Last month a Communist-led alliance in parliament dismissed Ukraine's pro-Western and reformist prime minister, Viktor Yushchenko. Yesterday President Leonid Kuchma, who is due to nominate a new prime minister next week, named four politicians as possible candidates for the job. RFE/RL correspondent Askold Krushelnycky looks at who might become premier and what the future might hold for Yushchenko.
Prague, 9 May 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Two weeks after a Communist-led coalition in Ukraine's parliament dismissed reformist Prime Minister Viktor Yushchenko -- the most popular premier since the country attained independence -- President Leonid Kuchma yesterday named four politicians as possible candidates to succeed him.
Kuchma is expected to nominate one of the four when parliament returns from a recess next week. He will choose among Mykola Azarov, the head of the tax authority; former Deputy Prime Minister Anatoliy Kinakh; former presidential aide Volodymyr Horbulin; and the mayor of Kyiv, Oleksandr Omelchenko.
Yesterday Kuchma said the Communist-dominated parliament was likely to approve his nominee. But he also said he will appoint an acting prime minister if parliament fails to accept the candidate he proposes.
Yushchenko is generally acknowledged to have been the most successful premier in Ukraine's 10 years of independence in improving the economy and implementing reform. He remains caretaker prime minister until his successor is approved.
Under Yushchenko's 16-month administration, the country showed its first modest economic upturn since 1991. That allowed Yushchenko to pay state employees millions of dollars in back salaries, more than double state pensions and ensure that they were paid on time.
But Yushchenko's pro-Western posture and his determination to introduce market reforms alienated the Communists, still the largest single group in parliament. In addition, Yushchenko's attempts to weed out rampant corruption by the "oligarchs" -- who combine business with politics to reap vast, and often illegal, profits -- earned him their enmity.
The two groups formed an alliance to force through a vote of no-confidence in Yushchenko's government late last month (April 26). That triggered his immediate resignation.
Yushchenko remains highly popular in Ukraine, consistently heading opinion polls as the most trusted and competent politician in the country.
According to a poll published this week by the Ukrainian Center for Political and Economic Studies, 44 percent of respondents said Yushchenko is the best prime minister Ukraine has ever had and 59 percent disapproved of his dismissal. The poll indicated that if presidential elections were held today, Yushchenko would get the biggest share of votes.
The director of the independent Ukrainian Institute for Statehood and Democracy, Ivan Lozowy, says Yushchenko gave Ukrainians a glimmer of hope.
"We saw to some extent, almost by accident, that Ukraine can have a good prime minister who showed the nation -- I think we'll see this with time -- who gave the people hope that someday they will be able to live in a 'normal' country."
Most politicians opposed to President Kuchma's policies have said they would like to see Yushchenko lead the opposition. After he was ousted from office, Yushchenko himself told a crowd outside parliament that he would remain active in politics. "I'm not leaving politics; I'm going to continue to fight. I'm leaving in order to return." But so far Yushchenko has remained largely silent about his plans. He says that he will run for a seat in parliament in next year's elections. He also says that he does not want to head an opposition against something -- that is, the president -- but rather one that is more positive in approach, gathering together all who believe in what he calls the "idea of a democratic Ukraine."
Yushchenko came late to his role as politician, first establishing a reputation for honesty and economic competence as the head of the country's national bank. As prime minister, he was always reluctant to criticize Kuchma publicly, even after the president was alleged to be involved in the murder of a leading opposition journalist.
Kuchma himself has never been an enthusiastic supporter of market or democratic reforms. Some analysts say he appointed Yushchenko as a way of currying favor with the West and getting more loans from the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. They also say Kuchma later came to view Yushchenko as a rival and that he helped remove him as prime minister.
Kuchma has great influence among the oligarchs who joined with the Communists to remove Yushchenko. Analyst Lozowy believes the president could have made them vote for Yushchenko if he had so desired. "I think that Leonid Kuchma is very satisfied that he has been able to get rid of Yushchenko. I'm convinced that he [Kuchma] regretted appointing Yushchenko as prime minister, and I subscribe to Yushchenko's appraisal that it's not all over yet. I think we will see the continuation of the problems that the president faces today and they will only deepen with Yushchenko's resignation."
The opposition to Kuchma consists of politicians and civic groups across the political spectrum who have joined under an umbrella organization called the Forum for National Salvation.
This week the forum pressed ahead with plans to hold a countrywide referendum on whether Kuchma should continue as president. One of the organization's leaders, former Deputy Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, told RFE/RL that she is "confident that the referendum will show that most people do not think Kuchma is fit to be president."
Under Ukraine's Constitution, Kuchma is not bound to resign because of an unfavorable referendum result, but Tymoshenko hopes he will be forced to. She says that next week opposition politicians in parliament will try to push through a resolution calling for the launching of impeachment proceedings against Kuchma.
Yushchenko's government can continue to work in its caretaker status for up to 60 days. A simple majority of the 450-member parliament is required to approve Kuchma's nominee to replace Yushchenko.
According to Lozowy, Yushchenko must show what he calls "political and personal courage" by grasping the leadership of the country's opposition movement, which is being offered to him. "He has to show," says the analyst, "what the real Yushchenko can do."