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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Ukraine Should Stay the Democratic Course

Thirteen years ago on Tuesday, Ukraine's parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, declared our country's independence from the Soviet Union. This historic choice, later affirmed in a national referendum supported by 90 percent of citizens, changed forever the geopolitical map of Europe.

We thought then that our national aspirations for freedom had been realized and that democracy would replace totalitarianism. We believed our people would prosper from the combined rich natural resources and our penchant for hard work. We entrusted our elected leaders with a mandate to govern and integrate Ukraine into the international community.

Today, an overwhelming majority of my fellow citizens -- 77 percent -- believe Ukraine is heading in the wrong direction. Millions live in poverty. Corruption pervades every social institution, from education to medicine to government. Journalists and others who speak the truth are constantly harassed and persecuted. Illegal searches and seizures are common. The average Ukrainian can rely neither on protection from law enforcement officials nor an open and fair trial in the courts.

Economic indicators signaling growth this year haven't resulted in rising living standards. During the first seven months, GDP rose 13.5 percent, but budget revenues rose only 1.8 percent. People view the costs that the government earlier hid and now spends on social payments as a bribe paid to voters for their support of the candidate from the ruling regime.

Today the regime of President Leonid Kuchma has reverted to complete lawlessness. Surveillance organized by state officials recently against me and my family is a feature of totalitarianism. In democracies, this would be scandalous, but in Ukraine, the government called it common practice.

Ukrainians will face another historic choice this autumn in a presidential election due to be held on Oct. 31. Democratic forces have brought together leading politicians, businessmen and ordinary citizens to fight for real change in Ukrainian society. Recently, I declared my candidacy for the presidency because I believe my policies will unite my compatriots to bring about the changes needed to improve life for Ukraine's 48 million people.

The choice facing voters this fall is very clear. On the one hand, my vision for Ukraine proposes a system founded on democratic European values, which will enable each citizen to realize his socioeconomic potential in a country governed by the rule of law. On the other hand, those from the ruling regime propose preserving the current autocracy, which rules over competing financial-industrial groups. Their corrupt government bureaucrats implement unpopular policies with no respect for individual liberties or basic human rights.

There can be no doubt today that Ukrainians want change -- peacefully and democratically -- just as they did 13 years ago. They want an end to government corruption, decent jobs at honest wages and a president whom they trust. Ukrainians share European values and yearn for democracy.

During my tenure as prime minister, my economic policies, after a decade of decline, ignited growth. My government terminated barter operations between business and the state, which brought cash back to the economy. Back wages and pensions were paid. Electricity blackouts ceased as transparent energy policies were implemented. As Central Bank governor, I introduced Ukraine's first stable currency, the hryvna.

Last month, I unveiled a plan of policy actions called "Ten Steps for the People." At the core of this plan is a vision for a brighter economic future for families, with more job, price and wage security, and a commitment to battling corruption in government at all levels. These policies will create millions of new jobs by ending tax privileges. Government will focus on reducing taxes and stimulating entrepreneurial activity. Corporate payroll taxes will be reduced to 20 percent. Bureaucratic red tape, regulatory obstacles and useless government bodies will be eliminated. The repressive State Tax Police will be abolished. Tax revenues generated from these steps will be used to meet essential social programs.

With regard to governing, a poorly paid bureaucrat who takes bribes costs society more than a well-paid government official. Honest professionals will be appointed to government posts at all levels with good salaries. Every state official will sign a code of honor and observe it without exception. Those who have embezzled public funds and taken bribes will be brought to justice. Trust in government and the courts will be restored. The main criterion for judging governing authorities at all levels will be the creation of new jobs at decent wages.

I am convinced that Ukrainians will vote their conscience and choose democratic values over autocratic rule this coming fall. However, recent history has taught us that the one who counts the votes is more important than the one who casts them.

In this campaign, the Kuchma regime has created media monopolies, pressured democratic opposition parties, breached the right to free assembly, censored free speech and abused state authority at all levels. Because candidates fielded by the ruling regime cannot win free and fair elections, the entire executive branch has been mobilized to use fraud, intimidation and fear to support their candidate, Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych. Voters see this coercion and stay in opposition to this regime.

Official Kiev's hollow declarations guaranteeing a free and fair election in Ukraine this fall must be matched by the mobilization of thousands of domestic and international election observers. My electoral coalition has trained more than 100,000 citizen representatives to participate in local election commissions to secure control over polling stations in an effort to prevent electoral fraud. We welcome international representatives from European countries and multinational organizations to observe this effort. We will secure fair elections and make sure that these are the last that require international monitoring.

I am convinced that this presidential election in Ukraine will be an important milestone in the history of our young democracy and will be watched by our neighbors in Moscow, Warsaw and Brussels. By staying the democratic course chosen 13 years ago, Ukraine will ensure that a potentially new dividing line based on differing systems of values does not appear on Ukraine's western border. Democratic forces in Ukraine are ready to ensure that European values take hold in our country. This could set the example for other countries in the Commonwealth of Independent States.

I believe restoring trust in government, capitalizing on economic opportunities and achieving a democratic victory this fall are all within Ukraine's reach.

Viktor Yushchenko is a Ukrainian presidential candidate and leader of the biggest party in parliament, Our Ukraine. This comment appeared in Tuesday's edition of The Wall Street Journal.