Ukraine’s new president, Viktor Yushchenko, nominated his populist ally, Yulia Tymoshenko, for prime minister on January 24 (see EDM, January 26) and submitted her candidacy to parliament on January 28. The Ukrainian constitution requires that a simple majority in the legislature, that is 226 votes in the 450-seat body, approve the president’s choice for prime minister. Voting is preliminarily scheduled for Thursday, February 3. In spite of Tymoshenko’s proverbial radicalism, her nomination stands a high chance of being approved, judging by the mood inside parliament.
Several legislators and dissenters in Yushchenko’s camp have recently spoken up against Yushchenko’s choice, questioning her integrity. Taras Stetskiv, who was among the organizers of the Orange Revolution’s tent city on Independence Square in Kyiv, has accused Tymoshenko of trying to convince Yushchenko to give her the prime minister’s post by “maintaining” the protesters’ camp long after Yushchenko had ordered it to disband. Thereby Tymoshenko discredited the tent city, Stetskiv said. Roman Bezsmertny, the deputy head of Yushchenko’s election headquarters, went even further: “Ms. Tymoshenko has no right to manage the state as prime minister,” he said, commenting on the tent city issue. Bezsmertny accused her of “manipulations and blackmail.” He added that he had not been aware of the secret protocol to a coalition agreement signed last summer, in which Yushchenko pledged to appoint Tymoshenko prime minister if he became president. The protocol’s publication on the internet prompted another legislator from Yushchenko’s Our Ukraine bloc, Oleksandr Morozov, to “feel ashamed,” as he put it in an open letter to Yushchenko and Tymoshenko, published by Ukrayinska pravda. In the letter, Morozov questioned Tymoshenko’s honesty and Yushchenko’s right to conclude agreements in secret from his colleagues. It has been also reported on the internet, but denied by the newly appointed National Security and Defense Council secretary Petro Poroshenko, that Poroshenko’s Solidarity group within Our Ukraine was planning to vote against Tymoshenko. The dissenters, however, have not been numerous, nor have they come up with an alternative to Tymoshenko. Yushchenko has reacted calmly. Speaking in Davos, Switzerland, on January 29, he described the debate as normal inter-party discussion.
Most of Yushchenko’s allies in parliament, including Our Ukraine, the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc, the Socialists, and the People’s Will faction of Anatoly Kinakh are going to vote for Tymoshenko as being a member of their coalition, even if some of them would prefer a different candidate. Valery Asadchev of the nationalist People’s Party has concisely expressed this mood, saying that his party has always backed Yushchenko, “That is why now we back the appointments made by the Ukrainian president.” Parliament’s center faction, where Speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn’s People’s Agrarian Party is the strongest force, has backed Yushchenko since the start of the Orange Revolution in November, and it is likely to jump on the bandwagon this time.
The parties that backed Leonid Kuchma’s choice for president, Viktor Yanukovych, have so far failed to overcome the shock caused by his defeat. They are hardly able to offer any organized resistance to Tymoshenko’s nomination. Yanukovych has been absent from Ukraine since January 20, and Yanukovych’s Party of Regions has not yet decided how to behave. One of its leaders, former Donetsk mayor Volodymyr Rybak, has said in a recent interview with Ukrayinska pravda that the majority of the party’s local organizations are, in fact, against going into opposition to Yushchenko. Nestor Shufrych and former president Leonid Kravchuk of the United Social Democratic Party have spoken positively about Tymoshenko’s appointment. Only the Communists, who ostentatiously oppose any “capitalist” government, seem determined to vote against Yushchenko’s choice. Tymoshenko’s appointment “will not reflect the interests of the people,” Communist leader Petro Symonenko replied, when asked if the Communists would support Tymoshenko’s nomination.
Meanwhile good news for Tymoshenko has come from the Ukrainian Prosecutor-General’s Office. Svyatoslav Piskun, who does not conceal that he strives to remain in the post of prosecutor-general under the new president, announced on January 28 that prosecutors have dropped all charges against Tymoshenko, her husband, her father-in-law, and her former subordinates at the United Energy Systems gas trading company. Embezzlement charges had been levied against Tymoshenko in 1996, and the investigation has continued on and off. Tymoshenko was briefly imprisoned by the court in 2001. Tymoshenko regularly dismissed the charges against her as politically motivated. Piskun’s announcement came just two days after his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Ustinov, had pledged that Moscow would pursue its own bribery case against Tymoshenko. Ustinov made it clear, speaking on January 26, that Russia would not withdraw its arrest warrant for her on charges of bribing Russian military officials over gas deals in the mid-1990s. This circumstance may put Prime Minister Tymoshenko in awkward circumstances, should she decide to travel to Russia.
(Interfax-Ukraine, January 24; versii.com, Ukrayinska pravda, ukr.for-ua.com, UNIAN, January 26; Ukrayinska pravda, Interfax-Ukraine, Lvivska hazeta, January 27; Ukrayinski novyny, Interfax-Ukraine, Channel 5, January 28; UNIAN, January 29).