Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich's ruling party installed one of its parliamentary deputies as speaker on Thursday despite brawls triggered by opposition attempts to block the vote.
Deputies wrestled with each other in a mass of bodies around the main rostrum in parliament after the opposition tried physically to prevent a vote on Volodymyr Rybak’s nomination.
Backed by their traditional communist allies, Yanukovich’s Party of the Regions secured 250 votes – 226 were required – backing Rybak, indicating they were also likely to succeed in approving Yanukovich’s ally Mykola Azarov as prime minister.
In equally rowdy scenes on Wednesday, opposition deputies paralysed the session by encircling the rostrum to sabotage the ruling coalition’s plans to ease Azarov rapidly into a second term as prime minister.
The vote on Azarov’s nomination – expected later on Thursday – will be an early test of the support that Yanukovich, who is expected to bid for a second term as president in 2015, commands in the new chamber.
On Thursday, opposition deputies swarmed around the rostrum when a vote on the appointment of Rybak as speaker was about to be announced, clashing with a group of Regions deputies.
Opposition deputies chanted “Shame!” whenever a Regions MP spoke in Russian and tried to remove one Russian speaker from the rostrum. But they were held off by Regions lawmakers as Azarov, a staid 64-year-old conservative, looked on bemused.
Rybak, 66, comes from the eastern Ukrainian industrial hub Donetsk – the power base of the Regions – and worked as Yanukovich’s deputy when he headed the government in 2006-2007.
The opposition, which includes deputies loyal to jailed former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, nationalists from the far-right Svoboda and a liberal party led by boxing champion Vitaly Klitschko, accuse the ruling coalition of trying to ram through voting despite violations of parliamentary rules.
The pro-business Party of the Regions and their allies enjoyed a strong majority in the last parliament.
But though it is still the biggest single party, it lost seats in the Oct. 28 election and faces an opposition which has been re-energised by the arrival of the Svoboda nationalists and Klitschko’s UDAR (Punch) party.
The two-metre-tall Klitschko stayed away from the brawling, jokingly telling the Ukrainska Pravda newspaper his punches would be too dangerous.
“I understand that many people want Klitschko to launch an offensive but I would like to remind (them) that, for example, in the United States a boxer’s fists are considered weapons and the fists of a world champion are considered nuclear weapons,” he said.
“We will not use these weapons for now.”