Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko today (16 February) asked Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk to resign in the face of the government’s perceived failure to fight endemic corruption and overcome a deep economic crisis.
Poroshenko’s dramatic intervention came as opinion polls showed growing public disenchantment with the pro-Western team that took over the leadership of the former Soviet nation after its 2014 pro-Western revolt.
Parliament was already considering Tuesday holding a vote of no confidence in the government after first listening to Yatsenyuk account for his 2015 performance and his plans for this year.
A stony-faced Yatsenyuk arrived in parliament just moments after the president’s statement was released.
“In order to restore trust in the government, the president asked the prosecutor general and the prime minister to quit,” presidential spokesman Svyatoslav Tsegolko tweeted.
“It is not clear that successful reforms can only be conducted by a government that enjoys sufficiently high public support?” Poroshenko added in a statement on the presidential website.
“In order to restore trust, therapy is no longer enough — you need surgery.”
Poroshenko said that all four parties that comprise parliament’s current pro-Western coalition should take part “in a complete cabinet reshuffle”.
Yatsenyuk’s resignation must be approved by parliament – a step that is highly likely considering the level of lawmakers’ dissatisfaction with the current cabinet.
Deputies began debating the government’s future during its late afternoon session after first considering other bills.
The government’s collapse could jeopardise the delivery of a massive IMF-led rescue package aimed at reviving Ukraine’s shattered economy and slashing its reliance on Russian financial support.
‘No real changes’
Yatsenyuk was a passionate foe of Russia who endeared himself to the West by promoting belt-tightening measures that could return growth to the former Soviet state.
But the 41-year-old former banker’s 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.
Recent opinion polls show 70% of Ukrainians supporting Yatsenyuk’s ouster and only one percent backing his People’s Front parliamentary bloc.
“People expected real and quick changes from Yatsenyuk, and they did not come,” political analyst Mykola Davydyuk told AFP.
Poroshenko’s statement also sought the resignation of Prosecutor General Viktor Shokin 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 uncovered large quantities of diamonds and cash.
Western aid under threat
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 cobble together a massive $40-billion (€35.8-billion) economic rescue package aimed at cementing Kiev’s new westward tilt.
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% 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.
“If the government is quickly changed and filled with technocrats, there is a chance we can quickly emerge from this crisis,” Dragon Capital investment company economist Olena Bilan told AFP.
“But if politicians are appointed, then we might see reforms rolled back. The crisis will end, but the country will not move forward.”