Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 218

Ukraine’s numerous political groups and oligarchs who assisted with President Leonid Kuchma’s re-election on November 14 now expect to be rewarded with posts in the new government. The previous government–according to the constitution of 1996–is dissolved on the election of a new president. This, however, does not preclude Kuchma from reappointing members of the previous cabinet, nor the parliament from endorsing such appointments. Valery Pustovoytenko could therefore continue to serve as prime minister. Kuchma is expected to announce the composition of the new cabinet shortly after his inauguration, which is scheduled for November 30. Forming this government and creating a pro-Kuchma center-right majority in the parliament–given the weakened position of the Reds after their poor showing in the recent election–go hand in hand.

Kuchma has said repeatedly that stability in the government depends on a pro-government majority in parliament (the Verkhovna Rada). Such stability seems possible only if several key government posts, including that of prime minister, belong to members of a pro-presidential majority. Such a majority has not existed to date. The past two weeks, though, have seen members of the Verkhovna Rada play musical chairs, with several pro-Kuchma factions taking steps to form a majority and several MPs hurrying to defect from a weakened leftist opposition.

The United Social Democratic Party (USDP) caucus of parliament deputy speaker Viktor Medvedchuk, and the Motherland group of budget committee chair Yulia Tymoshenko–both Kuchma allies–grew to thirty-two and thirty-one members respectively, becoming the second and third largest factions after the communists, who boast 122 members. At the same time, two pivotal leftist factions–the Peasant Party of Speaker Oleksandr Tkachenko and Hromada, created by former Premier Pavlo Lazarenko (who is now seeking political asylum in the United States to avoid imprisonment for embezzlement at home)–have shrunk to a critical level of fewer than fourteen members. A faction must have fourteen members or be dissolved.

On November 11, a major step in forming a center-right majority was taken when the factions of Labor Ukraine, Green Party, Motherland and the breakaway nationalist Rukh wing of former presidential candidate Yuri Kostenko announced the creation of a pro-presidential parliamentary coalition. If these factions were joined by other pro-Kuchma groups–specifically, the Regional Revival of oligarch and Kuchma adviser Oleksandr Volkov, the People’s Democrats of Pustovoytenko, the Rukh wing of former Foreign Minister Hennady Udovenko, the Reforms-Congress of liberal reformer Viktor Pynzenyk, and USDP–Kuchma and his future government could gain a majority in the 450-seat parliament.

Over the past week, the Verkhovna Rada factions and groups came up with several candidates for the post of premier in the new government: First Deputy Premier Anatoly Kinakh, tax administration chief Mykola Azarov, Security Service chief Leonid Derkach, and the young and ambitious Viktor Medvedchuk and Yulia Tymoshenko, whose plans–especially Medvedchuk’s–are said to include the presidential elections of 2004. On November 19, Kuchma somewhat dashed the hopes of such aspirants when he said that he intends to reappoint Pustovoytenko as prime minister.

Pustovoytenko, known for his personal loyalty to Kuchma, replaced Lazarenko in July 1997, and has had the longest tenture of any Ukrainian premier since the country’s independence. Pustovoytenko was one of Kuchma’s key assistants in the presidential campaign, working with a group of high-ranking Kyiv-based and local Kuchma loyalists–known as the Zlahoda Association, which Pustovoytenko founded in March (see the Monitor, March 22). Another circumstance in Pustovoytenko’s favor is the recent indication of a national economic upswing. Ukraine saw a 3.1 percent industrial production growth in January-September, and the current year is expected to finish with a GDP growth for the first time since Ukraine gained its independence in 1991.

Kuchma, using the momentum of his election victory, has an historic opportunity to gain control over the parliament, domination of which by the leftist opposition was on several major occasions a bad axle in the wheel of market reforms. For this, the centrist and right-wing Verkhovna Rada factions have to come to an agreement on creating a pro-government coalition–and gaining government posts for members among their ranks could be good stimuli in this. If Kuchma does get a parliament majority, he may well drop the idea of making the parliament docile by introducing a second chamber through a referendum. He proposed this plan before the elections, but the opposition fiercely criticized it; even some of his key allies–including Ukraine’s first president, Leonid Kravchuk–declined to support it (see the Monitor, October 29; DINAU, November 5; UNIAN, Novemmber 16-18; Den, STB, November 18-19).

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