Ukraine government beats off no confidence vote

Reuters News

4/19/2013 1:17:31 PM - Reuters News

By Richard Balmforth

KIEV (Reuters) - Ukraine's government survived a no-confidence vote in parliament on Friday despite its unpopularity over pension reform and charges of corruption - an outcome that reaffirmed President Viktor Yanukovich's grip as he eyes a second term in office.

Opposition politician Arseny Yatsenyuk, a former foreign minister and ex-minister of economy, pushed the opposition motion, charging Prime Minister Mykola Azarov's government with pursuing policies that only enriched those in power.

"The people of Ukraine have been deceived by these authorities, this president, prime minister and government," he told parliament. "You changed a lot, but changed things only for yourselves, for your own pockets, and not for Ukrainians."

Azarov, a long-time ally of Yanukovich, dismissed Yatsenyuk's criticism on Facebook, saying the opposition had shown a lamentably "low level of professional discussion".

"Lies, demagoguery, populism, insults and unfounded allegations - all unacceptable in civilized discussion - continue to be used," he said.

Even with support from some communists, traditional allies of Yanukovich's ruling Party of the Regions, the opposition could muster only 190 votes to support the move to bring down Azarov's government, well short of the required 226 votes.

Azarov, 65, has led the government in the former Soviet republic since Yanukovich won election as president in February 2010. But rampant corruption among officials, pension reform in 2011 which raised the retirement age for women from 55 to 60, as well as tax reform which has squeezed small business concerns has made his government highly unpopular.

With the 62-year-old Yanukovich gearing up to launch a second bid for the presidency in 2015, there has been speculation that he might drop Azarov to improve his own image.

But Friday's vote appeared to cement the Azarov government, which is negotiating a $15 billion stand-by loan from the International Monetary Fund, firmly in place for the next few months.

It also underscored the limitations of the united opposition parties despite their ability to bring thousands out on to the streets in weekend demonstrations across the country.

The united opposition includes the Batkivshchyna (Fatherland) party of jailed ex-Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, which was buoyed by the release from prison last Sunday of her former interior minister, Yury Lutsenko, under a presidential pardon.

She is serving a seven-year jail sentence for abuse-of-power while in office and her continued imprisonment is threatening the signing of landmark agreements on political association and free trade with the European Union in November.

Friday's vote underscored the fact that the balance of power in parliament remains with Yanukovich's Regions which can still count on the support of communists and most non-affiliated deputies for crucial votes.

The Regions reasserted its control over the legislature this month, ending the opposition's blockade of parliamentary proceedings by decamping and holding a session in a different building.

They have also defeated an opposition move to call a mayoral election in the capital city of Kiev - which the opposition had hoped to win - and allowed a non-elected appointee of Yanukovich to continue running the city.

(Additional reporting by Olzhas Auyezov and Pavel Polityuk; Editing by Jon Hemming)