The speaker of the Ukrainian parliament was elected the country’s new prime minister Thursday in a vote that the government hopes will end a months-long political crisis but which reformers say gives Ukraine’s oligarchs a free hand in running the country.
In recent months, political tensions have risen in Ukraine and some respected reformers have resigned, citing disenchantment with the government’s cronyism and entrenched corruption.
The Supreme Rada on Thursday voted 257-50 in favor of Volodymyr Groysman, a compromise choice nominated by President Petro Poroshenko after his apparent first choice, U.S.-born Finance Minister Natalie Jaresko, was rejected by the governing coalition.
“The new prime minister and the cabinet will help to bring the government out of a months-long lethargy,” Kiev-based analyst Vadim Karasyov said.
Jaresko had been lauded as a West-friendly reformist untainted by Ukraine’s rampant cronyism and corruption. She helped to negotiate a deal to restructure Ukraine’s $15 billion debt and has been negotiating a bailout with the International Monetary Fund, but lost her post later Thursday when Groysman announced his new Cabinet.
Ukraine’s outgoing prime minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, resigned this week after weeks of pressure for him to step down. Yatsenyuk’s cabinet survived a no-confidence vote in February, but two parties left the governing coalition to protest the failure to oust the prime minister, who was under fire over the worsening economy and the slow pace of reforms.
Groysman, however, kept several ministers from Yatsenyuk’s government who have faced accusations of corruption and cronyism, including Interior Minister Arsen Avakov.
In Groysman’s acceptance speech, which was greeted by shouts and a murmur of discontent, the new prime minister said Ukraine faces three major challenges: corruption, poor governance and a populism that he described as “a no less threat than the enemy in the east.”
Fighting between Russia-backed separatists and government troops in eastern Ukraine has claimed more than 9,100 lives since April 2014, and a political settlement remains a dim prospect.
Oleh Lyashko, leader of the right-wing Radical Party that left the coalition earlier this year, dismissed Thursday’s vote as an oligarchs’ coup to secure their vested interests.
Yulia Tymoshenko, a former prime minister and a leading figure in the 2004 “Orange Revolution” protests, announced that her party will oppose the new government.
After a crushing defeat in the 2014 presidential vote, Tymoshenko largely disappeared from public view before being elected into parliament later that year. The latest opinion polls show Tymoshenko as the nation’s second-favorite politician, gaining ground on Poroshenko.
In Germany, Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier lauded Groysman’s appointment as a “chance to end the phase of political uncertainty in Kiev.” He urged the government to speed up the pace of reform, saying that Ukraine “has no time to lose.”
Ukraine’s gross domestic product fell a staggering 10 percent last year after a recession a year before. The Ukrainian economy is expected to return to a moderate growth this year but the country needs to persuade Western donors to unfreeze the transfer of $10 billion in loans.