Viktor Yushchenko, who was elected Ukraine’s president on December 26, has promised to come up with a candidate for prime minister this week. The candidate will need to be approved by parliament. This will be the first test of Yushchenko’s ability to negotiate with the lawmakers in his new capacity of the leader of the nation. Yushchenko’s choice for head of the executive should also ideally be palatable for the many partners in Yushchenko’s wide coalition in order to keep it together. Four top candidates have been named so far by both Yushchenko and the majority of local pundits: populist leader and former deputy prime minister in Yushchenko’s 2000-01 cabinet Yulia Tymoshenko; Socialist leader Oleksandr Moroz; parliamentary budget committee head Petro Poroshenko; and Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs leader and prime minister in 2001-02 Anatoly Kinakh.
Viktor Yanukovych resigned as prime minister, having lost the December 26 round of voting. “I am tendering my formal resignation,” Yanukovych said on December 31, addressing Ukrainians on the only TV station that has remained loyal to him, the Donetsk-based Ukraina. Parliament expressed no-confidence in Yanukovych’s Cabinet a month ago, and Yushchenko’s supporters have blockaded the Cabinet building in Kyiv ever since, but Yanukovych continued to bear the title of prime minister. And in his New Year’s Eve television address, Yanukovych pretended as if resignation from the government were his own choice: “Under the present circumstances, I find it impossible to work in any position in a state ruled by these authorities. This is my personal stance,” he said. The truth, however, is that Yushchenko had rejected Yanukovych’s offers to cooperate long before December 26, saying that Yanukovych would not be invited to join his government.
Outgoing President Leonid Kuchma accepted Yanukovych’s resignation on January 5 and promoted First Deputy Prime Minister Mykola Azarov in the interim. Azarov, who rarely speaks to journalists, gave a long interview to the firmly pro-Yushchenko Channel 5 on the very next day, saying that he would not be in the opposition to Yushchenko if his government’s economic policies are “sound” and praising the contribution Yushchenko’s Our Ukraine coalition made to the 2005 budget process.
Speaking on the same channel later on the same day, budget committee head (and a leading member of Our Ukraine) Poroshenko, however, denied having contributed to the budget, which he described as weak. Interviewed as a candidate for the top post in the executive, Poroshenko said, “I am ready to be prime minister.” He denied reports of bitter competition for the post among Yushchenko’s team, but he was visibly vexed when the show’s host recalled that the Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs had earlier pledged to back its leader — Kinakh — for prime minister. Reminded that Yushchenko believes that his prime minister should be neither a businessman nor a political party leader, Poroshenko, who is the leader of a small Solidarity party, revealed that a new party would be set up in place of Yushchenko’s coalition, and said that neither he nor his family have had any stakes in companies since his election to parliament seven years ago. Poroshenko is believed to control Channel 5 and to have interests in the automotive and shipbuilding industries. Journalists also call him “the chocolate king,” as his Ukrprominvest concern controls several confectioneries across Ukraine.
Speaking on the same topic on Channel 5 two days before Poroshenko, radical firebrand Yulia Tymoshenko was more confident of her chances for the prime minister post than Poroshenko. Her confidence was not baseless as, speaking to the same channel on December 29, Yushchenko had said that he and his “faction will direct efforts towards mobilizing the support for Tymoshenko as a candidate.” Tymoshenko proclaimed, “Businessmen do not have any right to occupy any posts in the Cabinet.” Grilled by the host about her own past as a “gas princess” in the 1996-97 government of Pavlo Lazarenko, however, Tymoshenko lost her composure: “I know why you are asking me questions in this manner,” she exclaimed. “I know that it is Petro Poroshenko who owns Channel 5, and he is also a contender for the prime minister’s post.”
Tymoshenko cannot be too confident of her future in Yushchenko’s government. She is more radical than Poroshenko, Kinakh, or Moroz, so it should be more difficult for her to secure support for her ambitions in the legislature. If Yushchenko keeps his word and submits Tymoshenko’s candidacy to parliament, which reconvenes after Orthodox Christmas this week, without offering compromises to the other coalition partners, he may risk suffering a defeat in parliament with his very first political step. On the other hand, if Tymoshenko is voted down at the very start, Yushchenko may try somebody more moderate. In the December 29 interview he said that the list of candidates, along with Moroz, Tymoshenko, Poroshenko, and Kinakh, might include “two or three other names corresponding to the principle of consolidation of parliament.” He also made it clear that partners from outside his coalition, such as parliamentary chairman Volodymyr Lytvyn’s People’s Agrarian Party, might be considered.
(UNIAN, December 22; Ukraina, December 31; Channel 5, December 29; January 4, 6).