Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk has survived a no-confidence vote in parliament, hours after President Petro Poroshenko called on him to resign "in order to restore trust in the government."
A total of 194 lawmakers voted for the resolution, 32 shy of the 226 votes needed to pass the measure that was introduced earlier in the day by Yuriy Lutsenko, leader of Poroshenko's own party in the 450-seat Verkhovna Rada.
The vote came amid what opinion polls suggest is growing disenchantment among Ukrainians with the pro-Western government that took power following the ouster of President Viktor Yanukovych in February 2014.
The county is struggling with a deepening recession and continuing violence from the Russia-backed separatists in the east.
A presidential statement earlier in the day said Yatsenyuk's government had lost the support of the ruling coalition, which includes the Poroshenko Bloc.
In a televised address, Poroshenko said that in order "to restore [public] trust" in Ukraine, "therapy is no longer sufficient -- it takes surgery."
"The moment for a partial reshuffle of the cabinet of ministers has been lost," he said. "The discussion about it has been so long that the issue itself got lost in it. The demand for a full cabinet reload is obvious now."
Poroshenko's request that Yatsenyuk resign came shortly before the prime minister presented his report on the work of the government to parliament.
While they rejected the no-confidence motion, lawmakers approved a separate measure condemning the work of Yatsenyuk’s government in 2015 as unsatisfactory. Under procedural rules, they will now only be able to vote again on a no-confidence motion in the next sitting of parliament.
Ahead of the vote, several hundred protesters gathered in cold weather outside the parliament building in Kyiv, with many calling for Yatsenyuk's government to resign.
The collapse of Yatsenyuk's administration would have set the stage for fresh coalition talks and possible early parliamentary elections, something that Poroshenko himself had warned "would only deepen the political crisis."
Addressing the parliament ahead of the vote, Yatsenyuk did not explicitly say whether he would resign, saying he would accept whatever decision lawmakers made.
But the 41-year-old former banker gave a sharp defense of his record, saying that his cabinet "has done its best and we have been doing so under very difficult economic and social circumstances."
"We saved this country and I want you to respect that," Yatsenyuk said.
Yatsenyuk has been credited with helping negotiate a massive Western financial rescue package that helped boost Ukraine's government while it was fighting separatists. Kyiv, NATO, the United States, and the European Union say the separatists have received weapons, cash, and personnel from Russia.
The Kremlin denies these allegations despite significant evidence of such support.
Poroshenko also called for the resignation of Prosecutor-General Viktor Shokin, who has been seen by many reformers, and even Western diplomats, as an impediment to cleaning up rampant corruption
The Ukrainska Pravda newspaper and the lb.ua news portal cited unidentified sources, including one in the Prosecutor-General’s office, as saying that Shokin had already resigned following Poroshenko's request.
Pro-Western lawmaker Mustafa Nayyem also wrote on Twitter that Shokin had resigned but did not indicate a source for this information, which could not be immediately confirmed.
Deputy Prosecutor-General Yuriy Sevruk, meanwhile, was quoted as saying that Shokin had not resigned but in fact had taken a three-day vacation beginning February 15.
He said he was serving as acting prosecutor-general in Shokin's absence.
"Viktor Nikolayevich [Shokin] appointed me on February 12 when he submitted [a notice] for a three-day vacation," the news portal UNN cited Sevruk as saying on February 16.
The collapse of the government would dismay Ukraine's international backers, who have invested much cash and political capital supporting the government in the standoff with Russia over the fighting in the east as well as Moscow's annexation of the Crimea peninsula.
The push to eliminate problems like bribery, kickbacks, and preferential hiring for wealthy insiders has proceeded at a slow pace, resulting in growing frustration both inside Ukraine and among Western officials and lenders.
Viktor Shokin (file photo)
Shokin, a controversial appointment in 2014 who had served in previous administrations, has faced accusations of stalling high-profile corruption cases against allies of Yanukovych who was toppled by pro-European protests in February 2014.
He was called out by name earlier this month by Lithuanian-born Economy Minister Aivaras Abromavicius, who announced his resignation and cited a "sharp escalation in efforts to block systemic and important reforms."
Yatsenyuk heads the People’s Front faction. His other coalition partners -- the Fatherland party of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and the Self-Reliance party led by Lviv Mayor Andriy Sadovyy -- had signaled earlier they could vote against Yatsenyuk and his cabinet.
The far-right Radical Party of Oleh Lyashko left the ruling coalition in September in a move that led to highly charged debates about Yatsenyuk's government in December.
Even then, Yatsenyuk’s People’s Front faction was at odds with its partners from the group loyal to Poroshenko amid growing public discontent over still-rampant corruption in Ukraine.
In December, as Yatsenyuk defended the work of his government before lawmakers, Poroshenko Bloc deputy Oleg Barna presented the prime minister with a bouquet of roses and then physically picked him up and pulled him from the podium -- leading to a fistfight on the parliamentary floor between members of the ruling coalition.
Despite the brawl, the Poroshenko Bloc continued in its tenuous alliance with Yatsenyuk’s People's Front into early 2016.
Poroshenko Bloc leader Lutsenko later apologized to Yatsenyuk but said he personally supported Yatsenyuk’s resignation.
Three of Yatsenyuk's cabinet ministers in the past two months have announced plans to resign, including Abromavicius.
There are 450 seats in Ukraine’s parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, but only 422 deputies were seated after the October 2014 elections.
The other 28 seats have remained unfilled because there was no voting in Russian-occupied Crimea or in some constituencies in eastern Ukraine where Russia-backed separatists have been fighting government forces.
Yatsenyuk’s People's Front currently has 81 deputies in parliament.
Poroshenko Bloc has 136 seats, Self-Reliance has 26, Fatherland has 19, and the Radical Party has 19.
With additional reporting by Reuters, AFP, pravda.com.ua, and lb.ua