Ukraine plunged into political uncertainty yesterday, when President Petro Poroshenko urged unpopular prime minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk and his embattled government to resign, but parliament then failed to oust them in a no-confidence vote.
The split between president and premier and within the ruling coalition comes at a tense time for Ukraine, with violence intensifying in eastern regions and public frustration over stymied reforms rising ahead of the second anniversary of the deadly climax to the country’s pro-western revolution.
After intense debate in parliament, during which Mr Yatsenyuk defended his government’s record, 194 deputies in the 450-seat chamber voted to dismiss the cabinet, well short of the required 226 votes.
Most members of Mr Poroshenko’s eponymous party voted to sack the government, but Mr Yatsenyuk’s People’s Front party opposed the move, and members of the largely pro-Russian Opposition Bloc did not vote – despite lambasting the cabinet’s work.
Some deputies and analysts said the Opposition Bloc sought to protect a government that is accused of having close ties to several of Ukraine’s “oligarchs”, while others accused it of seeking to destabilise the country by deepening its political crisis, or of trying to force Mr Poroshenko to call snap elections.
Mr Yatsenyuk became prime minister in late February 2014, days after Kremlin-backed president Viktor Yanukovich and many of his allies fled Ukraine following clashes in Kiev that killed scores of anti-government protesters – most of whom were shot dead by security forces allegedly acting on Mr Yanukovich’s orders.
People’s Front came second to the Petro Poroshenko Bloc in a general election that autumn, and Mr Yatsenyuk continued as premier, but he has since been dogged by criticism over the pace and depth of reform.
Surveys suggest People’s Front would fail to win the 5 per cent needed to enter parliament if an election were held now, and Ukraine’s western backers have been alarmed by the resignation from key posts of several respected reformists.
This month, IMF chief Christine Lagarde said the fund’s $17.5 billion (€15.7 billion) bailout programme for Ukraine would be at risk “without a substantial new effort to invigorate governance reforms and fight corruption”.
Mr Poroshenko’s office announced yesterday that he had “asked prosecutor General Viktor Shokin to resign and called on prime minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk to “completely re-format the government on the basis of the current coalition”.
The president’s office said it was clear that Mr Shokin and the government had failed to earn the public’s trust. Ukrainian media reported that the prosecutor general offered his resignation to Mr Poroshenko.
Surgery not therapy
“It is clear that society decided that [the government’s] mistakes outnumber its achievements and did not trust the ministers,” Mr Poroshenko said. “To restore trust, therapy is now not enough – surgery is needed.” Mr Poroshenko urged the coalition parties to form a new pro-western government to avoid the “worst-case scenario” of snap elections.
The turmoil comes amid heavier clashes in the east, where three Ukrainian soldiers were killed by fire from Russian-backed separatists in the past 24 hours.