Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Policy, Office, or Votes?

President Yushchenko's campaign has reprinted a New Republic article (the original is here) that likens Yuliya Tymoshenko to Evita Peron (or perhaps the reincarnation of Peron). The profile is a mixed bag of insinuations, interpretations, and amateur psychological profiling. While I do not claim to understand Tymoshenko as deeply as the author, the article provokes a few thoughts:
  • The profile notes that Yuliya's leadership style is not democratic. This observation is hardly a surprise for a politician with an eponymous political party.
  • Tymoshenko is a populist, and policy positions detailed on her website showcase this tendency. She directs barbs at oligarchs and promises a range of policy outcomes: anti-corruption measures, new technological and industrial development, energy independence, improved education (including free Internet access for all children) and health, poverty reduction (and significant state spending), a European orientation (but a veiled reference to NATO accession only through a referendum), cordial relations with Russia, and an end to a conscription-based armed forces. Like many populists, she makes promises beyond the capacity to pay for them, is associated with the very forces she criticizes, and seems to approach policies opportunistically rather than ideologically.
  • The profile's characterization of Tymoshenko as a politician pursuing "absolute power" corresponds with the author's concerns that a Tymoshenko victory could lead to a "...short authoritarian experiment..." The failure to manage a party in a democratic manner hardly guarantees that the leader will rule a country in an authoritarian manner. Party organizations vary, with some featuring centralized decision-making that leaves little space for rank-and-file members to influence platform development, nominations, or strategies and others permitting more input from members. While Tymoshenko notes that she opposes constitutional changes that took effect in 2006, reducing the power of the presidency, enhancing presidential power is not equivalent to authoritarianism.
The profile is perhaps over-the-top, but it revolves around a valuable question: what motivates Tymoshenko? A 1999 book by Muller and Strom that shares the title as this post addresses how political parties manage their affairs to achieve their preferred policy outcomes, control government operations, and maintain - or expand - their appeal among citizens. Sometimes the actions needed to maximize performance in one of these areas impedes another. Their book addresses how party leaders manage these challenges. Tymoshenko's career path certainly suggests that office-seeking is a primary motivator. Without consistent policy to serve as a guide, it is unclear what she would pursue next if she were to gain the highest office in the land.

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