Tymoshenko Gets Second Shot At Premiership
Ukraine's parliament on December 18 confirmed Yulia Tymoshenko as prime minister, returning the controversial pro-Western politician to power three years after the Orange Revolution catapulted her to a short-lived, divisive premiership.
Tymoshenko won the bare minimum necessary -- 226 votes in the 450-seat Verkhovna Rada -- with the support of her own Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc and the Our Ukraine-People's Self-Defense bloc of her Orange Revolution ally, President Viktor Yushchenko.
Addressing lawmakers before the vote, Tymoshenko vowed to battle corruption and curb the power of oligarchs who have in the past wielded influence over public officials.
"I believe that the process of cleansing in Ukraine cannot be reversed," Tymoshenko said. "Maybe for a few months more you will be able to cling to power. Maybe for a few months more you will be able to scratch together a few bits of Ukrainian resources. But in the end, you will have to return everything, right to the last drop. Hear my words."
Tymoshenko also tried to assure supporters that her Orange Coalition with Yushchenko would hold together and govern effectively, despite its razor-thin majority in parliament and history of bickering and conflicting ambitions.
An Uneasy Partnership
Analysts have their doubts, and expect the resuscitated Orange coalition to be short-lived due to bitter rivalries within the coalition -- particularly between the president and his new prime minister.
"The challenge [for Tymoshenko] remains the same, which means lukewarm support -- if it can be called support at all -- from Yushchenko and his camp," says Kyiv-based political analyst Ivan Lozowy. "It's the reason why [Tymoshenko's] election was so difficult. It's the reason why it is going to be difficult for her to get anything through the Rada, the parliament."
Moreover, presidential elections are due to take place in 2010. Tymoshenko is widely believed to covet Yushchenko's job, and tensions between the uneasy allies can be expected to rise as the vote approaches.
"Presidential elections aren't that far down the road; just two years away. And President Yushchenko and especially the people around him are very wary of Tymoshenko as a candidate," Lozowy says.
Tymoshenko replaces Viktor Yanukovych, the Orange Revolution antagonist, as prime minister. Yanukovych and his Party of Regions had pushed unsuccessfully for a broad coalition following early parliamentary elections in September.
The Party of Regions led that vote with 34 percent, followed closely by Tymoshenko's bloc with 30 percent and Yushchenko's Our Ukraine-Peoples' Self-Defense with 14 percent.. But a broad coalition was not to be.
Speaking in parliament today, Yanukovych warned that Tymoshenko's return to the premiership could destabilize Ukrainian society.
"I think today's event will deepen political instability and foment confrontational processes in society," Yanukovych said. "Once again, we see the beginning of an era of new challenges to our country, a time of trial by crises, political intrigues, and squabbles -- I mean, first and foremost, inside the Orange team."
A Test Of Democracy
In a sign of the mistrust embedded in Ukrainian politics, today's vote was conducted by a show of hands, and took more than one hour. Parliamentary Speaker Arseniy Yatsenyuk grinned broadly as he cast the vote that finally put Tymoshenko over the top.
The laborious process was necessary because a vote last week on Tymoshenko's candidacy -- in which she won just 225 votes -- was marred by allegations of tampering with the electronic voting cards and tallying machines.
Beforehand, Tymoshenko called the vote a test of Ukraine's democratic standards. "I think that today's vote will provide evidence as to whether or not there are shadowy political practices in our country," she told lawmakers.
Tymoshenko has long been a controversial figure in Ukrainian politics. She made a fortune in the gas industry in the 1990s, served as deputy prime minister from 1999 until 2001, and was briefly jailed on corruption charges that were subsequently dropped.
As a fiery opposition leader during the 2004 Orange Revolution, she rallied massive crowds in central Kyiv protesting a rigged presidential election that authorities initially said was won by Yanukovych.
The protests, and the Supreme Court's subsequent overturning of the results, led to a victory by Yushchenko in a repeat contest. Once in office, Yushchenko appointed Tymoshenko prime minister in February 2005.
But Tymoshenko struggled with the messy business of day-to-day governance. She also frightened investors by threatening to overturn privatizations and introduce price controls on fuel.
Tymoshenko and Yushchenko's alliance descended into constant bickering, and in September 2005, the president fired his former ally. That move split the Orange forces and opened the door for Yanukovych's political comeback as prime minister after the victory of his Party of Regions in the March 2006 parliamentary elections.
Since last serving as prime minister, Tymoshenko's popularity has increased largely as a result of her populist positions on economic issues. It is unclear, however, whether that will be enough to overcome her troubled ties with her erstwhile Orange Revolution ally.