Ukraine Names New Prime Minister

KIEV, Ukraine -- President Viktor Yanukovych, moving quickly to end years of political paralysis, secured a majority coalition in parliament Thursday and won its approval for a close ally to serve as prime minister.

Newly appointed Prime Minister of Ukraine, Mykola Azarov, was born in Kaluga, Russia on 17 December 1947. He holds a PHD in Geological and Mineralogical Sciences. Azarov took up permanent residency in Ukraine in 1984. He is married and has one son.

The vote gave the former Soviet republic its first unified leadership since the early months of the 2004 Orange Revolution when triumphant, Western-oriented politicians began quarreling among themselves. The infighting and legislative deadlock blocked promised transformations and hindered recovery from economic crises.

Mykola Azarov, a former finance minister and tax authority chief, was sworn in to lead a 29-member cabinet supportive of Mr. Yanukovych's plans to balance Ukraine's quest for Western alliances with an improvement of its ties with Russia. But Mr. Azarov's first task will be to restore the confidence of the International Monetary Fund, which last year suspended a $16.4 billion bailout program, citing Ukraine's lack of a balanced budget.

Speaking in parliament before it elected him prime minister, Mr. Azarov said his government would draft a "realistic" budget for 2010 and meet other obligations to the IMF, the country's most important lender.

His remarks cast doubt on Mr. Yanukovych's campaign promise to raise wages and pensions for government workers on the heels of a recession that shrank Ukraine's economy by 15% last year.

"The country has been plundered," Mr. Azarov said. "The coffers are empty."

Mr. Azarov, 62 years old, was a campaign strategist in Mr. Yanukovych's Feb. 7 election victory over Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko. Like most others in the cabinet, he is a long-time loyalist from Mr. Yanukovych's Party of Regions. Critics like to point out the Russian-born politician's poor command of the Ukrainian language, but they regard him as an experienced, albeit conservative, economic manager.

A notable outsider in the cabinet is Serhiy Tihipko, a former central bank chief who finished third in the presidential race on a platform of far-reaching economic change. Mr. Yanukovych said that Mr. Tihipko, a deputy prime minister, would play a key role in managing the economy.

His appointment, along with that of Iryna Akimova, a respected economist who is first deputy head of the presidential administration, encouraged investors.

"I don't think Tihipko would have taken the job without assurances that he'll be able to implement his views and not have to battle a strong-minded prime minister," said Peter Vanhecke, Renaissance Capital's CEO for Ukraine.

In an interview days before the election, Mr. Tihipko dismissed Mr. Yanukovych's spending promises as "just populism." He predicted that Mr. Yanukovych, if elected, would be "more pragmatic" and comply with IMF spending limitations.

Ms. Tymoshenko, now the opposition leader, told reporters the new government is "made up completely of Ukrainian oligarchs" or their representatives. Rather than carry out reforms, she said, "the first thing they will do is divide the financial spoils among themselves."

The last of the Orange Revolution leaders remaining in high office, Ms. Tymoshenko lost her job as prime minister in a March 3 no-confidence vote by the 450-member parliament after her majority coalition there fell apart.

Mr. Yanukovych's backers then assembled their own majority alliance of 235 parliament members, calling it the Reform and Order coalition. It is made up of the president's party, the Communist Party, a faction led by parliament speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn, and 16 individual defectors from two parties in Ms. Tymoshenko's coalition.

That majority came together Thursday, two days after parliament passed a law allowing individual defections.

Ms. Tymoshenko's allies said they would challenge that law in court, on the ground that it contradicted a provision in Ukraine's constitution that allows only parliamentary factions, not individual lawmakers, to decide which coalition to back.

Mr. Vanhecke of Renaissance Capital said her argument has some validity. But he said the constitution is ambiguous and the government has enough credibility at home and abroad that the court challenge is unlikely to unseat it.

Source: The Wall Street Journal