Fresh Political Row Erupts In Ukraine

KIEV, Ukraine -- Just two years after Ukraine’s Orange Revolution, President Viktor Yushchenko is facing a political crisis, with four of his government allies resigning yesterday and public support for him down to single digits.

Viktor Yushchenko

The resignation of four cabinet ministers from Yushchenko’s own party came a day after he made a surprise appearance at a film premiere in Kiev with Hollywood director Steven Spielberg — and many in the audience seemed hardly to notice.

Any president might be overshadowed by a star of Spielberg’s stature, but Yushchenko is not just any president: he is the onetime national hero who rode a wave of mass protests to power in the 2004 Orange Revolution.

Two years on, his support in the opinion polls has tumbled to 9.5 per cent. “In his first months as president in 2005 he had 46.7 per cent total support,” sociologist Andrei Bychenko from the Razumov polling centre said.

“This fall is very serious. From the time he became prime minister (in 1999), his level of total support has never fallen below 20 percent.”

“Yushchenko’s support has reached the level of Leonid Kuchma,” Ukraine’s widely unpopular former president, Bychenko said.

The latest sign of trouble for Yushchenko was the announcement by his Our Ukraine party that four of its members — the ministers of justice, health, family and culture — had resigned their cabinet posts.

Ukraine’s interior minister, an ally of Yushchenko’s, said yesterday he had also submitted his resignation to the president, but was staying on at Yushchenko’s request.

The stir provoked an expression of concern from visiting EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, who said yesterday he hoped Ukraine’s political landscape would be “clearer and more comprehensible” by the next EU-Ukraine summit, Interfax reported.

The parliament has yet to approve the first four resignations, and two other key presidential allies, Defence Minister Anatoly Gritsenko and Foreign Minister Boris Tarasyuk, have thus far retained their jobs in government.

But the president is feeling the heat.

His main political problem is his conflict with Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych — his former Orange Revolution adversary who advocates closer ties with Russia and has resisted Yushchenko’s plans for integration with western Europe.

The departure of the four Our Ukraine ministers would further chill the “cold war” between the president and Yanukovych’s government, political analyst Vladimir Fesenko was quoted by Interfax Ukraine news agency as saying.

In a bid to revive his fortunes, the president has announced a shake-up in his secretariat and last week embarked on a nationwide tour designed, the media said, to reconnect with voters and test the loyalties of regional authorities.

But while the president and the prime minister are wrestling over the approach Ukraine should take towards Nato, the World Trade Organisation and the European Union, most Ukrainian citizens are thinking with their wallets, Bychenko noted.

Ukraine’s economic success when Yushchenko was prime minister led people to expect a wave of prosperity once he became president, the sociologist said. “On the contrary, they see him as having done practically nothing in the economic sphere — the sphere seen as his strong point.”

However low public support has fallen for the man who was cheered by crowds of hundreds of thousands just two years ago, it may not have hit rock bottom yet.

Source: AFP