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Prime minister survives no confidence vote in chaotic parliament (UPDATED)

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Dec. 3, 2013, 1:45 p.m. | Ukraine — by Christopher J. Miller, Oksana Grytsenko

Prime Minister Mykola Azarov gestures to his pro-government supporters following a failed no confidence vote in parliament on Dec. 3.
© Kostyantyn Chernichkin

Christopher J. Miller

Christopher J. Miller is an American editor at the Kyiv Post. He is also a regular contributor to Mashable, and has written for GlobalPost, The Times, The Telegraph, The Independent and others. A former U.S. Peace Corps volunteer (Artemivsk, Donetsk Oblast, 2010-2012), he can be reached at millerjchristopher@gmail.com.

Oksana Grytsenko

Ukraine’s Cabinet of Ministers on Dec. 2 survived a chaotic parliament and a no-confidence vote initiated by opposition parties in parliament as thousands of pro-European supporters of the government’s resignation gathered outside.

Due to internal parliament rules, a no-confidence vote can only be held once per session. The next vote cannot take place earlier than February 2014, leaving the country’s political situation in turmoil until then.

Notably, Prime Minister Mykola Azarov, Deputy Prime Minister Yuriy Boiko and Foreign Minister Leonid Kozhara were present for the vote, along with many of the other cabinet members.

Just 186 deputies voted for the motion, short of the required 226. Five members of parliament voted against the bill, with 12 abstaining and 135 choosing not to vote at all.

Attempting to quell public outrage over recent violent events for which protesters hold the government accountable, Azarov told the Ukrainian parliament on Tuesday before the no-confidence vote that restructuring is imminent for the government.

"There is one thing I can guarantee to the parliament: I will draw conclusions from what has happened (the violent dispersal of a pro-European Union rally on Nov. 30). Resolute government reshuffling is coming," he said.

Azarov said again that neither the prime minister nor the president ordered the dispersal of the rally.

His remarks were met with chants of “Shame!” and “Resign!” and “Speak Ukrainian!” from opposition members of parliament.

“The more you shout, the more confident and self-assured I am,” a defiant Azarov responded.

He also assured lawmakers that the government would resume talks with the European Union and resume its integration plan.

“Yesterday I was present when (President Viktor) Yanukovych spoke to President of the European Union Commission Jose Manuel Barroso, and they agreed to resume talks on a free trade agreement,” he said.

According to Barroso, negotiations regarding preparations to sign association and free trade accords that Ukraine’s government abandoned on Nov. 21, ahead of the Eastern Partnership Summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, are off the table. He did say, however, that Brussels would welcome a Ukrainian delegation in Brussels.

“President Barroso confirmed the readiness of the European Commission to receive such a delegation at the appropriate level. He underlined that the European Commission stands ready to discuss aspects of implementation related to the agreements already initialed, but not to re-open any kind of negotiations,” a European Commission statement quoted him as saying.

However, a new initiative in parliament by the Party of Regions on Dec. 3 indicated that the government is not thinking about implementation. Several Party of Regions deputies filed a draft law that suggests that the association agreement needs to be renegotiated. The agreement, which is over 1,000 pages long, took years to negotiate and was initialed in March 2012.

The authorities also made it clear that they are not prepared to negotiate with the protesters. In his speech to parliament, Azarov sternly warned those protesters currently occupying Kyiv City State Administration that force could be used to remove them.

“We extended our hand to you,” Azarov said. “If we meet with a fist, I’m telling you - we’ve got enough forces.”

Protesters stormed the building during a mass rally on Dec. 1, in which about 350,000 people took to the streets to demand that Ukraine sign the long-anticipated association and free trade agreements with the EU. They have remained there since, setting up a “revolution headquarters,” according to spray-painted text beneath the official Kyiv City Hall sign.

Following the failed vote, Batkivshchyna party leader Arseniy Yatseniuk said he would lead the opposition parties and protesters to the Presidential Administration building on Bankova Street, the site of bloody clashes between protesters and riot police on Dec. 1 that left some 40 journalists and dozens of protesters and police injured. There protesters will demand that Yanukovych fire Azarov and then resign, he said.

Reuters reported on Dec. 3 that Yanukovych was on a visit in China, but Yatseniuk said that is not the case.

“The president is still in Kyiv, he is going to leave (to China) tomorrow,” he said. “If Yanukovych thinks he may avoid responsibility, he is wrong. We are going to the Presidential Administration to demand the government’s resignation and to hold snap elections for president and for parliament.”

As of 3:30 p.m., hundreds of protesters had gathered in front of the building, with more reportedly marching there.

Rostyslav Pavlenko of the opposition Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reform (UDAR) party said that sacking Azarov’s government could have brought calm to Kyiv. But since those in power decided not to sacrifice Azarov it may lead to “further escalation of conflict.”

UDAR opposition party leader and world boxing champion Vitali Klitschko said that “without a reboot of those in power we will not be able to solve anything.”

The majority of the 186 members of parliament who voted for the government’s dismissal were opposition deputies. But one from the pro-government majority – Party of Regions’ Yuriy Bondar– in a sign of defiance sided with the opposition.

The move highlights a growing division in the ruling party. At least five Party of Regions deputies have voiced their intentions to leave the party. Parliament speaker Volodymyr Rybak during the Dec. 3 session confirmed that two had successful left.

Sergiy Mishchenko, an independent member of parliament, told the Kyiv Post that he knew of some 20 to 30 Regions Party deputies who are ready to leave the party.

Still, those dissenters did not participate in the Dec. 3 no confidence vote. Mishchenko said that was due to the opposition’s "lack of will" to persuade other independent deputies and those from the Party of Regions to vote for Azarov’s dismissal.

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