Prague, May 28 (RFE/RL) -- Pavlo Lazarenko has today
become Ukraine's new Prime Minister, the sixth since the country
gained independence five years ago.
Lazarenko was appointed by President Leonid Kuchma to replace Yevhen Marchuk, who had yesterday been blamed for Ukraine's economic
problems and summarily ousted.
Kuchma charged in a dismissal statement that Marchuk had failed to
do "stable and efficient work as head of the government." He also
said Marchuk "concentrated his time on building an independent political image," rather than on dealing with the country's economic
The ouster follows a long political feud between the two
politicians. Kuchma has long questioned Marchuk's loyalty, suspecting
him of harboring political ambitions. Public opinion polls have
repeatedly showed that Marchuk was seen as a popular politician and
potential presidential contender.
The feud became particularly acute last week, when Marchuk came out
against Kuchma's call for a referendum on a draft constitution.
Ukraine is the only former Soviet republic which has not yet adopted
a new constitution. The adoption of the charter has been Kuchma's
But the straw that broke the camel's back appears to have been
Marchuk's last week meeting behind closed doors with Russian Prime
Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin. This prompted speculation that Marchuk
might have been striking some sort of political deals with Moscow
behind Kuchma's back.
Marchuk is still a member of parliament, and he may try to build his political base from there. He might now even challenge Kuchma openly.
Lazarenko, on the other hand, is known to be a close and loyal ally
to Kuchma. He once served as the governor of the Dniepropetrovsk
region, Kuchma's home political base.
Until yesterday, Lazarenko was First Deputy Prime Minister in
Marchuk's cabinet. He dealt with energy questions, and was involved in
negotiations with Russia over gas supplies. It is assumed that he
will follow Kuchma's directives without any protest or opposition. At
least for now.
Whether this change in the government's leadership alone will
contribute to the improvement in Ukraine's economic performance and
the enhancement of political stability is indeed uncertain.
Last year, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) halted loans to
Ukraine, citing poor management and meager progress in the move toward
a market economy. But the situation has recently improved somewhat.
Last month, the IMF reversed its stand and granted Ukraine a major
stand-by loan. Its disbursement has been made conditional on monthly
checks of the country's economic performance.
The change in the composition of the government is unlikely to
affect that decision. But neither is there any assurance that the
Lazarenko-led government would assure a more efficient management
that the one maintained by Marchuk.
Yesterday, Viktor Semyonov, the mayor of Sebastopol, told reporters
that "considering Ukraine's economic situation, being appointed prime
minister is not a reward."
And there is a vexing lack of clarity in the allocation of political responsibilities within the government itself, and between the government and the parliament. In the absence of a constitution,
respective positions and responsibilities of all these institutions
remain dangerously vague.
That alone provides a ready-made prescription for continuing feuds
and conflicts, endangering the political stability and making
effective decisions difficult.