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Ukraine

Kiev, Ukraine- The apparent victory of Russia's preferred candidate in the Ukrainian presidential race maybe a relief to Vladimir V. Putin who has long sought to discredit his neighbour's raucous democracy and its drift to the West.

But it comes with a catch: the election won by the candidate, Victor F. Yanukovich, was highly compettitve, unpredictable and relatively fair- just the kind of major contest thathas not been held in Russia since Mr.Putin, the prime minister,consolidatedpower.

On Monday, for example, European election monitors praised the election that was held Sunday, calling it an "impressive display of democracy". Ukraine's election, in other words, did not follow the Kremilin' blueprint and, if anything, seemed to highlight the flaws in the system in Russia. As such, it presented a kind of alternative model for the former Soviet Union.

The official tally released on Monday showed that the opposition lader, Mr Yanukowich, defeated Prime Minister Yulia V. Tymoshenko by three percentage points, giving him a comeback from his loss in the 2004 Orange Revolution.

Ms. Tymoshenko helped spearhead the Orange Revolution, which first brought Western- style democrcy to Ukraine. While her defeat might indicate a rejection of the revolution, the fact that the country carried out a contentious presidential election that was widely considered fair suggested that the Orange legacy had endured.

Olexiy Haran, professor of comparative politics at Kiev Mohyla University, said that many Ukrainians were disappointed with the Orange Revolution, given the political tumult of recent years, but they nonetheless appreciate what it has sown ;-)

"Ukrainians did not gain much of what they werepromised in the social or economic spheres in 2004, but at the same time they are enjoying democracy," Mr. Haran said. "They can criticize, they can watch television political talk shows with enthusiasm. They have real choices."

They would like order and stability, and they want strong leaders," he said. "But that does not mean theyare going to sacrifice their democratic freedoms. Thta is the difference with Russia."

Other analysts agreed, saying that while the public ousted the Orange government, it did not want to do away with all aspects of the Orange democracy. They said a blacklash would occur if Mr. Yanukovich tried to crack down.

The Ukrainian model mayhave particular resonance now with recent rumblings of discontent in Russia.

Late last month, antigovernment demonstrations in Kaliningrad, a region in western Russia physically separate from the rest of the country, drew thousand of people and seemd to catch the Kremlin off guard. Some protesters chanted for Mr. Putin's resignation, complaining about higher taxes and an economy weakened by the financial crisis.

And last week, a prominent politician from what had been perceived as a puppet opposition part unexpectedly turned on the Kremlin and lashed- out at Mr. Putin's domestic policies. "Is opposition and criticism dishonest?" siad the politician, Sergey Mironov."In a civilize society, this is the duty and goal of the opposition."

It is highly unlikely that Russia will soon have Ukrainian- style openness. The question now is, what will be the long-term impact across th former Soviet-Uion if Ukraine can follow its successful election with a relatively peaceful transition to a Yanukovich administration?

The Kremlin was alarmed by the Orange Revolution, fearing that it would spread to other former Soviet republics, and has sought to tarnish it. Though it became apparent in recent months that Mr. Yanukovich might win, Mr. Putin did not refrain from attacking the Ukrainian system, saying that it bred political bedlam.

"We must not in any way allow the Ukrainization of political life in Russia," he warned last month.

Kiev was calm on Monday, and there was no indication that the kind of mass street protests that broke out with the Orange Revolution would occur this weeks.

Ms. Tymoshenko refused to concede the race, despite appeals for her to do so by Mr. Yanukovich and European election monitors. She was uncharacteristically quiet and did not make any public remarks, cancelling two news conferences. Given Mr. Yanukovich's edge, it may be difficult for her to dispute the results.

The election certainly had problems, with each side accusing the other of fraud and other violations :(

Ukraine's television channels, mostly owned by oligarchs, sometimes seemed in the pocket of one candidate or another. Even before the campaign, many Ukrainians said the Orange government was so consumed by internal conflicts that it faled to manage the country.

In the short term, the Kremlin may have benefited from the election. Relations were tense under the incumbent president, VictorA. Yushchenko, an Orange leader wo wanted to pull Ukraine away from Moscow's orbit by joining NATO.

Mr. Yanukovich does not support NATO membership and has indicated that he will abandon some other initiatives opposed by Russia.

During the Orange Revolution, Mr. Yanukovich was assailed by his opponents as a Kremlin pawn. But in an example of the Orange influence, he has sought to refine his image and has chamioned Ukraine's ties with Europe.

Still, Kirill A. Frolov, a Ukrainian expert at the Institute of the Commonwealth of Independent States, a Kremlin-connected research group in Moscow, said he doubted that Mr. Yanukovich would be able to calm Ukraine’s political discord.

He said people want stability, such as that created by Mr. Putin, which he added is why other countries do not want their own so-called color revolutions.

“Russia should be much more of a model for Ukraine than vice versa,” Mr. Frolov said.

Yet the positive verdict presented by the European monitors on Ukraine’s election might cause others in the region to draw different conclusions.

The monitors typically find most elections in the former Soviet Union to be essentially rigged. They often do not even observe ones in Russia, because their work has been so hampered by the authorities.

“Some say the Orange Revolution has failed — I say no,” said Matyas Eorsi, head of the observer delegation in Ukraine from the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly. “Thanks to the Orange Revolution, democratic elections in Ukraine are now a reality.”

AMERICA

We’ve always known that America’s reign as the world’s greatest nation would eventually end. But most of us imagined that our downfall, when it came, would be something grand and tragic.

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What we’re getting instead is less a tragedy than a deadly farce. Instead of fraying under the strain of imperial overstretch, we’re paralyzed by procedure. Instead of re-enacting the decline and fall of Rome, we’re re-enacting the dissolution of 18th-century Poland.

A brief history lesson: In the 17th and 18th centuries, the Polish legislature, the Sejm, operated on the unanimity principle: any member could nullify legislation by shouting “I do not allow!” This made the nation largely ungovernable, and neighboring regimes began hacking off pieces of its territory. By 1795 Poland had disappeared, not to re-emerge for more than a century.

Today, the U.S. Senate seems determined to make the Sejm look good by comparison.

Last week, after nine months, the Senate finally approved Martha Johnson to head the General Services Administration, which runs government buildings and purchases supplies. It’s an essentially nonpolitical position, and nobody questioned Ms. Johnson’s qualifications: she was approved by a vote of 94 to 2. But Senator Christopher Bond, Republican of Missouri, had put a “hold” on her appointment to pressure the government into approving a building project in Kansas City.

This dubious achievement may have inspired Senator Richard Shelby, Republican of Alabama. In any case, Mr. Shelby has now placed a hold on all outstanding Obama administration nominations — about 70 high-level government positions — until his state gets a tanker contract and a counterterrorism center.

What gives individual senators this kind of power? Much of the Senate’s business relies on unanimous consent: it’s difficult to get anything done unless everyone agrees on procedure. And a tradition has grown up under which senators, in return for not gumming up everything, get the right to block nominees they don’t like.

In the past, holds were used sparingly. That’s because, as a Congressional Research Service report on the practice says, the Senate used to be ruled by “traditions of comity, courtesy, reciprocity, and accommodation.” But that was then. Rules that used to be workable have become crippling now that one of the nation’s major political parties has descended into nihilism, seeing no harm — in fact, political dividends — in making the nation ungovernable.

How bad is it? It’s so bad that I miss Newt Gingrich.

Readers may recall that in 1995 Mr. Gingrich, then speaker of the House, cut off the federal government’s funding and forced a temporary government shutdown. It was ugly and extreme, but at least Mr. Gingrich had specific demands: he wanted Bill Clinton to agree to sharp cuts in Medicare.

Today, by contrast, the Republican leaders refuse to offer any specific proposals. They inveigh against the deficit — and last month their senators voted in lockstep against any increase in the federal debt limit, a move that would have precipitated another government shutdown if Democrats hadn’t had 60 votes. But they also denounce anything that might actually reduce the deficit, including, ironically, any effort to spend Medicare funds more wisely.

And with the national G.O.P. having abdicated any responsibility for making things work, it’s only natural that individual senators should feel free to take the nation hostage until they get their pet projects funded.

The truth is that given the state of American politics, the way the Senate works is no longer consistent with a functioning government. Senators themselves should recognize this fact and push through changes in those rules, including eliminating or at least limiting the filibuster. This is something they could and should do, by majority vote, on the first day of the next Senate session.

Don’t hold your breath. As it is, Democrats don’t even seem able to score political points by highlighting their opponents’ obstructionism.

It should be a simple message (and it should have been the central message in Massachusetts): a vote for a Republican, no matter what you think of him as a person, is a vote for paralysis. But by now, we know how the Obama administration deals with those who would destroy it: it goes straight for the capillaries. Sure enough, Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary, accused Mr. Shelby of “silliness.” Yep, that will really resonate with voters.

After the dissolution of Poland, a Polish officer serving under Napoleon penned a song that eventually — after the country’s post-World War I resurrection — became the country’s national anthem. It begins, “Poland is not yet lost.”

Well, America is not yet lost. But the Senate is working on it.

wtorek, 09 lutego 2010, sublime86

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