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Opinion: Ukraine’s Orange Revolution has grayed

With elections set for Jan. 17, Ukrainians have as little hope as ever in democracy.

The ongoing battles between the president and prime minister have produced political instability, forcing the country to hold two parliamentary elections in only three years, with the threat of a third election narrowly averted. The in-fighting has also resulted in shifting, short-lived alliances and back-room dealings that serve the interests of political leaders rather than the Ukrainian people.

While Ukraine has progressed in some areas, such as holding free elections and media pluralism, these gains have been undermined by low public trust in state institutions. The Ukrainian people’s confidence in their political system is now as low as Yushchenko’s ratings.

Six IFES surveys conducted in Ukraine over the past five years indicate that public disillusionment has grown as corruption has continued unabated and political elites have left important national issues unattended.

Even if Tymoshenko were to win the second round of the presidential election, the majority of the population would still disapprove of her, and she would have little or no mandate to govern — hardly a recipe for sweeping reforms.

Since the Orange Revolution, Ukraine has become a tragic case of missed opportunities. Five years ago, the country had a chance to break free of corruption and oligarchic domination, consolidate its democratic gains, and show that former Soviet states can enjoy liberal government. Today, that dream is more distant.

Ordinarily, free and fair elections afford people new hope. On the eve of these presidential elections, most Ukrainians have no trust that their leaders are willing or able to take steps toward major reforms, and even worse, they equate democracy with chaos. There still exists a significant constituency in Ukraine for these reforms, but they await leadership that can make this change possible.

Taras Kuzio is a political consultant with long-term involvement in Ukrainian politics, senior fellow in the chair of Ukrainian studies, University of Toronto, and editor of the monthly Ukraine Analyst. Rakesh Sharma is director of the F. Clifton White Applied Research Center at the International Foundation for Electoral Systems.