Orange Revolution hero Viktor Yushchenko has been rejected decisively by Ukraine’s voters in the January 17th vote. However, this repudiation should not prevent us from seeing some his enduring successes, even as we acknowledge his failings.

To his credit, Yushchenko was determined not to govern the country in the fashion of his authoritarian predecessor–Leonid Kuchma. As a result, in practice, he respected the independence of Ukraine’s political division of power, did not encourage the massive redistribution of wealth to his inner circle.  He did not arbitrarily interfere in the decisions taken by the judicial system, did not systemically use the security services as his personal or political plaything, and exerted less influence on the media than some of their oligarch owners.

Even when he had unchallenged power in the first months of his presidency, he chose restraint.

For him the maidan was  not a revolution, but an affirmation of the orderly functioning of Ukraine’s proto-democratic institutions. This “liberal,” “limited government” approach meant that democracy and pluralism deepened in the country    At the same time, not only was he a believer in limited power, he was a poor custodian of the considerable limited powers of the presidency. This lack of effectiveness and the gap between soaring rhetoric and performance led him to lose the support of the public. Moreover, For an elite and  society accustomed to strong and authoritarian presidential rule, he was viewed as weak and irresolute. This made it increasingly difficult to achieve any of his vaultingly ambitious aims. 

What kind of legacy will Yush leave behind? His main legacy is that his style of limited rule will continue, space for media freedoms will persist, institutional pluralism will endure, and political diversity in  will survive . All these  factors have deepened Ukraine’s democracy. At the same time, excessive pluralism in the absence of political consensus in society has led to stasis, deadlock, and the absence of true reform. Yushchenko changed the way power is exercised in Ukraine and in doing so made it harder – if not impossible – for him to achieve his high-minded aims of nation-building.

In the remaining weeks of his presidency President Yushchenko must work to guarantee a free and fair Feb. 7th election. Ukraine cannot have confusion after the second round. And even if the  second round vote and result  is close, as long as the vote is free and fair,  it must be the President’s responsibility to ensure that the people’s will is enforced and that all sides agree to the orderly transfer of power to the winner.

Adrian Karatnycky, an Atlantic Council nonresident senior fellow, is Managing Partner at the Myrmidon Group LLC and co-director and co-founder of the Ukrainian-Jewish encounter.

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