The coalition of President Viktor Yushchenko’s Our Ukraine – People’s Self-Defense (NUNS) and the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc (BYuT) succeeded in electing Tymoshenko as prime minister on Tuesday, December 18. The coalition appointed her cabinet on the same day. Tymoshenko promised to review gas accords with Russia, find “understanding” with Russian President Vladimir Putin, and establish normal relations with the opposition. Viktor Yanukovych, whom Tymoshenko replaced, predicted that her government would not be effective and may not last longer than in 2005, when she became prime minister for the first time in the wake of the Orange Revolution.
Tymoshenko was backed by 226 votes from the NUNS-BYuT coalition in the 450-seat legislature. As on December 11, when she mustered only 225 votes, the opposition caucuses of Yanukovych’s Party of Regions (PRU), the Lytvyn Bloc, and the Communists did not cast a single vote in her favor (see EDM, December 13). Tymoshenko was not sure of her election on December 18 either. The coalition numbers 227 deputies, one of whom did not turn up because of illness, and another one – Yuriy Yekhanurov, who succeeded Tymoshenko as prime minister in 2005 – said he would not back Tymoshenko. Only personal intervention from Yushchenko, who phoned Yekhanurov and persuaded him to change his point of view, prevented Tymoshenko from falling short again.
Faults in the “Rada” electronic voting system were blamed for Tymoshenko’s fiasco last week. This time deputies voted on Tymoshenko by a show of hands, so as to prevent a single vote from being missed. This cumbersome procedure was used also for the subsequent approval of Tymoshenko’s cabinet. It was backed by 227 votes, one more than Tymoshenko received. Former parliament speaker Ivan Pliushch, a dissenter from NUNS who refused to either join the coalition or support Tymoshenko, changed his mind this time.
As expected, the defense portfolio went to Yekhanurov; the pro-Western diplomat Volodymyr Ohryzko became foreign minister; Yuriy Lutsenko returned to the post of interior minister, and Tymoshenko’s right-hand man, Oleksandr Turchynov, became first deputy prime minister (see EDM, December 13). Turchynov said he will supervise the law-enforcement bodies, finance, and the economy. The entire economic and energy block in the cabinet went to BYuT people. NUNS representatives will tackle mostly humanitarian matters. The health and education portfolios went to the fathers of two young NUNS deputies, which may prompt fresh accusations of nepotism, which plagued Tymoshenko’s first cabinet.
Tymoshenko left one chair in her cabinet vacant, apparently for somebody from either the PRU or Lytvyn Bloc. The new cabinet has fewer deputy prime ministers than Yanukovych’s, and Tymoshenko said that the vacant position would be filled “in the future” for the sake of “an expanded democratic coalition.”
Hours after her approval by parliament, Tymoshenko said that her first steps will include a review of the gas trade accords with Russia, a review of the draft state budget for 2008, and the adoption of a law on the opposition.
“My position has not changed: there should be no intermediaries on the gas market,” she said, meaning RosUkrEnergo, an intermediary from which Ukraine has been buying a mixture of Russian and Central Asian gas since early 2006. Tymoshenko said she wants to launch new gas talks with Russia as soon as possible. She added that Ukraine will be a reliable partner for the EU in gas transit. Russian gas supplies to the EU were seriously affected by disagreements over prices between Ukraine and Russia in early 2006.
Tymoshenko said that she hopes to find “mutual understanding” with Putin. Asked about Putin’s choice as his successor, Dmitry Medvedev, Tymoshenko said that she could not comment, as she does not know Medvedev well enough.
Yanukovych declared that his PRU will be in opposition to Tymoshenko’s cabinet and promised to set up a “shadow cabinet” to “watch the government.” He predicted that the numerical weakness of the NUNS-BYuT coalition would not allow it to exist for long. Yanukovych also said that her election promises were too unrealistic to be fulfilled. He probably meant the promises to reimburse Ukrainians for the multi-billion dollars in savings lost in the Soviet Savings Bank within two years and to cancel military conscription from 2008. Many people in NUNS, including Yekhanurov, Lutsenko, and Yushchenko himself, also doubt this is possible.
Subsequent votes of the coalition may not be as unanimous as for Tymoshenko and her cabinet. One of the NUNS leaders, former foreign minister Borys Tarasyuk, warned that NUNS might split. He complained of interference in the coalition’s matters by the head of Yushchenko’s secretariat, Viktor Baloha. He said that a group of NUNS deputies were unhappy with the choice of agriculture minister Yuriy Melnyk, the only member of the Yanukovych’s cabinet who will continue to serve under Tymoshenko. Tarasyuk hinted that Melnyk’s candidacy was imposed by Baloha.
(Ukrayinska pravda, Channel 5, Rada TV, UNIAN, December 18; Segodnya, December 19)