Two members of Ukraine’s parliament, Yulia Tymoshenko and Oleksandr Turchynov, resigned yesterday from their positions as deputy heads of the Hromada party, accusing Hromada leader Pavlo Lazarenko, the former premier now under investigation in Switzerland, of authoritarianism. They objected more pointedly to Lazarenko’s plan to disband the party’s “shadow cabinet.” This “cabinet”–in which Tymoshenko was premier, and Turchynov the economics minister–arose as a means of attracting media attention to the party, but evolved into what was almost a party within a party, that is, Hromada’s internal opposition. On hearing of the resignations, Lazarenko said that the incident “is no scandal,” and denied that the party would split as a result. Turchynov intimated otherwise in an interview with the newspaper “Den,” saying that he and Tymoshenko oppose Lazarenko’s candidacy as future president, but neither denying nor confirming rumors that Hromada secessionists are forming a new parliamentary faction (Ukrainian television and agencies, January 20; Den, January 21).
The Hromada party, founded by Turchynov in 1993, kept a low profile until joined by Tymoshenko in the summer of 1997. Lazarenko joined a couple of months later to became the party’s leader. Tymoshenko–former president of United Energy Systems of Ukraine [UESU], the private wholesale gas trader–brought big money to the party. UESU had recorded a US$10 billion turnover in 1996. Hromada then became a vehicle for the parliamentary campaigning of “the Dnipropetrovsk clan,” a group of business leaders grouped around Tymoshenko and Lazarenko. Many of these leaders were alleged to have accumulated their wealth illegally.
Lazarenko had been expected to become one of President Leonid Kuchma’s strongest rivals in this year’s elections. His chances were badly hit, however, by his arrest in Switzerland last December on charges of money laundering. At home, Ukraine’s parliament is scheduled to vote in February on lifting Lazarenko’s immunity from prosecution, on request from Prosecutor General Mykhaylo Potebenko, who openly accused Lazarenko of embezzlement (see the Monitor, December 4, 7, 14, 23, January 13).
Tymoshenko’s resignation will be another hard blow to Lazarenko’s campaign, in which she was expected to invest. Much of Lazarenko’s money is now frozen on bank accounts in Switzerland. Tymoshenko–following numerous government-sanctioned audits and checks into the business of UESU, and her meeting behind closed doors with President Kuchma last autumn–halted the Hromada-sponsored collection of signatures for Kuchma’s impeachment, and stopped her public attacks on the government. –OV
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