2019 is a crucial year for Ukraine, with the country facing both presidential and parliamentary elections. The choices Ukrainians make will determine the future of the course towards European integration that the country embarked on five years ago. The outcome at the polls also will have a deciding effect on whether Ukraine will be able to stand its ground against the aggressor at the gates, make progress on reforms, and develop the economy and business climate. Ukraine, and the Ukrainian business community, face challenges both external and internal that no democratic country should have to face.
Ukraine is desperate for the support of its allies, but in fact, taking care of the country’s internal affairs is the best way to break out of the quicksand. The government can and should take this path in order to succeed.
However, the five years since the Revolution of Dignity have shown that, without active support from civil society and the business community in particular, reforms will be substantially slowed or become a sham. Usually the reason lies in authorities protecting their personal interests, as was the case with the reform of the judicial system. However, incompetency and unwillingness to prioritize reforms are not uncommon. In order to secure real and effective reforms, citizens’ demand alone is insufficient. Civil society must play an active role in this process and create pressure on the authorities.
The creation of the National Business Coalition on the eve of Ukraine’s presidential elections was one way to demonstrate public demand for economic reforms. With CIPE as an independent facilitator, 73 business associations representing over 35,000 entrepreneurs formed a coalition, giving them a voice before candidates for president, as well as candidates in the upcoming parliamentary elections.
This is far from the first attempt to unite the business community. Previously, the most successful campaigns involved entrepreneurs gathering together to counter a specific policy decision. For example, the adoption of a new tax code in 2010 led to the so-called Tax Maidan, in which entrepreneurs throughout the country participated. Unfortunately, this wasn’t enough for them to succeed; the new tax code was only partly abolished. This is why, for the National Business Coalition, offering solutions to develop Ukraine’s business climate, not only criticizing the status quo, was a priority.
With this goal in mind, CIPE organized a series of meetings among a group of regional and national associations that wanted to amplify their members’ voices before the presidential elections. By forming a coalition, the group of associations could come up with a common agenda supported by all businesses, regardless of sector, size, or location, and speak from a nonpartisan position. Through this process, the business community identified and voted on various proposals, eventually defining the top ten priorities of Ukrainian business.
This was only the first step, as the coalition stood before a serious task – to make sure the business agenda became part of the pre-election discussion. CIPE guided the coalition in designing an advocacy campaign to ensure dialogue with candidates and coverage in the media. Coalition members presented the priorities list at a roundtable in Kyiv, in a series of presentations across the country, and through over 100 publications and broadcast media programs, as well as sending the lists to all presidential candidates.
In particular, CIPE helped the coalition to secure the support of independent media channels, such as Hromadske radio, Novoye Vremya, and UA: Suspilne. The latter devoted a series of radio programs to the business agenda, with the coalition experts as guests. The Suspilne Television company organized six pre-election talk shows with candidates, where coalition representatives participated as experts on economic development. Altogether, coalition experts took part in six talk shows, 13 radio programs, and in Suspilne’s presidential debates on April 19. Moreover, the coalition itself organized the “Responsible Dialogue between Business and Authority” forum on March 4. Over 300 participants and representatives of the top five presidential candidates attended the event. As a result, candidates pledged their support for the top ten business priorities, which the coalition presented in a widely-shared infographic.
The results of the presidential elections show that businesses can achieve success by speaking with a united voice and laying out concrete solutions to policy issues. Volodymyr Zelenskiy won the election with 73 percent of votes. As shown in the infographic, his team, including the former Minister of Finance Oleksandr Danylyuk, supported all 10 business priorities at the forum, and included three of them in Zelenskiy’s campaign platform.
As Ukraine is a parliamentary-presidential republic, the coalition now is preparing to advocate the business priorities to the political parties that will compete for the 450 seats in Parliament. The parliamentary elections are scheduled for October 27, 2019.
Nataliia Zhuhai is a Program Officer at CIPE’s regional office in Ukraine.