For Ukraine, it’s no-joke cleanup time

A president’s anti-corruption party sweeps into power by riding on an upsurge in demand for clean governance. First task: Make it easy to remove corrupt officials.

Reuters
Youth are seen in the yard in central Kiev, Ukraine, July 24.

In the history of democracy, this may be a first: Ukraine’s new president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, who won by a landslide in April, just saw his party win big in an election for parliament on Sunday. And what is one of his top priorities? He will ask the new lawmakers to make it easy to impeach him.

The former TV comedian wants to be given the hook if he turns out to be a crook.

The proposal is only one of Mr. Zelenskiy’s planned anti-corruption reforms. He also seeks to abolish the official immunity from prosecution that members of parliament enjoy – a protection that past lawmakers have used to hide their corrupt dealings. And he plans to ensure corruption-fighting agencies are independent of political control. He has a long list of institutional solutions.

As one of Europe’s most corrupt countries – and its largest – Ukraine has begun a sweep out of old practices that have driven corruption. The election results on Sunday reflected the dramatic upsurge in popular demand for clean and transparent governance: More than two-thirds of the new MPs have never been in parliament before. And the fresh faces are not all. The new president and his anti-corruption party, Servant of the People, will command the country’s first ruling majority, giving it both a chance and a mandate for concrete reform.

Two previous attempts at fixing Ukraine’s democracy, the 2004 Orange Revolution and the Maidan Revolution of 2014-15, failed to bring major changes. Yet as Ukrainians still eagerly hope to join the European Union – and as Russia tries to hold them back and ensure oligarchic rule – this time may be the best opportunity to instill civic virtues in public life.

“Years of public debate have given rise to a broad and sensible consensus around reforms,” writes Ukraine expert Anders Åslund at the Atlantic Council. “The question is no longer what to do but whether it will actually be done.”

Europe’s largest country in the west, Britain, may be leaving the EU soon. But the 45 million strong Ukrainians are impatient to join the bloc, which they see as helping ensure an end to corrupt rule. First they will need to finish the task themselves. One of the initial tests will be making it easy to impeach a president, thus showing the humility to be held accountable is an important public virtue.

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