Ukraine's revitalised opposition, led by far-right nationalists, wrecked plans by the ruling coalition to ease Mykola Azarov into a second term as prime minister on Wednesday at a raucous session of the new parliament, marked by brawls and cat-calls.
Deputies from three main opposition parties chanted “Hanba!
Hanba!” (Shame!) when Azarov’s name was invoked and encircled
the speaker’s rostrum, preventing a scheduled vote taking place
on his re-nomination by President Viktor Yanukovich.
Blows were exchanged when two elected deputies – a father
and son – were prevented from taking the oath. Opposition
deputies physically ejected them from the chamber, accusing them
of defecting to the ruling coalition, led by Yanukovich’s Party
of the Regions.
The opposition protests effectively paralysed the session
and parties left the chamber, agreeing to reconvene on Thursday.
The vote on Azarov’s nomination will be an early test of the
support that Yanukovich commands in the new chamber. Yanukovich,
on a visit to India, had earlier said he hoped Azarov would be
approved in office on Wednesday.
The pro-business Party of the Regions and their allies
enjoyed a strong majority in the last parliament, which allowed
them to ram through changes to the electoral law and a law on
use of the Russian language that sparked street protests.
But though it is still the biggest single party, it lost
seats in the Oct. 28 election.
Most analysts said they believed horse-trading would ensure
enough support from independents and others to secure the
required 226 or more seats. But the new opposition line-up,
whose leaders have ruled out any coalition with the Regions,
quickly showed their teeth.
Deputies from the three main opposition parties surrounded
the speaker’s rostrum, effectively blocking activation of the
electronic system which would allow deputies to vote on Azarov’s
nomination and the appointment of parliamentary officials.
After a prolonged stand-off, both sides went home agreeing
to resume business on Thursday, according to the Regions Party.
Separately, the government put off a meeting scheduled for
Deputies from the Batkivshchyna (Fatherland) bloc, whose
leader is jailed former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko,
appeared in the chamber wearing black sweaters bearing her
portrait and stickers calling for political prisoners to be
When the speaker formally announced that Azarov and his
government were present, the chamber echoed to opposition cries
of “Hanba! Hanba!” (Shame!)
New opposition figures who took the oath included world
heavyweight boxing champion Vitaly Klitschko, who heads the UDAR
(Punch) party, and Oleh Tyahnybok, leader of the Svoboda
far-right nationalists who did surprisingly well in the poll.
Former economy minister Arseny Yatsenyuk headed the
Batkivshchyna (Fatherland) bloc in Tymoshenko’s absence.
Svoboda deputies appeared to spearhead most of Wednesday’s
protest. Outside parliament, they cut down part of a perimeter
fence with a chainsaw and broke down a door in what they called
a protest against parliament’s alienation from the people.
Azarov is a staid, 64-year-old conservative who has been
prime minister since Yanukovich was elected in Feb. 2010.
The Regions won 185 seats on Oct. 28 – slightly fewer than
in the previous election.
But on Wednesday, boosted by deputies elected as
independents, they registered a 210-strong faction.
This means that, together with 33 Communists that the party
expects to vote with it, the Regions will have a comfortable
majority in the 450-seat chamber.
By nominating Azarov for a second term as prime minister,
Yanukovich opted to keep a predictable loyalist by his side
rather than back riskier alternatives.
The export-oriented economy might be facing a bruising year
next year with markets shrinking, while Yanukovich himself is
gearing up to run for a second term as president in 2015.
An early challenge for Azarov will be to negotiate a new
bailout programme with the International Monetary Fund to follow
a $15 billion package suspended in early 2011. An IMF mission is
due to visit Kiev in January to discuss a new standby
Opposition parties have welded together an action programme
in which they have threatened Yanukovich with impeachment and
vowed to work to free Tymoshenko, who was jailed more than a
year ago for alleged abuse of office while prime minister.
She has denied wrongdoing and says she is the victim of a
political vendetta by Yanukovich. But there are also rivalries
among the leaders of the opposition parties, which could
endanger any unity of purpose in the long run.