Guest Lecture at Columbia University
Stephen B. Nix
Director of Eurasia Programs
International Republican Institute
The so-called Orange Revolution, which brought President Viktor Yushchenko to power, was often said to be a result of western intervention. It was even called a post-modern coup d’etat, orchestrated by the United States. According to this scenario, U.S.-funded nongovernmental organizations (NGO), such as the International Republican Institute (IRI), National Democratic Institute (NDI), Freedom House, and others are secret agents or operatives who interfere in local politics of the countries where they have presence.
However, IRI and NDI activities leading up to the historic 2004 presidential election were not coordinated in Washington, DC, nor were they aimed at the election of any one candidate. In fact, the US government and organizations which it funds did not directly contribute to any candidate’s campaign and worked solely for the goal of a free and fair election. IRI, in particular, provided its pre-election training to all parties, including the Party of Regions of Ukraine, represented by the former Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych.
Those who allege that the Orange Revolution was a western plot, do not realize that IRI or any other NGO simply do not have the capacity to bring out hundreds of thousands of people on the streets. The overnight vigils on Majdan held by citizens from all regions of Ukraine could not have been organized or sustained on an initiative by a foreign power.
Moreover, regardless of the technical assistance provided by IRI, if the domestic conditions in Ukraine were not ripe, there would be no democratic breakthrough. In fact, IRI works in most developing democracies around the world, but transitions like the one in Ukraine are extremely rare.
We contribute only by educating politically active citizens though our training programs, by informing the public about methodologies that they have at their disposal. Ukrainians chose to use those tools in standing up for their rights peacefully when they thought they were violated. IRI has been working to teach citizens how to exercise their rights under the law in Ukraine for twelve years and this election showcased the effectiveness of such programs. In addition, before the 2004 presidential ballot, IRI implemented numerous nonpartisan pre-election activities, such as:
- strengthening the political party grassroots by providing training, tailored to the individual needs of political parties, on such topics as membership recruitment, coalition building, campaign techniques and general leadership training;
- working with party leaders to maximize their effectiveness in turning out their voters;
- conducting numerous nationwide surveys in order to ascertain the issues that are most important to voters in Ukraine and to identify trends in voter participation;
- conducting public political education campaigns and teaching the importance of informed participation;
- targeting young urban voters to increase the participation of historically politically inactive, but generally better educated and progressive demographic;
- training election lawyers to protect their parties’ and candidates’ rights under Ukrainian electoral law and prevent abuses of the law; and
providing poll watcher training to party activists designated to be poll watchers.
After the November run-off, IRI issued a critical statement, declaring that “Ukraine has fallen well short of international electoral standards, and the Ukrainian government has taken a significant step backwards in its quest to promote democracy,” calling additional international attention to the massive fraud and contributing to the pressure on Ukrainian government and courts to invalidate the results of the falsified second round that later resulted in the repeat vote and the election of Viktor Yushchenko as the third president since Ukraine’s independence.
The newly-elected president of Ukraine and his administration and cabinet of ministers now face a vast array of critical governance decisions. Therefore, in addition to continuing our work in political party strengthening and working with local NGOs and women’s organizations, IRI plans to assist the new government in implementing its reform agenda, particularly through conducting nationwide polling and focus groups to gauge the public perception of the most critical issues to be addressed by the new leadership. A key component of IRI’s polling project will be to work with the new government leaders to assist them in managing expectations and allow them to be responsive to the citizens’ wishes. In addition, this research will provide valuable insight on prospective policy, and will assist the new government in developing its legislative agenda and explaining their reforms to the general public in a way that is easily understood.
In addition, IRI will provide training to local government officials to increase their participation in the development phase of territorial and administrative reforms. Territorial and administrative reforms in Ukraine will play a significant role in local government in the next year. To assist the Ukrainian government in making these necessary reforms and to assist the government agencies tasked with developing strategies and researching effective ways to implement the administrative reforms, IRI will implement a program of public hearings and workshops for local and national governmental agencies. This information will be shared with the central government, political parties, and regional leaders such as governors, deputy governors, and rayon administration heads. The public hearings will solicit community opinion and support on issues of territorial and administrative reform. The survey research conducted by IRI will also be used to inform the local and national government officials as to the expectations and understandings of the general population on what these reforms will mean to their everyday lives and to suggest effective ways of communicating with and educating the public regarding said reforms.
IRI will also continue its political party building work in the run-up to the March 2006 parliamentary elections. A key component in this election is the fact that the Rada will be elected by a completely party list system for the first time. Currently, the threshold is three percent. The election will also determine whether President Yushchenko will have the necessary support for his legislative agenda. It could also be determinative of whether the constitutional reforms, negotiated during the presidential election, will be maintained.Top