ANALYSIS: Yanukovych's First Aim Is To Build Loyal Ukrainian Cabinet

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine's new President Viktor Yanukovych campaigned on promises of responsible government staffed by skilled professionals, but observers say that loyalty is likely to be the key qualification for members of his new cabinet.

Ukraine's Cabinet of Ministers

So far Yanukovych has avoided saying who he would name to a new governmnent, but three top contenders have emerged for the prime minister's post.

Political observers are widely predicting Ukraine's present government, led by the February 7 election loser, Yulia Tymoshenko, will lose a motion of no confidence by mid-March, to be replaced by officials nominated by Yanukovych.

"Yanukovych's first step will be to create a (ruling) coalition in parliament that can give him the cabinet he needs," wrote political observer Dmitro Korotkov, in the Segodnya newspaper. "Already...he controls a factual majority in parliament."

The base of Yanukovych's political strength and his election victory is the Party of Regions, which currently controls 175 seats in Ukraine's 450-member legislature.

Talks of a new ruling coalition built on Regions, defectors from Tymoshenko's own party, and MPs linked to former President Viktor Yushchenko are well-advanced, according to reports in Segodnya and the Ukrainska Pravda website.

Yanukovych has avoided naming names for a future cabinet. Asked in late January whom he might select as prime minister to replace Tymoshenko, he told an ICTV television audience he was "considering several candidates...with personal competence the key criteria."

But Mykola Azarov, 63, who has served in various government posts, is widely considered the top candidate.

Willingness to do Yanukovych's bidding, rather than administrative skill, is most likely the critical qualification needed for the successful candidate, observers agreed. And Azarov, for the most part, meets that test, said Ihor Ustashenko, a Kiev-based political scientist.

"Mykola Azarov is a Regions Ukraine man through and through, but more than that he is an old-school technocrat, a guy who believes central government should and can solve all problems," Ustashenko said. "And as far as anyone can tell, he has no political ambitions of his own."

In a varied career, Azarov has been the country's head tax inspector, finance minister and caretaker prime minister. He has long enjoyed the reputation of being willing to offend almost anyone in the name of central government, in no small part because of a 2002-2005 campaign he launched to extract more tax revenues from business.

Former Ukrainian president Leonid Kravchiuk said in a Unian news agency interview that Azarov was the most likely candidate, noting that "Yanukovych is very inclined towards loyal and tested men."

Critics of Azarov's chances point to wealthy figures in the ranks of the Regions leadership whose corporate bank accounts suffered substantial damage from Azarov's tax-raising efforts.

Azarov's reliance on Russian in public discourse, and his unwillingness or inability to speak Ukrainian in public, could also reduce his chances of getting the prime minister job, the English-language Kyiv Post newspaper said in an editorial.

By contrast, virtually all top Ukrainian officials - including Yanukovych - use Ukrainian in some or all of their public statements.

Two younger politicians are widely reported as the other contenders with Azarov for the position.

Both are, at least by their own self-descriptions, reformers with little political baggage dating back to the Soviet Union and the Ukrainian Communist Party, making them of a different generation than that of Yanukovych and Azarov.

Yanukovych was a Communist Party member in 1980 and a protoge of politically connected cosmonaut Georgi Beregovoi, who like Yanukovych, hails from Ukraine's eastern Donbass region.

Azarov's first links to power came from association with former Ukrainian president Leonid Kuchma during the same period, while Kuchma headed up a top-secret missile factory in Dnipropetrovsk.

Former parliamentary speaker Arseny Yatseniuk, 37, is considered the long-shot because of his relative youth and pro-Western, free- market orientation - positions that conflict with Regions' emphasis on good relations with Russia and government assistance to big business.

"(Yatsenyuk) is extremely ambitious...and could have an excellent political future," Kravchiuk said. "But he is young for such a post."

The most frequently mentioned alternative to Azarov is Serhy Tihipko, 50, a banking tycoon and former national bank head who took a surprise third place in the recent presidential vote.

His good showing was due to a heavily financed election campaign and a political platform calling for market reforms enforced by effective, modern government.

Before his election, Yanukovych election singled out Tihipko as "the type of politician we could work we could build a Ukraine together."

Tihipko said that he would be willing to take on the job if Yanukovych would agree to substantial reforms, but since the election, Regions staff has made no move to contact him.

"They didn't invite me to the inauguration, there have been no consultations," Tihipko told Kommersant-Ukraine newpaper. "I have maybe a 10-per-cent chance."

Source: DPA