KIEV, March 22 â€“ Two opposition lawmakers joined the pro-government coalition on Thursday amid the coalitionâ€™s persistent attempts to build the majority in Parliament that may be able to successfully challenge President Viktor Yushchenko.
Oleksiy Fedun, a lawmaker from Our Ukraine, and Oleksandr Yedin, a lawmaker from the group led by former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, joined the coalition boosting its ranks.
The coalition, led by the Regions Party, now controls more than 250 seats in the 450-seat Parliament, but its number is expected to grow further, Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych said.
â€śYou see the coalition is gradually growing, and it will keep growing,â€ť Yanukovych said in an interview with Inter television late Thursday. Yanukovych also said the lawmakers have been joining the coalition at their own will. â€śNobody is forcing anybody into the coalition,â€ť he said.
The developments come after Anatoliy Kinakh, a member of Our Ukraine group and the leader of the Party of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, was unexpectedly my minister. He was quickly appointed to the post on Wednesday.
Kinakhâ€™s party controls 8 seats in Parliament, and the party has Thursday recommended its lawmakers to join the coalition.
Our Ukraine, angry over Kinakhâ€™s secret deal with the coalition, on Thursday expelled him from the group, a formal move as Kinkah would soon quit Parliament anyway to work in the Cabinet.
Yushchenko called Kinkahâ€™s joining of the coalition â€śa moral disgrace,â€ť and fired him from the National Security and Defense Council, a body that advices the president on strategic issues.
The reshufflings are eagerly watched by observers and come amid a struggle between pro-Western president and pro-Russian prime minister for control over powers in the country. The struggle started in August 2006, shortly after Yanukovychâ€™s appointment to the post, following introduction of controversial amendments to the constitution on Jan. 1, 2006.
The amendments gave the prime minister power to control economic and financial issues in the country, while the president was left as the guarantor of the constitution and in charge of the foreign and defense policies.
But even these powers were challenged by Yanukovych over the past eight months amid his desperate attempts to slow down Ukraineâ€™s accession to NATO.
Ukraine was without the foreign minister for almost two months due to the standoff between the president and the prime minister. The situation improved on Wednesday when the coalition had supported the nomination of Arseniy Yatseniuk, a Yanukovych ally, to the post.
But Yanukovych is still building the coalition in order to boost its numbers to 300, which would effectively allow the coalition to override a presidential veto and even to change the constitution.
â€śLet me tell you that the constitutional majority already exists in Parliament, though it hasnâ€™t been yet formed,â€ť Yanukovych said. â€śWe will keep creating comfortable conditions for those lawmakers that seek to get together over issues that interest the Ukrainian people.â€ť
Parliament Speaker Oleksandr Moroz on Thursday said that 10 more opposition lawmakers will probably join the coalition on Friday and said the coalition will control up to 300 deputies by May.
â€śLet them stop lying that this is done for money,â€ť Moroz said. (tl/ez)