely need time, it also needs active support from outside.

A politically stable, peaceful and democratic Ukraine means more security for Europe. That's why Brussels and Berlin shouldn't disregard the opportunities that arise from the election result.