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Democracy is a strange fruit right now. In America, President Donald Trump has just presided over the longest government shutdown in history.
In Britain, reports have warned of street uprisings if the Government bows to pressure to allow its electorate another direct vote on Brexit.
And in Ukraine, a record-breaking 42 candidates ranging from a former prime minister to a celebrity TV star are vying to become president when the country goes to the polls on March 31.
Which of these events is the most and least democratic? That depends on your definition and on your interpretation of democracy.
Take Ukraine. An initial 92 people applied to stand in the election, though the Central Election Commission refused to register 47 of them, mostly due to their failure to pay deposits equivalent to about $90,000 each. Three others later withdrew.
Despite the extensive range of candidates, 12% of the nation’s eligible voters will not be able to take part, due to Russia’s March 2014 annexation of Crimea and the occupation of parts of Donetsk Oblast and Luhansk Oblast by separatists. The Central Election Commission has closed all five foreign polling stations in Russia ahead of the vote.
Candidates include the current President Petro Poroshenko, Yulia Tymoshenko, twice Ukraine’s prime minister, and Volodymyr Zelenskiy, a well-known actor who stars in a popular TV show in which he plays a school teacher who goes on to become president. Aptly, the latest season of the show is airing this month.
Up against this opposition and 40 others is Vitaliy Skotsyk, a relative newcomer to politics who has also seen his share of controversy.
A businessman who worked for Nature’s Way Foods, American Machine Company and Landkom International and is now professor at the National University of Life and Environmental Sciences of Ukraine, he filed documents in January to stand in the election as a candidate for the Agrarian Party, which he led and revived over the preceding four years.
However, the next day, the Agrarian Party stated that he had been expelled from the party the previous September for “actions that harm the authority and discredit the governing body of the party and the party as a whole”.
I interviewed Skotsyk earlier this month and he remained resolute in his presidential ambitions.
“I am not connected with Ukraine’s prevailing power structure or bankrolled by oligarchs,” he says
“I stand as one of 44 election candidates, ranging from former political leaders to a television celebrity but the principal arguments are much unchanged.
“How far west should Ukraine look? What is its future as a strong, independent nation? Where do its security, vision and hope lie? We need to build a new democracy by setting clear, achievable priorities for national transformation.”
A firm believer in the power of personally racking up the road miles and meeting the nation’s electorate in person Skotsyk is on his ninth tour of Ukraine in four years
Last April, as Agrarian Party chairman, he helped his organization achieve a 15.7% vote in local elections, tripling its support over three years with no state finance. Party membership grew from 1,000 to 71,000 members.
Now he views the presidential election as Ukraine’s most important in decades. “Our nation is at a crossroads,” he says. “The five-year-old conflict with Russia is causing intolerable suffering and must end.
“Pathways towards the European Union and NATO beckon. But we must also conquer paralysing corruption and fix our goal on a sustainable political and economic system and new national identity.”
Skotsyk is campaigning on a platform of combating corruption with a “zero declaration” policy that offers protection against retrospective action in return for a commitment to managing one’s affairs legally, fairly and transparently from now on.
He also wants to change Ukraine’s political establishment, reform its judicial system and create transparent rules for business and favourable investment.
In addition, he wants a new constitution and governance structure that would see Ukraine’s 450-member assembly halved and separated into a lower chamber of 125 representatives and a 75-member senate.
Internationally, Skotsyk wants fresh discussions with Russia over the ending of the five-year war which he says is threatening Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty and European peace and stability.
“Direct discussions are needed to restore Ukraine’s borders,” he says, “while there must also be genuine engagement with Ukrainians in the occupied territories. We have not deserted them.”
He also wants a “mutually-beneficial, pragmatic partnership” with the European Union and believes that NATO also has a clear role to play in underpinning Ukraine’s security and stability.
Most radically, however, Skotsyk believes that Ukrainian resources can guarantee long-term food security in not only domestically but across Europe over the next decade.
“Our agricultural heritage, land and expertise enable us to feed more than 500m people, becoming the world’s bread-basket,” he says.
“With state support, developed agri-business can become our economic cornerstone. Ukraine also needs to transition from raw material production to processing, revive machine building and aircraft engineering and develop its technology sector. Ukraine can be in the top 20 nations for highest human development if it is free from oligarchies, monopolies, corruption and nepotism and independent in energy.”
With an election like Ukraine’s, much can happen within a month but Skotsyk, whose slogan is: “No-one will come to build a state for us,” is right about one thing.
”On March 31, he says, “Ukraine gets a chance to build a state for itself.” Political observers on both sides of the Atlantic will be watching with interest.
March 6, 2019 at 01:59PM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs