KYIV (Reuters) - Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko easily survived a no-confidence vote in parliament after rejecting IMF predictions of a shrinking economy and sticking to her government's growth forecast of 0.4 percent.
The motion, put forward by the opposition Party of Regions of ex-Premier Viktor Yanukovich, won 203 votes in the 450-seat assembly, well short of the 226 required to pass.
With less than a year to go before a presidential election, the outcome strengthened Tymoshenko's position ahead of what she said would be a cabinet reshuffle next week.
Only one confidence vote can be submitted per session under the constitution and Tymoshenko cannot now be voted out of office until at least autumn.
Speaking outside the chamber, Tymoshenko told reporters the result amounted to a "resolution of trust in the government."
The prime minister, whose government is underpinned by a coalition of three groups, said before the vote that political will was needed to face down those predicting negative growth, including the International Monetary Fund. The economy grew 2.1 percent last year.
"Ukraine plans for 0.4 percent growth in gross domestic product in 2009, whereas the IMF proposed a forecast of minus five percent," Tymoshenko told deputies.
"The government did not agree with such a forecast. It is simply too easy to become reconciled to a fall. I believe Ukraine is strong, with resources and reserves, and if the proper actions are taken at this difficult time, we can achieve this indicator as planned," she said.
The global economic crisis has slashed demand for Ukraine's chemical and steel exports. Industrial output dropped 20-30 percent year-on-year at the end of 2008.
Awaiting Economic Aid
Analyst Volodymyr Fesenko of the Penta think tank said the vote "will allow Tymoshenko to work quietly for a time and protect her against rearguard attacks from parliament. She still faces some strategic risks, but these are linked not so much to politics as to the social and economic crisis."
An IMF mission has been in Kyiv for the past two weeks to determine whether to release the second tranche of a $16.4 billion loan.
Fund officials have made no statements on the government's actions, including parliament's passage of a 2009 budget before the New Year with a 3 percent deficit despite an IMF stipulation that the plan be deficit-free.
Yanukovich told the chamber there would be no improvement in the economy until those in power were replaced. "There must be early elections to parliament and for president," he said.
Yanukovich leads in opinion polls in the long run-up to the presidential poll, followed closely by Tymoshenko. President Viktor Yushchenko, the premier's estranged ally from the 2004 pro-Western "Orange Revolution," trails in single figures.
Yushchenko has long been at odds with the premier over nearly all policy issues and has asked her to alter the budget.
Presidential chief of staff Viktor Baloga dismissed the prime minister's address as fantasy in a statement on the presidential Internet site, saying she depicted "Ukraine as some sort of fable where a magic fairy creates all things good while troubles are created only by those wishing everyone ill."
Tymoshenko suggested before the vote that if her government survived, she would bring in experts from all political forces in a shuffle.
Parliament must approve all cabinet changes.
Ukrainian news reports said several ministers were likely to lose their jobs. These included Finance Minister Viktor Pynzenyk who, according to a respected Internet news site, denounced the budget as excessively optimistic.