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Looking Back at Ukraine’s 2019: A New Government At the Center of Attention
23 December, 2019
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From left to right: Head of the Presidential Office of Ukraine Andriy Bohdan, President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy, and Prime Minister Oleksiy Honcharuk at a press briefing on July 6, 2019. UNIAN

2019 was a year of massive changes for Ukraine, and, after perhaps decades of obscurity, Ukraine has finally graced the headlines of top Western press outlets – though not in a way that many had probably hoped for.

The biggest news of the year was the selection of an entirely new government, where political outsider and former comedian Volodymyr Zelenskyy won the 2019 Ukrainian presidential election with a stunning 73% of the vote, giving him – and the party he founded, Servant of the People, which would go on to win enough seats in parliament to form a single-party majority – a wide mandate to enact long sought-after reforms, especially following the fall from grace of former president Petro Poroshenko.

READ MORE: US President Donald Trump Impeached Following Historic Vote In Congress

Zelenskyy had his work cut out for him, however: not long after taking office, he held a phone call with U.S. president Donald Trump, a phone call that now is at the center of the effort to remove Trump from the presidency due to claims “undue pressure on a U.S. ally” and abuse of office for personal gain.

To untangle and get a holistic sense of just what’s been done in Ukraine in 2019, Hromadske spoke to a host of experts, from political observers to former government officials. 

Reforms and the Turbo-Regime

A single party majority in a parliamentary system is a rare enough event, especially one for a newly formed party of a newly elected president. But the Servant of the People have capitalized on this opportunity, passing quite a few reforms that were neglected by the previous administration. 

READ MORE: Second Wave: What Does Zelenskyy’s Servant of the People Party Promise to Ukraine?

Servant of the People MP Yevheniya Kravchuk rattled off a list of new laws and reforms that the new parliament had passed in its four months of work. 

“This Verkhovna Rada passed more than 120 laws, and many to come. We’ve already made some political changes – we abolished MP immunity, and we passed the impeachment law. We passed many laws on the economy – many, not all that are needed, but it’s still a start. We’ve made a start in investing in state-owned companies, and a start for selling these companies to investors...even demonopolization of the ethyl alcohol market is a big change for Ukraine, because it has a black hole for many many years,” she said.

Servant of the People MP Yevheniya Kravchuk (center left) speaks on Hromadske International's Sunday Show on December 22. Photo: hromadske

Yet this quick pace of reform has not been without its critics, with a common nickname being the "turbo-regime", or as one commentator noted, “a Lee Kwan Yue-style express democracy”, referring to the former authoritarian Singaporean prime minister. And MPs from both the ruling party and the opposition have complained of not having enough time to read a bill before voting on it.

“Unfortunately I don’t see a vision or strategy in terms of economic policy or economic development. I do not see vision or strategy in terms of international relations...So there are a lot of things done, a lot of positive things, but I think a lot of people in Ukraine, especially businesspeople, they would very much love to see where we’re heading and what’s our destination,” commented
ex-deputy economy minister of Ukraine - trade commissioner, Nataliya Mykolska.

She added that she “applauds all the good things that have been done in parliament,” but she also hopes that the Servant of the People would be able to construct a coherent strategy going forward.

Paul Niland, a long-time Ukraine observer and founder of Lifeline Ukraine, a suicide hotline for veterans, agrees on the lack of strategy, but he has his own criticisms of the "turbo-regime" as well. “The idea of having a turbo-charged reform policy, or a turbo-charged policy of initiating and passing new laws is great on the surface. But it’s the quality of those laws, and ensuring they’re not contradictory with other laws.”

Long-time Ukraine observer and founder of Lifeline Ukraine Paul Niland (R) speaks on Hromadske International's Sunday Show on December 22. Photo: hromadske

But the new parliament has no plans to slow its reform pace – a number of new reforms are planned for 2020, including finalizing land reform, labor market reforms, continuing decentralization, and further privatization of state assets.

The New Decade

Ukraine faces an uncertain start in the new decade. Ukraine’s goals, in general, have not changed since the Euromaidan revolution of 2014 – an end to corruption, an end to Russian aggression and war, strengthening the Ukrainian economy, and moving in a pro-European direction. But the methods of achieving those goals may be radically different than the previous Poroshenko and Yanukovych governments, as the Servant of the People can most likely count on maintaining its majority at least until the next parliamentary elections in 2024.

Aside from politics, economic development seems poised to take center stage in 2020 and beyond as it hasn’t in previous years, due to the government’s planned privatization and labour market reform push. According to ProZorro Sales director Oleksiy Sobolev, determining the future of the Ukrainian economy could be the next big battleground for Ukrainian stakeholders: 

“Privatization will be a big fight, alongside land reform, because these are the vehicles to bring investments in. And it’s also ideological issue – should the government have all these 3,700 enterprises that it has, or should it just sell them all?...We will see lots of markets become transparent, and showing citizens here how things are actually run. So there will be more truth and sometimes, it will be politically hard to accept it.” 

/Interview by Nataliya Gumenyuk

/Text by Romeo Kokriatski

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