Political focus shifts to Cabinet makeup

With the noise around the Oct. 28 parliamentary election dying down, the political focus is shifting to possible changes in the Cabinet of Ministers. Half of the nation’s 18 Cabinet members have been elected to parliament. Under the law, they will have to make a choice between their current job and a lawmaker’s seat.

The most senior of these officials is Prime Minister Mykola Azarov, who topped the Party of Regions election list. Azarov is said to be mulling his options. The consensus view, however, is that he will stay put, ahead of a Dec. 3 legal deadline.

“I will take that decision together with the president,” Azarov said on Nov. 13. 

His attitude might depends on who he has to work with. In the past week, Azarov twice called for a broad coalition with all oppositional parties who made it into parliament. So far, his offer has been to no avail.

He said that the United Opposition-Batkivshchyna has “a certain circle of people with whom I can discuss these [economic] problems.” He said Vitali Klitschko’s Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reform has people with experience such as former Finance Minister Viktor Pynzenyk.

“If they [deputies in opposition] are elected by the people, why wouldn’t I work with them?” Azarov asked.

However, Azarov has not made a noticeable effort to negotiate with leaders of the opposition, raising speculation that his statements about potential cooperation are meant to entice individual deputies from the opposition only, with ministerial chairs as the carrots.

Vitaliy Kovalchuk, a senior member of UDAR, said on Nov. 13, that sticks are being used as well.

Kovalchuk said that members of his party have received threats. Olesia Orobets, a member of Batkivshchyna, said her husband’s business, Phoenix Capital, was raided by the tax police as a means of pressure. All three oppositional parties have said, however, that they will not negotiate with the government.

Some of the rewards can be quite high, though. Three out of four deputy prime minister seats might become vacant since Sergiy Tigipko, the social minister, and Borys Kolesknikov, minister for infrastructure, have also been elected to the Rada, while First Prime Minister Valeriy Khoroshkovskiy has shown discontent with his lack of real powers in the Cabinet. They are all candidates for replacement.

One of the most visible signs of Khoroshkovskiy’s unhappiness was a radical change in the editorial policy of his Inter TV channel, the nation’s largest and most influential broadcaster. The channel more than doubled its objective coverage of the opposition’s election campaign in just over a month, to 38 percent of the news coverage, suggesting a possible shift in the owner’s political allegiance.

Tigipko, on the other hand, heads the social ministry, which the Communist Party covets should its 32 members agree on a coalition or alliance with the pro-presidential Party of Regions in parliament. The Communist Party campaigned on populist social slogans, and political analyst Kostyantyn Bondarenko, notes that the ministry controls the accounts of four social funds. The pension fund is among them. In the first eight months of this year alone, the pension fund paid out Hr 152 billion and took in Hr 144 billion.

Kolesnikov, deputy prime minister for infrastructure, will also have to make up his mind, but is said to like his position. He leads many long-term projects in the government, ranging from introduction of a new type of electronic railway tickets at the end of December to handling the 2022 bid for the Winter Olympics.

In last week’s interview to Korrespondent magazine, Kolesnikov said that the Party of Regions has a meeting planned with President Viktor Yanukovych, where many fates will be decided, including his own. 

“I would like to point out that we’re strong and win elections only because we’re a unified team. This means that everyone has a role of their own. That is why it’s not so important who will stay and who will go. The main thing is to preserve the team,” Kolesnikov said.

The pundits are edging to consensus that three cabinet members are on the way out.

Economics Minister Petro Poroshenko and Emergencies Minister Victor Baloha have been elected to parliament through majority constituencies. They have both criticized the government lately, and even have had very public spats with senior officials, including the president. Poroshenko has also indicated that he will leave the government if Azarov stays prime minister.

The third minister who often features on the list of candidates to leave for the Rada is highly controversial Education and Sciences Minister Dmytro Tabachnyk, a Russophile. “His behavior is insulting for [many] Ukrainians, so the government does not want those moods inflamed, combined with [the leadership of] Svoboda,” said political consultant Viktor Nabozhenko.

Azarov stressed that the final decisions on composition of the government will be taken by the president. “But in any case, there will be continuity,” he said.

Kyiv Post editor Katya Gorchinskaya can be reached at gorchinskaya@kyivpost.com.


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