Sun, Aug 06, 2006 - Page 1 News List

Ukraine legislature confirms Viktor Yanukovych as PM

COMEBACK The new prime minister was the chosen successor of ex-president Kuchma, whose government was said to be involved in poll fraud


Ukraine's parliament approved Viktor Yanukovych as the new prime minister on Friday evening, creating an awkward balance of power between him and Pres-ident Viktor Yushchenko, the man who defeated him in 2004 during what became known as the Orange Revolution.

Yanukovych's election ended more than four months of uncertainty and political turmoil following an indecisive parliamentary election in March. And though both Yanukovych and Yushchenko appealed for national unity, the new arrangement is almost certain to provoke tensions between the legislative and executive branches in a country that declared itself an independent democracy only 15 years ago.

Yanukovych received the votes of 273 of 296 deputies who were present, a comfortable majority in the 450-member parliament. Only nine deputies voted against, while the rest abstained or did not vote. It was a measure of the lingering political divisions that 154 deputies boycotted Friday's meeting.

They included supporters of the former prime minister and erstwhile presidential ally, Yulia Tymoshenko, as well as many members of Yushchenko's own party, Our Ukraine, though an exact breakdown was not immediately available. Only 30 of 86 members of the president's party voted for Yanukovych, a sign of the profound internal dissension over Yushchenko's agreement on Thursday to ally himself with a new Yanukovych government.

For Yanukovych, 56, Friday's vote culminates an extraordinary comeback. As the chosen successor of the former president, Leonid Kuchma, he and his government were implicated in the electoral fraud in 2004 that prompted tens of thousands to pour into the streets of Kiev, where he was ridiculed as a criminal. The protests, along with international diplomatic pressure, forced a revote and left Yanukovych discredited and abandoned.

Addressing parliament before the vote, Yanukovych pledged an "efficient, effective, professional and responsible" government -- this time in tacit alliance with his rival, Yushchenko.

He characterized the vote as an effort to unify a country that has remained deeply divided since the Orange Revolution.

"This hall is deciding on the actual unification of two teams, which have been standing on the opposite banks of the Dnieper in the past two years," he said, according to Interfax.

He was referring to the river that, roughly, divides the country into Ukrainian and Russian-speaking halves, echoing remarks made by Yushchenko the day before.

The composition of Yanukovych's government remained unclear. Under constitutional changes made in the midst of the Orange Revolution, and now supported only lukewarmly by Yushchenko, the prime minister and parliament have considerably broader powers, especially over the budget and domestic policy.

The president, however, retains power over foreign and defense policy.

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