UKRAINE'S recent parliamentary election has apparently reversed the much heralded Orange Revolution of 2004. The pro-Russian party, the Party of Regions, managed to finish on top.
The good news is that the election appears to have been both peaceful and fair. Candidates from 45 parties competed for 450 seats in the country's parliament. That could not have been said of the 2004 presidential election there.
From the point of view of the advance of democracy, the right person, Viktor A. Yushchenko, won those elections, although only after a considerable amount of demonstrating by his supporters and international pressure.
This time around, however, Mr. Yushchenko and his party, Our Ukraine, found itself in difficulty with the voters, in spite of clear U.S. support. President Bush signed a law days before the Ukrainian elections ending trade restrictions and clearing the way for Ukraine to join the World Trade Organization.
To no avail, however, since the coalition that had carried off the Orange Revolution had split. Mr. Yushchenko and his first prime minister, the popular Yulia V. Tymochenko, had fallen out. He fired her in September.
In the election, the pro-Russian party of defeated presidential candidate Viktor F.Yanukovich finished first, Ms. Tymochenko's party finished second, and the president's party finished third.
Probably the only way Mr. Yushchenko can save the day now is by reconciling with Ms. Tymochenko, which is unlikely given their history.
It all looked so clear when the Orange Revolution succeeded in November, 2004. A democratic Ukraine appeared to be on a straight road to membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the European Union, with prosperity just over the horizon. But Mr. Yushchenko appears not to have met Ukrainian voters' high expectations for reform and an energized economy.
So they struck back at the polls, voting on the basis of ideas of a Ukraine divided regionally, linguistically, and culturally. If the spirit of cooperation of the Orange Revolution can be restored, and a reformed Orange coalition revived, the election result may come to be seen as just a predictable bump in the road toward a new Ukraine, full of hope.
On the other hand, next door Belarus, where the opposition has been pretty much snuffed out for the moment by the heavy hand of the pro-Russian government of President Alexander Lukashenko, who apparently rigged the elections and then held on, provides a clear example of how potentially democratic, liberalizing gains can be wiped out at the polls, and in the streets.
Ukraine thus adds itself to the list of free, democratic elections that appear to have come out wrong in terms of the results they produced.
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