Life on the Mekong and Other Rivers

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this blog, including strong statements in support of weinerdog-riding monkeys, are our own, and not those of the U.S. Department of State or the U.S. government.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Throw the bums out!

Domestic politics in Ukraine is never dull.

We've got a president and prime minister who can't stand each other. The PM is being battered by the ongoing economic crisis, and the president is increasingly isolated and unpopular. And they were allies in the 2004 Orange revolution, and until September 2008 had a fragile coalition in the parliament that imploded basically the first week I covered domestic politics for the embassy. We've got an economic crisis that is hitting Ukraine hard, an IMF package that Ukraine could lose if it doesn't pass meaningful economic reform legislation, all in the shadow of a presidential election next fall/winter, and potentially pre-term parliamentary elections before that.

So Ukraine has a lot on its plate, politically-speaking.

And so, to thrown more on the pile, in Kyiv we've been treated to two recent "mass protests" organized by the opposition party, the Party of Regions. On March 27, Regions organized a nationwide protest that was to attract more than 100,000 people. Less than 50,00 eventually turned out, and primarily in Regions strongholds in the East. About 3,000 people protested in Kyiv -- far less than the 15,000 Regions had predicted.

Then, Friday, they decided to have another go. 50,000 would come out in Kyiv to protest against the Rada (parliament), the president, the prime minister, the government...pretty-much everybody except for the Regions party...for their lack of action in the face of the continuing economic crisis, which has hit Ukraine especially hard.

They got about 9,000 protesters to come out on Friday. Again, much less than the 50,000 predicted by Regions. Still, when crowd is gathered and the flags are waving even a few thousand people look impressive.

In the morning, they protested in front of the Presidential Secretariat, the Cabinet of Ministers, and the Rada. Inside the Rada, Party of Regions members of parliament were blocking the session hall for a second day. It's a relatively common tactic here to block work in the parliament.

I headed over to talk to a few people at the Rada and had to wade through the sea (like maybe the Sea of Azov or something, not the Carribean or anything...not so big, but still, you know, a sea) of light blue Party of Regions flags to get there.

That's the Rada with the dome on top.

After the parliament passed the 2009 budget on December 27, Regions announced it would give the government 100 days to get Ukraine out of the crisis (or something). The 100 days are up.

Thus ..."100 days of silence -- And now we say NO!"

"The Government is the shame of Ukraine"

"Down with the Orange Forces - WE WANT YANUKOVYCH" The Orange forces a reference to the western-leaning political forces that brought about the Orange revolution and led to President Yushchenko's election, and Yanukovych being the head of Regions and the guy that Yushchenko ultimately beat in a 3rd round of elections in 2004 after Yanukovych "won" what was considered a fixed election.

I spoke to a few protesters, and none could really articulate just why they were out protesting against everyone...and for Party of Regions. It is an open secret here that the vast majority of general protests (as opposed to say, protests by a specific group for a specific reason, e.g. coal miners for higher wages) are organized by paying protesters to participate -- the exception being the orange revolution, where hundreds of thousands of people protested in Kyiv for weeks, and millions protested around the country.

Rumor has the price for the April 3 protest at about $12.50 + lunch and a r/t bus ride from wherever you are from. Not a bad way to spend your day if you are out of work, I guess.


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