Ukraine’s democratic progress – event in Kyiv

25 years after Ukraine’s first presidential elections, we gathered experts at a public event in Kyiv to reflect on the country’s democratic progress and discuss ways forward amid challenging international and domestic problems.

Here’s our summary of the key points:

  • Alyona Shkrum, MP: reforms are losing their momentum and confidence is waning. Without a decisive breakthrough in 2017, European and other partners will be reluctant to invest in a “lost case,” so time and solidarity are of the essence. It is encouraging that civil society is getting stronger and maturing rapidly, outgrowing political and business elites. The new law on public administration and pending legislation on reforming the civil service are good examples of attempts to move forward. Significant obstacles still need to be removed, such as redundant/overlapping functions restricting parliament’s effectiveness.
  • Mustafa Nayyem, MP: determined political struggle by reformists is needed to sustain the transition to democracy, as well as engagement from qualified experts and officials.
  • Andriy Kulykov, Director of Hromadske Radio: citizens must take greater responsibility at the grassroots level to ensure that the transformation succeeds. Frustration with the pace of change and a lack of clarity are breeding pessimism and empowering populists, while changes on the international scene are worrying and confusing.
  • Vira Nanivska, expert: there is a need for the proper development of state institutions, strategic thinking, policy development and technical planning. Without these the reform process will remain incoherent and lack traction and efficacy.
  • Michael Meyer-Resende, DRI Executive Director: parts of the European public is tepid on Ukraine. Pro-democracy struggles seemed a thing of the past, especially for young people. This is changing now and Ukrainian civil society has something to tell to Europeans on things like countering propaganda and dealing with fake news. On the reform front a lot is happening, but it remains a big struggle. Election reform appears to be the missing link to strengthen democracy. With elections due in 2019, now would be the moment to review the overall electoral framework and to strengthen it in line with recommendations of Ukrainian observer groups and the OSCE/ODIHR.
  • James Brooke, Editor Ukrainian Business Journal: Ukraine will need to rely more on itself in an unsure external political context with Russia’s President Putin seeking support in Washington and Europe. The picture for Ukraine is by no means bleak, the country has huge investment opportunities because of its Free Trade Agreement and position next door to the EU, as well as relatively low wages, abundant resources and a skilled labour force (the IT sector a prime example). The conflict on a very small part of Ukraine’s very large territory, far away from the capital and the border with the EU, should not be allowed to deter foreign investors.

Overall, the conference agreed the reform process had advanced, but it had lost momentum due to considerable opposition from vested interests.

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