Ukrainian lawmakers form coalition backing President Yanukovych, approve new prime minister

By Anna Melnichuk, AP
Thursday, March 11, 2010

Ukraine creates new ruling coalition, gets new PM

KIEV, Ukraine — Ukrainian lawmakers formed a new majority coalition around President Viktor Yanukovych on Thursday, allowing him to consolidate power by quickly approving his choices for a new prime minister and Cabinet.

Mykola Azarov, who served as Yanukovych’s campaign strategist in this year’s presidential elections, was chosen as premier. The move ends the long-running rivalry between head of state — Yanukovych — and its head of government, former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who Yanukovych beat in the presidential race.

Azarov now leads the new majority coalition in parliament, dubbed the “Reforms and Order” coalition. It includes Yanukovych’s Party of Regions, the Communists, the party led by parliamentary speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn, four independents and a dozen defectors from other parties.

Tymoshenko, an avid critic of Yanukovych, was ousted March 3 in a no-confidence vote after her Orange coalition fell. She and former President Viktor Yushchenko led the Orange Revolution protests in 2004 that helped bring Yushchenko to power after a fraud-riddled election in which Yanukovych had been declared winner.

But six lawmakers defected from each of their parliamentary factions to join Azarov’s new coalition, giving their bitter rival the votes he needed for a majority.

Azarov was first deputy prime minister when Yanukovych held the premiership in 2006-7. Born and educated in Russia, Azarov is seen as a staunch supporter of Yanukovych and his Kremlin-friendly policies, and is known for his vocal attacks against the Orange government and Tymoshenko in particular.

His Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, sent Azarov a message of congratulations hours after his appointment.

On Thursday, Azarov pledged to root out corruption and tackle the economic turmoil that has plagued Ukraine during the political wrangling of the past few years. “I don’t promise an easy life for my ministers,” he said.

In a statement, Yanukovych also hailed the consensus forming around him in all branches of government.

“After five years of fruitless discussions and destructive confrontation … the path back to the development and progress is open,” Yanukovych said.

Azarov’s Cabinet also took shape Thursday, with the post of foreign minister going to Kostyantyn Gryshchenko, who has been Ukraine’s ambassador to Russia since June 2008 and is considered to be more Russia-friendly than his predecessor.

Sergei Tigipko, who finished third during the first round of the presidential contest in January, was appointed deputy prime minister for economic issues.

The fuel and energy ministry will be headed by Yuriy Boyko, who occupied the post during Yanukovych’s past premiership.

Before forming the new governing coalition, Yanukovych signed a new law allowing individual deputies to break away from their parliamentary factions, which allowed his coalition to eventually control 235 of the chamber’s 450 seats.

Opponents say the law violates the Ukrainian constitution, which only allows factions to join coalitions in parliament.

Tymoshenko, whose supporters have vowed to challenge the law in court, told a televised news conference Thursday that the creation of the new government “proves our country has no guarantor of the constitution.”

Analysts also expressed concern over the move.

Tammy Lynch, a research fellow at Boston University’s Institute for the Study of Conflict, Ideology & Policy, said the move sends worrying signals about Yanukovych’s “intention to honor the law and respect the nascent democracy he inherited.”

(This version CORRECTS number of defectors.)

will not be displayed