Speaker of Ukraine's Parliament Advice to Yushchenko (Update)

KIEV, Ukraine -- The speaker of Ukraine's parliament Volodymyr Lytvyn speaks during an exclusive interview with The Associated Press in Kiev, Thursday, Feb. 3, 2005.

Speaker of Parliament Volodymyr Lytvyn

The speaker of Ukraine's parliament has two messages for new President Viktor Yushchenko:

Pick your team carefully, and don't nurse any illusions about who is really in control.

In an interview with The Associated Press, speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn said Yulia Tymoshenko will be a major force to contend with once parliament confirms her as prime minister, which it's likely to do Friday.

"She will have a lot of powers, even under the current constitution," said Lytvyn, who leads the factious 450-member parliament.

Tymoshenko played a major role in last year's "Orange Revolution" protests, helping secure Viktor Yushchenko's victory over former Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych in a repeat presidential election Dec. 26. But her penchant for provocative statements and her unpopularity in Ukraine's Russian-speaking east are likely to make her a controversial premier.

The first woman to hold the post in this former Soviet republic, she could also become the most powerful prime minister yet.

Under constitutional changes adopted at the peak of Ukraine's political crisis, many powers will pass from the presidency to the parliament - and the prime minister - as early as this fall.

Tymoshenko's Fatherland party criticized the changes, calling them an attempt by supporters of ex-President Leonid Kuchma to hold onto power.

Now she stands to benefit most from them.

"Yulia Vladimirovna (Tymoshenko) should be interested in these constitutional changes coming into force on schedule ... because then the prime minister will become the central figure," Lytvyn said.

Lytvyn advised Yushchenko to choose his team carefully, questioning whether the president would be able to maintain his fragile coalition of Socialists, nationalists and reformers.

Lytvyn's People's Agrarian Party has 33 members in parliament and the numbers keep growing. Given his popularity, Lytvyn is fully expected to remain speaker of the Verkhovna Rada until parliamentary elections in 2006.

Widely respected in Ukraine for his efforts to mediate during the election crisis while appearing to remain above the fray, he said it was time to move beyond the divisive events that brought his ex-Soviet republic to the brink of conflict.

"We should already stop struggling against someone," Lytvyn said. "We must start living for something, for the country, for society."

On Wednesday, Tymoshenko sent lawmakers a broad outline of her agenda, which included ensuring free medical care, converting the military to full contract service, reforming Ukraine's corrupt judicial system and improving the nation's image abroad.

Lytvyn said the proposals were little more than "a list of priorities." But he was forgiving: "We only just got out of a revolution. There hasn't been time yet."

He rejected the possibility that Ukraine might erupt into new protests if Yushchenko's government fails to achieve its ambitious goals, but he also suggested the country must remain on its guard.

"The election of 2004, it wasn't yet the victory of democracy," he said. "The point of no return will only be passed in 2006" after parliamentary elections.