Ukraine’s prime minister dares opponents to oust her before rival’s inauguration as president

By Yuras Karmanau, AP
Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Ukraine’s Tymoshenko to rivals: oust me if you can

KIEV, Ukraine — Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko challenged her opponents Thursday to oust her in a no-confidence vote, aiming to show they don’t have enough votes to do so.

Tymoshenko’s defiant call came one day before her rival, Viktor Yanukovych, is due to be inaugurated as president after defeating her by a narrow margin in a Feb. 7 election runoff.

The lack of a coalition strong enough to quell Tymoshenko’s resistance to a Yanukovych presidency threatens to extend the kind of political wrangling that has paralyzed Ukraine’s political system for several years.

“The country needs clarity on who is answering for the life of the nation, for the assurance of all forms of development, and we as a team are simply obligated to give the nation that clarity,” Tymoshenko told a government meeting.

Yanukovych’s Party of Regions has proposed a motion in parliament to strip Tymoshenko of her post.

It was forced to retract it Wednesday, despite weeks of negotiations with her allies to form a new coalition against her, but then reintroduced the motion later in the day in an apparent response to Tymoshenko’s challenge.

“The Party of Regions does not have the votes to carry out this dismissal,” Tymoshenko said, addressing her ministers in a stark red dress instead of the soft tones she is known for wearing.

The deputy head of Yanukovych’s party, Anna German, said Yanukovych would never be able to work in tandem with Tymoshenko and would seek to replace her by this spring.

“The coexistence of Yanukovych as president and Tymoshenko as prime minister is impossible,” German told The Associated Press on Wednesday. “By this spring, Ukraine will have a new premier who will think not about his own ambitions and of clinging to power, but about the country.”

In order for his party to form a majority coalition, Yanukovych will need to strike a deal with his former adversary, the outgoing President Viktor Yushchenko.

Yushchenko and Tymoshenko led mass street protests in 2004 against Yanukovych’s rigged election victory that year. Dubbed the Orange Revolution, those demonstrations urged the Supreme Court to overturn Yanukovych’s win and call for a revote, which Yushchenko won by a narrow margin in early 2005.

Tymoshenko then became prime minister under Yushchenko, but their partnership broke down amid political maneuvering and recriminations that have caused gridlock in the government for much of Yushchenko’s time in office.

He did not make it past the first round of voting in January, and called on his supporters to vote “Against All” — an option in Ukrainian ballots — rather than support either Tymoshenko or Yanukovych in the second round.

Tymoshenko will likewise need to hold onto the support of Yushchenko’s party in parliament if the “Orange Coalition” is to survive.

Before the election, that coalition held the majority and was made up of the Tymoshenko’s and Yushchenko’s parties, as well as the fraction of the chamber’s speaker, Volodymyr Lytvyn.

But allegiances appear to have shifted since then as politicians jockey for position in response to Yanukovych’s win, and it is unclear whether the Orange Coalition still has a majority in the 450-seat parliament.

Revealing the chamber’s current state of confusion, Speaker Lytvyn urged the coalition to prove its existence Wednesday by demonstrating the support of 226 members of parliament.

“Give me 226 signatures confirming any kind of coalition exists, and I will announce that a new, or an old, or a modernized coalition exists,” Lytvyn said, according to Interfax news agency.

The collapse of that coalition would be a further reputation of the pro-Western Orange Revolution, which has failed to deliver on promises of economic progress or European integration.

Analysts said its collapse is inevitable.

“For Yanukovych and Tymoshenko to coexist is like a cat and a dog put in the same house,” said Mikhail Pogrebinsky, director of the Center of Political Research and Conflictology in Kiev.

“Yanukovych is the winner, and he is the one who will dictate the rules of the game,” he said.

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