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Competitive Authoritarianism in Ukraine

Andrew Wilson of the European Council on Foreign Relations has an interesting piece on RCW about Ukraine’s potential to develop prosperous trade links with Europe … if only they would put an end to the absurd show trial of Yulia Tymoshenko.

Ukraine under Yanukovych is in danger of becoming what academics call a ‘competitive authoritarian’ state, that is one where there is apparent competition for power but the rules of contestation are fixed. So far, the new authorities have concentrated on fixing the rules, but there is no meaningful competition at all if your main opponent is taken out the game. With no disrespect to minor opponents and no assumption that Tymoshenko has a divine right to remain leader of the opposition, at the moment she still is.

European leaders like Carl Bildt have therefore rightly made the Tymoshenko trial a red line. The 2012 Rada elections will be rendered meaningless if Tymoshenko is in jail or if an ‘administrative’ sentence prohibits her from participating. The problems with the trial itself are well-known. The impression of politically selectivity was guaranteed by the scattergun approach of the prosecution to select any charge that might stick. The attempt to avoid the trial turning into political theatre by cramming it into a tiny courtroom with a youthful judge has obviously backfired. Regardless of any accusation of contempt, imprisonment, to my recollection, normally takes place after a guilty verdict at the end of a trial, not half-way through. A steady stream of prejudicial comments from the powers-that-be has broken principles of sub judice. The idea that the trial is only one of a broad spectrum of prosecutions, including Leonid Kuchma and the odd Party of Regions bureaucrat, is just PR.