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Ukraine: Government Re-Shuffles

  • Viktor Luhovyk

Kyiv, 24 April 1998 (RFE/RL) -- In the three weeks following the parliamentary elections in Ukraine, the composition of the government has changed more rapid than at any time in recent years.

President Leonid Kuchma fired more than 30 central-and-local-government executives in the last two weeks, and more of them are expected to follow, as the trend toward replacing government officials, who failed to secure the required elections results for pro-government parties, appears obvious. In a recent example, during his visit to Crimea last week, Kuchma threatened to fire all local administrators, if they fail to join a political party by the end of the month. "I don't mean everyone should join the People's Democratic Party or the Agrarian Party, there are enough centrist and constructively oriented parties," said Kuchma.

Observers say Kuchma's order is another sign of his effort to strengthen control over the government and local administrators, so that results of the presidential elections scheduled for October 1999 are more favorable to those in office now. And, administrators do not seem to face any other choice but to join the pro-government People's Democrats, since the first of those fired were administrators from the Dnipropetrovsk and Luhansk regions where the 'Democrats' performed most poorly.

"(Kuchma's order) means that the central government is no longer capable of controlling its local representatives by administrative means, which is the sign of the government's weakness," wrote the daily paper Den last week.

The next wave of dismissals was expected to hit the Cabinet after Kuchma and Prime Minister Valery Pustovoytenko lashed out at ministers last week, blasting them for inefficient work. Pustovoytenko even went as far as to read out to the whole Cabinet a dictionary definition of structural reforms, so that "we no longer have disputes over what we should be doing." However, the parliamentary elections already helped Kuchma fill the Cabinet with people who are not likely to disobey. Eight-of-ten Cabinet members, who won seats in the new Parliament, preferred a more stable environment in the legislature than to stay in the government that was already facing a no-confidence vote sponsored by all opposition parties.

"The ministers' decision to quit is directly linked to their common fear of being fired (by Kuchma), or forced to resign by Parliament," said Institute of Politics Director Mykola Tomenko. "These people simply understood they have no future staying with this government."

Both leftist and right-wing parties that won seats in Parliament repeatedly said that, after the elections, a priority was to assess the Cabinet's performance. Even those who are far from being Kuchma's antagonists speak of the government resignation as a very likely event.

"It is natural that the issue of government resignation should come up after the elections," said Rukh leader Vyacheslav Chornovil whose party, unlike the Communists and Socialists, has been known for its very moderate criticism of Kuchma's policies. And, things for which to blame the government are plentiful - given the grave consequences of the parliamentary elections campaign. The budget deficit by the end of March was more than 500-million dollars - or, double the upper limit agreed with the International Monetary Fund. Despite massive repayments of back salaries in February and March -during the campaign - wage arrears still remain at more than 2,000-million dollars.

Kuchma has already accepted the resignation of former Foreign Minister Ghennady Udovenko, Economy Minister Viktor Suslov and State Committee for Development of Entrepreneurship Yury Yekhanurov, and Science and Technologies Minister Volodymyr Semynozhenko. Transportation Minister Valery Cherep, Agriculture Minister Yury Karasyk, Environment Minister Yury Kostenko, and State Oil and Gas Committee Chairman Mykhaylo Kovalko are waiting for their letters of resignation to be signed.

Those who decided to stay are Prime Minister Pustovoytenko and Minister of the Cabinet Anatoly Tolstoukhov - members of the pro-government People's Democratic Party. Besides, other key figures in the government, such as Acting Public Prosecutor General Oleh Lytvak and State Taxation Police Chairman Viktor Korol are also reported to prefer seats in the legislature. Although all of them described the decision to quit government posts as caused by the new elections law that bars lawmakers from having any other paid job, some of the already former ministers do not conceal their sentiments.

"Today, when many think that resignation of the Cabinet is inevitable, it is not reasonable to appoint new ministers on a permanent basis," said former Economy Minister Viktor Suslov last week, speculating about his potential successor. And, hardly anyone would be willing to work in the government that stands most likely to become a scapegoat before the presidential elections scheduled for October 1999.

"The worst thing you could wish a politician is to work in the government in the run-up to elections," said political analyst Tomenko. "This government is almost sure to be used by (Kuchma) to mend the disaster the next elections campaign will create."