The Ukrainian parliament yesterday voted 226 to 91, with 26 abstentions, to approve President Leonid Kuchma’s nomination of Valery Pustovoytenko as Prime Minister. The wide margin obscured the fact that the 226 votes in favor constituted only the absolute minimum — 50 percent plus one vote — required for approval in the 450-seat parliament. (See Monitor, July 14, for a profile of Pustovoytenko)
Introducing the candidate prime minister to the parliament, Kuchma announced that the cabinet will take its policy guidance from the reform program about to be adopted by the newly-created Economic Council, attached to the president’s office and chaired by Kuchma himself. He made what he described as a "binding" promise to consider nominations from all the parliamentary parties in forming the new cabinet. Kuchma had offered that and other promises at a special conference with the heads of all parliamentary parties and the chairmen of parliamentary commissions on the evening before the vote. The president specifically asked the opposition Socialist Party of parliament chairman Oleksandr Moroz to submit nominations for cabinet posts. The only criteria for ministerial appointments will be professional competence and "loyalty to the Ukrainian state," Kuchma said. He also agreed with the heads of all 26 parliamentary parties and groupings to create a mechanism for regular and permanent consultations between the presidency and the parliament on policy and legislation.
Addressing the parliament after the voting, Pustovoytenko named timely payment of salaries and pensions as his top priority as prime minister. He further listed reduction and abolition of excessive taxes on business, measures against tax evasion, and abolition of state subsidies to energy consumers in the industrial sector. Pustovoytenko said that he had knowingly risked being turned "into a political corpse" by taking charge of the government in the present economic situation. (Ukrainian agencies, July 16)
The nomination and approval process illustrate the extent to which Kuchma, and by implication his reform program, are hostage to the anti-reform bloc in parliament. Reformist and pro-presidential forces in the legislature can offset, but not overcome the power of ideological leftists and "centrist" vested interests, whose combined strength has virtually blocked the reforms. Kuchma’s undoubtedly reluctant promise to institutionalize consultations with "all" parliamentary forces and to include even Socialists in the cabinet will buy acceptance of the Pustovoytenko cabinet, but may perpetuate or even deepen the legislative and policy impasse.
Similarly, the presidential Economic Council is a heterogeneous body devised largely to seek political consensus on reforms among forces that hold opposed views on that score. Kuchma stated yesterday that the council’s program and guidance to the Pustovoytenko cabinet will entail a "substantial acceleration of market reforms," and there can be little doubt that the president will try to elicit that kind of policy from the council. But it is less than clear how Kuchma and his team will be able to circumvent in the council the combined opposition of Moroz, other political rivals of the president, and old nomenklatura figures. They were all appointed to the Economic Council in a bid to coopt them for the cause of reforms, but they may instead end up diluting the reform agenda or reducing the Council to ineffectiveness.
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