KIEV, May 30 – President Viktor Yanukovych on Monday attacked Prime Minister Mykola Azarov for lack of economic and social progress – the second criticism in less than a week – signaling a possible reshuffle of the government soon.
Yanukovych last week gave Azarov until the end of July to hike utilities tariffs, one of the most sensitive reforms, of face dismissal. Azarov quickly responded that the government will get together on June 1 to discuss the reform.
But on Monday Yanukovych again criticized Azarov, now for lack of economic and social progress, a broad allegation that is hard to measure, and is also hard to fix.
“The government’s everyday work must be creating respective social climate in all directions,” Yanukovych said at a meeting with government officials. “But, Mykola Yanovych [Azarov], I actually don’t hear lately whether the government has been doing anything at all.”
The frequency of Yanukovych’s criticism suggests that pressure has been rising on Azarov to accelerate the unpopular reforms before political parties begin campaigns in October ahead of parliamentary elections in October 2012.
Ukraine needs to drastically increase tariffs for utilities, including higher natural gas prices, in order to qualify for resumption of lending from the International Monetary Fund.
The government was supposed to hike household gas prices 50% on April 1, but the reform had been essentially postponed due to lack of support for the measure among political figures ahead of the October 2012 elections.
If Yanukovych has his way and the tariffs are increased, Azarov will become a political liability that will be replaced by Yanukovych with a new figure before the elections, political observers said.
Azarov has been demonstrating commitment to respond to Yanukovych’s concerns.
Azarov scheduled the government’s meeting on June 1 to debate the utility tariff hikes across Ukraine, and also suggested that some regional official will be dismissed for failing to address the issue.
“Most likely that some of these officials will becoe ex-directors as the head of the government had insisted on personal responsibility,” a statement from the government said.
Citing the lack of “reforms,” Yanukovych dismissed Healthcare Minister Illia Yemets earlier this month, and replaced him with Oleksandr Anishchenko, last week.
Yemets “failed to organize the work of the ministry in a proper way to make sure that the ministry operates efficiently,” Yanukovych said last week announcing the reshuffle. “The main thing is to carry out reforms that we have planned and that are extremely necessary.”
The replacement of the healthcare minister is the first reshuffle the government after rumors had started to circulate earlier this month that a number of ministers may be sacked.
The developments come as opinion polls have indicated that Yanukovych’s popularity has been falling fast, threatening his Regions Party ahead of the October 2012 general election. (tl/ez)