WORLD AFFAIRS.  How should we evaluate Ukraine’s just-completed process of forming a new coalition and cabinet?

For starters, coalitions and cabinets are routinely changed in democracies. Devious presidents, devious prime ministers, and devious parliamentarians are also business as usual. So, too, are horse trading, smoke-filled rooms, shady deals, opportunistic bargains, and outrageous demands. Although these things usually dismay and demoralize non-politicians like most of us, their presence actually signifies that a democratic process is taking place.

That said Ukraine isn’t a run-of-the-mill democracy. It’s a transitional democracy mired in economic crisis and war. While other elites can squabble to their hearts’ content, those in Ukraine have a political and moral obligation to set aside personal ambitions and animosities and, in the national interest, find effective solutions quickly. When time is of the essence, one can’t waste two months, as the Ukrainians just did, trying to come up with a new coalition and cabinet. That’s criminal.

Blame President Petro Poroshenko for trying to exercise excessive control over the government. True, the conflict between president and prime minister is built into Ukraine’s parliamentary-presidential system, but a wise leader would not have provoked a crisis he could not immediately resolve. Blame former Prime Minister Arsenii Yatseniuk for pathetically clinging to office even when he and everyone else knew he was doomed. And blame opposition leaders Yulia Tymoshenko and the preposterous demagogue, Oleh Lyashko, for stoking the flames and Andrii Sadovy for refusing to help put them out.

In sum, all of Ukraine’s political elites failed to act responsibly.

Unsurprisingly, a recent poll shows that Ukraine’s president, cabinet, and parliament have abysmally low ratings. Only 17 percent of Ukrainians support or “tend” to support Poroshenko, while 75 percent do not. The cabinet gets the following ratings: 7 percent for and 89 percent against. The Rada’s numbers are: 5 percent for and 88 percent against.

The new cabinet with Prime Minister Volodymyr Hroysman can’t do worse.

Predictably, Ukraine’s chattering classes are already gleefully dooming the cabinet. But their expectations may be premature. The 38-year old Hroysman was an excellent mayor of Vinnytsia. He did well as speaker of the parliament for the last two years. The development and adoption of Ukraine’s ambitious decentralization plan was, in large part, to his credit. And, in conducting negotiations for the composition of the cabinet, he demonstrated that he had backbone and was not, as many charge, Poroshenko’s lap dog. Not bad for a young guy who could be my student. He may fail, of course, but then again he may not. In any case, the jury isn’t out. Indeed, it hasn’t been assembled.

The other key appointment in the cabinet is the finance minister, Oleksandr Danyliuk. The English-speaking Danyliuk has impressive credentials: he worked as senior consultant at McKinsey & Company in London, has an MBA from the University of Indiana, and helped initiate the National Anti-Corruption Bureau. True, he also served in some advisory capacity in the Yanukovych government, but that neither disqualifies him nor suggests he’s incompetent.

Not surprisingly, Hroysman’s and Danyliuk’s critics are pretty much the same people who insist that “nothing has changed” in Ukraine. That’s nonsense, of course, as I’ve repeatedly pointed out. But, if true, then Ukraine’s nattering nabobs of negativism have no logical grounds for criticizing the new cabinet and making unflattering comparisons between Danyliuk and his predecessor, Natalia Jaresko. If “nothing has changed,” then Jaresko is to blame as much as anyone else. If Jaresko’s departure is unfortunate—and it is—then something may indeed have changed.

Either way, the above-mentioned poll shows that only 14 percent of Ukrainians approve of Jaresko and 64 percent do not. In contrast, the loudmouthed Radical Party leader Lyashko received 23 percent for and 69 percent against. Decide for yourself what these numbers say about polls as measures of reform.

So, how will the Hroysman cabinet do?

We’ll know it’s doing well if the nabobs insist months from now that “nothing has changed.”

Alexander J. Motyl's blog

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