Publication: Monitor Volume: 8 Issue: 39

For more than a month before its March 31 parliamentary (Verkhovna Rada) elections, Ukraine has remained without almost half of its cabinet. The ministers running in the election will enjoy a respite from their work on peremptory advice from President Leonid Kuchma (see the Monitor, January 25) until the campaign is over. Respective state secretaries will be performing their duties. But Premier Anatoly Kinakh, who is number two on the list of the “party of power”–the For United Ukraine (FUU) bloc–will continue to steer the cabinet. For him, a vacation may mean the end of his political career.

Ministers now on vacation are: Deputy Premier Volodymyr Semynozhenko, Industrial Policy Minister Vasyl Hureyev, Agricultural Policy Minister Ivan Kyrylenko, Transport Minister Valery Pustovoytenko (all running on the FUU list), Education Minister Vasyl Kremin (the United Social Democratic Party), Environment Minister Serhy Kurykin (the Greens) and Emergencies Minister Vasyl Durdynets (running in a single-seat constituency). Among other top officials who will, from now on, work solely for their campaigns are State Property Fund Chairman Oleksandr Bondar (the Greens), State Commission for Military-Industrial Complex Chairman Volodymyr Horbulin (leader of the Democratic Union-Democratic Party bloc) and State Commission for Family and Youth Chairwoman Valentyna Dovzhenko (leader of Women for the Future).

For most of them, February 19, the day Kinakh officially sent them on vacation, was the last day of cabinet work. Backed by the administrative machine, big capital and central media, these ministers’ parties and blocs are almost certain to get through the elections to the next Rada. In theory, if they are elected, it will be up to them whether to take their seats in the Rada or continue to work in the cabinet (the law prohibits to combine the two occupations). But Kuchma is expected to reshuffle the cabinet after the election. Most of them, therefore, will not have much of a choice. Speaking on February 18, Kuchma said that the entire cabinet might in fact be replaced.

This leaves Premier Kinakh in a difficult position. Although arguably the most popular man in the ruling elite (regularly placed higher than Kuchma in popular trust ratings), he, unlike his predecessors, former Premiers Valery Pustovoytenko and Viktor Yushchenko, has so far failed to build a political base of his own. If dismissed, Kinakh will have nowhere to realize his political potential. His Party of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs is weak, and he plays only a second fiddle to Kuchma’s office chief, Volodymyr Lytvyn, in the FUU. Kuchma has never concealed the fact that he regarded Kinakh as only a temporary premier. Kinakh’s chair is thus becoming shaky. If he loses it, he may lose this chance to become a political leader on the national scale altogether.

Fearing to lose his post, Kinakh has not been enthusiastic about Kuchma’s idea of a campaign vacation for top officials running for parliament. Kuchma did not insist on a vacation for Kinakh. But, speaking on a trip to Siberia on February 11, he did warn him against “using his prime-ministerial position” in the campaign “to avoid allegations of using administrative resources.” It is no secret that the FUU heavily relies on the administrative resource, so it is not clear why Kinakh should not do so.

Kuchma probably had something else in mind: the 2004 presidential election. As long as Kinakh keeps a low political profile, he is needed as premier. If he wants more than that, he may be dumped. The current Rada campaign is regarded by many as a general rehearsal for the next presidential race. “I am not thinking about this, I am simply working,” a cautious Kinakh told journalists on February 21 when asked if he had presidential ambitions. Kuchma has apparently not decided whom to back in 2004. He may not, per the constitution, run for a third term himself. But it is widely rumored that he may be thinking of amending the law to stay in power. If so, Kinakh could be an unwanted competitor (UNIAN, February 11, 18; Interfax-Ukraine, February 20-21).