Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk survived a no-confidence vote on Tuesday (16 February) that came hours after the president asked him to resign because he had lost the public’s trust.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko asked Yatsenyuk yesterday to resign in the face of the government’s perceived failure to fight endemic corruption and overcome a deep economic crisis.
The motion to oust the pro-Western government leader collected only 194 of the required 226 votes in the 450-seat parliament.
The war-scarred country is now left standing in the peculiar position of the two top leaders at seeming odds over how Ukraine should pursue its stalled fight against corruption and overcome a deep economic malaise.
Opinion polls show 70% of Ukrainians supporting Yatsenyuk’s dismissal and only one percent backing his parliamentary bloc.
But Yatsenyuk put up a passionate defence of his record before sceptical lawmakers.
“We saved this country and I want you to respect that,” Yatsenyuk said.
The 41-year-old former banker has been in office since Ukraine’s dramatic February 2014 revolution ousted the ex-Soviet country’s Russian-backed leader and set it on a westward course.
He was credited with helping negotiate a massive Western financial rescue package that helped bolster the government while it was fighting a brutal pro-Russian revolt in the separatist east.
“Dear deputies: we now have a country with full state coffers, an armed Ukrainian army, written-off debts, and paid salaries and pensions,” Yatsenyuk said.
“We will hand over the country to a new government with honour and dignity,” he concluded before parliament decided to keep him in office.
Poroshenko had earlier taken the unusual step of asking his prime minister to voluntarily make way for a fresh team that enjoyed broad public support.
“It is not clear that successful reforms can only be conducted by a government that enjoys sufficiently high public support?” Poroshenko said in a statement.
“In order to restore trust, therapy is no longer enough — you need surgery.”
But only 97 of the 143 deputies in the president’s parliamentary faction ended up listening to Poroshenko’s advice.
The government’s collapse had threatened to jeopardise the delivery of a massive IMF-led rescue package aimed at reviving Ukraine’s shattered economy and putting it on a course toward sustainable growth.
Yatsenyuk has been a passionate foe of Russia who endeared himself to the West by promoting belt-tightening measures that were promised but ignored by a succession of preceding leaders.
But his vows to clean up the government by cutting its ties to tycoons soon fell flat with voters who accused him of backing the interests of the very billionaires he had vowed to sideline.
“People expected real and quick changes from Yatsenyuk, and they did not come,” political analyst Mykola Davydyuk told AFP.
And presidential party member Yuriy Lutsenko accused the government “of stopping its work in September or October and ever since only been trying to save itself” from a major overhaul.
The president’s statement also sought the resignation of Prosecutor General Viktor Shokin — a public hate figure who was widely accused of covering up corruption within his own agency.
Shokin was dealt a blow when a raid on the homes of two high-ranking prosecutors in July found large quantities of diamonds and cash.
Yatsenyuk assumed office in February 2014 – just weeks before Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the bloody pro-Moscow insurgency in eastern Ukraine that followed.
His resolute commitment to the European Union helped persuade the IMF to force other lenders to join a $40-billion (€35.8-billion) economic rescue package aimed at helping the Ukrainian government avoid a looming debt default.
But the political uncertainty that has rocked Ukraine since this month’s resignation of its reformist economy minister and a top prosecutor over their alleged inability to fight state graft threatens to put that assistance on hold.
IMF chief Christine Lagarde warned last week that it was “hard to see” how the bailout could continue without Ukraine pushing through the economic restructuring and anti-corruption measures it had signed on to when the package was agreed.
Ukraine’s economy shrank by about 10 percent last year while annual inflation soared to more than 43% even with the Western assistance in place.
A withdrawal of the funding could crush Ukraine’s hopes of a 2016 economic revival and a modest budget deficit.
But Yatsenyuk’s survival means that parliament cannot try to oust him again until after its current session ends on 22 July.
“The freedom and pluralism of the press are essential in the fight against corruption”, says Christian Moos, member of the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC).
Moos is head of the European department of the German civil servants union (dbb) and Secretary-general of the German section of European federalists (Europa-Union). He drafted a report on anticorruption measures in Europe for the EU-Ukraine Civil Society Platform (CSP) in which he argues that the freedom of the press is paramount to fighting corruption in the EU and in the Ukraine.
Moos deems it necessary to include the aspect of the media-landscape in the fight against corruption in general and, particularly, in the reforms the Ukraine is undertaking to fulfil its obligations in the association process. His report points out that the guarantee of freedom of the press is essential for democracy and the rule of law. Moos fears that it is not only lack of freedom but also market pressure which endangers the fourth estate in many EU countries: “Pluralism of the press is not protected as a fundamental right. It is under threat in parts of the EU, whilst in Ukraine it is yet to be established. However, it is very important for various reasons – first and foremost for the plurality of views and the independence of an investigative journalism.”
The Platform was created in its inaugural meeting in April 2015 in Kyiv as joint civil society institution of the EU and Ukraine. Its second meeting took place 11 February 2016 at the EESC in Brussels. Oleksii Khmara of Transparency International Ukraine presented a report on the anti-corruption policies in the Ukraine arguing that albeit measures have been taken, there is a lack of political will to implement them. Moos stressed that it takes more to cut out the cancer than to establish specialized courts or anticorruption authorities. “With regard to Ukraine, there are six particularly important aspects which are equally key to overcoming the endemic corruption in Ukraine.” These would be the separation and interlocking of powers, public sector integrity, independence of the judiciary, freedom and pluralism of the press, a deconcentration of economic power and a vibrant civil society.