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Ukraine: Prime Minister Faces Confidence Vote

Ukraine's reformist premier, Viktor Yuschenko, faces an important test of his authority Tuesday when parliament votes on a motion of confidence in his leadership. There are indications he could lose the vote.

Kyiv, 13 April 2001 (RFE/RL) -- On Tuesday (April 17) Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yuschenko faces a strong political challenge to continuing in his post when the country's parliament votes on a confidence motion about his leadership.

Yuschenko has been in the post for a year and came to the premiership with a reputation for honesty and with a program of pro-market reforms. He is regarded as a Western-leaning democratic politician, whom many speak of as a future president.

The attack against Yuschenko is being led by an alliance of the Communist Party and a collection of parties which are regarded as representatives of the powerful businessmen who often used shady methods and are called oligarchs.

Yuschenko's supporters admit there is a strong chance that the alliance will secure more than the half the votes needed in the 450-strong parliament to gain a vote of no-confidence in the prime minister.

One of the parties which supports Yuschenko, the Party of Reform and Order, calculates that the combination of Communists and other anti-Yuschenko parties can count on 252 votes, surpassing the 226 votes needed to secure the no-confidence result.

A confidential government document obtained by RFE/RL suggests that 286 members of parliament may vote against Yuschenko.

Ukrainian political commentator and editor of the independent magazine Politychna Dumka (Political Thought), Volodymyr Polokhalo, told RFE/RL that he believes Yuschenko still has a chance of surviving the vote.

"I would give him a 50 percent chance of success because there are some negative and positive factors for him involved. On the negative side, there exists in practice a coalition of the oligarchs, with the exception of some business interests, a coalition against Yuschenko which has overtly waged a battle against him using all the resources at their command, including undemocratic ones."

He also said that although Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma, himself under attack by parliament and demonstrators who want his resignation, publicly sides with Yuschenko, he has his reservations about the prime minister.

"The president himself feels that Yuschenko is not an entirely helpful choice for him in that Yuschenko's popularity within the country is far greater than his own and his (Yuschenko's) image in the West is superior. That's one thing. But also Yuschenko's avowed aims fundamentally contradict the views of the president about reform, although he publicly says they are working together."

Polokhalo thinks, however, that Kuchma, because of the pressure, will not abandon Yuschenko.

"He (Kuchma) will not agree to Yuschenko's resignation. So in practice Yuschenko's most important asset is the president himself. This strategic symbiosis between Yuschenko and the president is currently more powerful than other factors which are directed against Yuschenko."

Under the Ukrainian Constitution, even if the vote goes against Yuschenko, he does not need to resign immediately. The president can appoint him acting prime minister indefinitely. He may even try to use his leverage with the oligarchs to tip the vote in favor of Yuschenko.

The Communists are against Yuschenko largely because of ideological reasons. They dislike him because he has presided over market reforms that had been stalled under his predecessors -- particularly in the privatization of land in the agricultural sector.

The oligarchs have been angered that Yuschenko has tried to curtail the lucrative and often corrupt activities that have made them hugely wealthy.

Some of these politicians have also declared their desire to run for the presidency and would like to secure the prime minister's post for themselves as an advantageous launching pad for any presidential race. In the event of the president's resignation or incapacity by illness or death, the constitution gives the prime minister presidential powers for up to three months until the next presidential elections.

With pressure growing for Kuchma's resignation, those with presidential ambitions would like to see Yuschenko removed from his post. He consistently comes top in opinion polls regarding the country's most trusted politicians and would be in a strong position if he ran for the presidency while in the post of acting president.

But some independent analysts, as well as Yuschenko's critics in parliament, have said that he is an inept manager with a poor record for achieving economic benefits.

Polokhalo says that even if Kuchma keeps Yuschenko as acting prime minister, in the event of an unfavorable confidence vote, Yuschenko's moral authority will be weakened.