On December 14, the Verkhovna Rada (Ukraine’s parliament) turned down President Leonid Kuchma’s proposed candidacy of Valery Pustovoytenko as prime minister. Pustovoytenko, who has held the post since July 1997, submitted his resignation after the presidential elections, as required by the constitution. Kuchma, however, then announced his intention of reappointing him (see the Monitor, November 23). Of the 445 Rada deputies, only 283 registered to vote. Of these, only 206 voted for the reappointment. This count was 20 ballots short of what was needed for Ukraine’s longest-serving premier to continue to serve. Kuchma is expected to submit an alternate candidate by the end of this week. Law prohibits him from proposing Pustovoytenko again.
Pustovoytenko was rejected not only by the left-wingers (such as the Communists and Progressive Socialists), which had been expected, but also by two outspoken pro-presidential factions, Labor Ukraine and Regional Revival. These two factions–which have among them Kuchma’s most loyal allies, oligarchs Oleksandr Volkov and Viktor Pinchuk–are now busy forging a pro-presidential majority in parliament, which, in Kuchma’s grand plan, should become the foundation of a strong center-right government. When such faithful presidential allies refuse to back the presidential appointee, it stands to reason that the president was not quite sincere in proposing Pustovoytenko in the first place. Pustovoytenko has been very loyal to Kuchma, but has also been rather reluctant and bureaucratic in his approach to economic reform.
During Kuchma’s recent trips to Brussels and the United States, it was reportedly hinted to him that Ukraine’s reforming effort would be convincing if a young liberal reformer were at the helm. Someone, perhaps, such as chairman of the National Bank of Ukraine Viktor Yushchenko or Deputy Premier for Economy Serhy Tyhypko. But not Pustovoytenko. On the eve of the parliamentary vote, Regional Revival chairman Stepan Havrysh said that, should the Rada turn down Pustovoytenko, his faction would propose Yushchenko. Yushchenko, however, is too radical a reformer for the conservative Rada to swallow. Labor Ukraine is lobbying for a different candidate, current Security Service (SBU) chief Leonid Derkach, another Kuchma loyalist hailing from Dnipropetrovsk, the cradle of Ukraine’s power elite. Russia’s Nezavisimaya gazeta claimed that during Kuchma’s visit to Moscow last week the chairman of Gazprom Rem Vyakhirev and the chief of Unified Energy Systems Anatoly Chubais also spoke favorably about Derkach’s candidacy. Ukraine’s power grid has experienced severe electricity shortages after being disconnected from Russia’s in late November, and Ukraine’s debt to Gazprom for gas supplies is at over US$1 billion and growing; from such a vantage point, Vyakhirev and Chubais could therefore feel comfortable advising Kuchma on who might serve as Ukrainian prime minister.
Meanwhile, Kuchma used the failure of his Pustovoytenko nomination to remind the Rada that, should a pro-presidential majority likewise not succeed, he would call a constitutional referendum to make the parliament bicameral and cancel deputy immunity (see the Monitor, October 29, December 9). “There will be either a different [parliament] or no [parliament] at all,” he warned at a news conference on December 14. Kuchma, usually not at all coy in his pronouncements concerning the Rada, resorted to threats only after Pustovoytenko was turned down. He might have been more active and timely in defending the prime minister, if he had really meant it (Zerkalo nedeli, Nezavisimaya gazeta, December 11; STB TV, December 13-14; UNIAN, December 14).
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