Tymoshenko calls Ukraine ‘absolutely ungovernable’

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Nov. 26, 2009, 1:11 p.m. | Ukraine — by Peter Byrne

Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko

Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and her eponymous parliamentary faction tried but failed to overcome a presidential veto that blocked Hr 1 billion in spending to flight the flu epidemic. “I call on all of you to protect your constituents and override the veto,” said Tymoshenko, who called President Victor Yushchenko’s decision to nix the spending “unconscionable.”

“The World Health Organization is predicting from 34,000 to 240,000 deaths from the flu epidemic in Ukraine. We need billions, not just Hr 1 billion, to get ready for the next waves of the epidemic this year and next,” Tymoshenko said.

But only 231 lawmakers supported the prime minister’s effort, 69 less than the constitutional majority, or 300 votes, required. Deputies belonging to the Party of the Regions faction led by presidential candidate Victor Yanukovych largely ignored vote. So did members of the pro-presidential Our Ukraine faction.

Some 401 deputies approved increased anti-flu spending on Nov. 3 as an amendment to the 2009 national budget. But Yushchenko on Nov. 16 axed the bill, calling it unaffordable.

Oleksandr Shlapak, head of the presidential secretariat, told lawmakers on Nov. 19 that Yushchenko did not oppose the measures if they could be properly funded.

“You can’t just tell the central bank to print up an extra Hr 1 billion,” Shlapak said, adding that Ukraine’s total sovereign debt has risen recently to $30 billion (Hr 250 billion).

On the eve of the expected showdown in parliament, Tymoshenko appeared on Channel 5 on Nov. 25 to criticize the incumbent and Party of Regions leader Viktor Yanukovych, probably her most popular rival in the presidential election on Jan. 17.

Tymoshenko said the root cause of the Ukraine’s political mess stems from a deal struck during the 2004 Orange Revolution between Yushchenko and former president Leonid Kuchma to change the constitution in a way that fractured powers and diluted presidential authority.

“This is the reason for the chaos in government and the complete collapse of the system of power. We have an absolutely ungovernable country on our hands,” Tymoshenko said.

Speaking faintly and matter-of-factly, Tymoshenko offered to step down as prime minister “if someone else comes along who can deal with country’s financial and flu crises simultaneously.”

“I don’t think either Yushchenko or Yanukovych want the job,” Tymoshenko said.

Ukraine’s government on Nov. 1 closed all schools and universities for three weeks and urged cancellation of all mass gatherings, including campaign rallies. The temporary ban was lifted in most of the country’s regions on Nov. 25.

Since the Oct. 29 start of the flu outbreak, the Health Ministry has registered 404 deaths and more than 1.7 million cases of flu-related and acute respiratory illness.

The World Health Organization suspects most victims are suffering from swine flu. But WHO says the infection rate it says is in line with neighboring countries like Russia and Poland. Some observers - including the WHO – have pointed out that the government’s energetic response to the epidemic has helped Ukraine's weak health care system prepare for future epidemics.
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