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Ukraine: Parliament Elects New Prime Minister

Prague, 29 May 2001 (RFE/RL) -- The Ukrainian parliament today elected Anatoly Kinakh as the country's new prime minister.

Kinakh needed a simple majority of the 450-member parliament to approve his nomination. He received 239 votes, 13 more than the minimum necessary. Kinakh replaces the former prime minister, Viktor Yushchenko, a pro-Western reformer. Yushchenko resigned last month after an alliance of Communists and parties loyal to the powerful business interests known as "oligarchs" secured a vote of no confidence in his government.

Until recently, Kinakh served as a deputy minister in charge of industrial policy. He has also served as chairman of the industrialists and entrepreneurs' association.

Centrist, business, and moderate reform deputies all supported Kinakh's candidacy. The Communists -- with 112 seats, the largest single party in the parliament -- abstained, while parties on the nationalist right or controlled by business groups opposed to Kuchma voted against Kinakh.

After the vote, Kinakh told parliament that he was aware of the challenges ahead of him and would work for effective reforms and for what he described as "constructive cooperation between different branches of government."

In remarks made before the vote, Kinakh promised to continue reforms begun by the Yushchenko government, a pledge that cost him Communist support. He repeated the promise to journalists after the vote.

"We have no extra time to start reforms and form state social-economic policy all over again from the beginning. I will do my best to consolidate the positive achievements we have, including the achievements of the former government, as well as doing everything to deepen structural reforms and to increase the efficiency of work in the field of social problems."

Kinakh, who is 46 years old and a former shipbuilding engineer, is a close associate of President Leonid Kuchma. The support of the industrialists and entrepreneurs' association, which Kinakh led and which embraces both the large Soviet-era industries and new businesses, greatly contributed to Kuchma's victory in the 1999 presidential race.

Kinakh said his priorities as prime minister would be tax reform, support for industry, and protection of domestic producers. He also wants to rebuild the trust of Western investors and financial institutions that have been shaken by months of political turmoil and mass demonstrations against Kuchma.

Many commentators had predicted that Kuchma would have a tough time getting his prime minister's nomination approved by parliament. But the director of the independent Institute for Statehood and Democracy, Ivan Lozowy, said Kuchma had put great pressure on politicians to secure the vote he wanted.

"This was a test of the president's strength. So there were very serious and intensive consultations [with politicians] that led to the prime minister being confirmed. But I would not say a margin of 13 votes was a great victory. Thirteen votes out of 450 seats cannot be called an overwhelming mandate of trust by the parliament."

Lozowy says that Kinakh has no strong political or financial base because he has not allied himself closely with parliamentary political groupings in the past. The analyst thinks that Kinakh will not embark on anything controversial as prime minister. Along with other analysts, Lozowy believes Kinakh is a temporary figure installed by Kuchma to prepare the ground for next year's parliamentary elections, which Kuchma hopes will provide him with a majority of supporters.

"I would characterize him [Kinakh] above all as a technocrat. He's a hard-headed person, he's resolute, and he's a practical person. But from another point of view -- and from what we know of his past and from what he said recently -- he's a person, in my view, who hasn't got a strategic course mapped out and has not got an opinion about -- probably is not even interested in -- whether Ukraine heads down a Euro-Asian course or toward the West. He's a pragmatic person who, at the moment, is a convenient figure for the [business] clans and the president because he's a temporary figure until the [parliamentary] elections."

Despite Kinakh's assurances that he will continue the economic reforms begun by Yushchenko, Lozowy is skeptical that will happen. He points out that Kinakh had hinted at compromises with the Communists if they supported his bid for the premiership. He also notes that Kuchma, who Lozowy says will try to keep tight control of Kinakh, opposed many of Yushchenko's plans to implement genuine, far-reaching economic reforms, including widespread privatization of large and medium-sized state-owned enterprises.

"As for Kinakh and reforms, one needs a much stronger and more committed person who understands the nature of reforms before we can talk about whether there are chances for the reforms begun by Yushchenko to be continued. I think such chances are very low in a Kinakh government."

Lozowy also says that, despite securing a majority in parliament today, Kinakh will not be able to break through the quarrels and divisions in parliament which have, since independence 10 years ago, stalled the adoption of reforms and other important legislation.