KIEV, Dec. 4 – Arseniy Yatseniuk, 33, the pragmatic foreign minister and the choice of President Viktor Yushchenko, on Tuesday was elected speaker of Parliament, cementing the creation of a pro-Western coalition in Ukraine.
The vote, approved by a slim majority of 227 lawmakers in the 450-seat Parliament, marks a major shift in Ukraine’s political course following the Sept. 30 election.
The shift appeared possible after Yushchenko’s move on April 2 to dismiss Parliament, led by a pro-Russian coalition.
The September vote reflected a popular shift towards the pro-Western groups, pushing once powerful pro-government Regions Party to opposition.
“Everybody has been saying that nothing would change after the snap election,” Yasteniuk said addressing Parliament after his approval for the post. “But in fact we are witnessing a major change.”
Yasteniuk’s approval opens way for a quick nomination of fiery Yulia Tymoshenko as the next prime minister to replace Viktor Yanukovych at the post.
The nomination, which has been already submitted by the coalition, must be signed by the speaker before it gets to the president, who is supposed to officially submit the candidature to Parliament for approval.
The approval of Yatseniuk is a major victory for Yushchenko, who has been for the past 16 months experiencing challenges and hostile political attacks from Oleksandr Moroz, a former speaker.
Yushchenko’s repeated clashes with Moroz and with Yanukovych, both pro-Russian leaders, have led to confusion over the country’s foreign policy, postponing its accession to NATO indefinitely.
The election of Yatseniuk and the creation of the majority sharing Yushchenko’s main foreign policy initiatives, such as joining NATO and the WTO, will help to accelerate the country’s pro-Western course, analysts said.
Yatseniuk won the approval from 156 lawmakers of the group led by Tymoshenko and from 71 lawmakers of Our Ukraine-People’s Defense, translating into 227 votes.
Ivan Pliushch, Yushchenko’s former top security advisor and a member of Our Ukraine-People’s Self-Defense, did not vote on Tuesday. Pliushch has been callng for the creation of a grand coalition to include the Regions Party, the largest group in Parliament, which will control 175 lawmakers.
The Regions Party and the Communist Party, the two pro-Russian groups, left the session hall in Parliament shortly after Yatseniuk’s election had been announced by a commission of lawmakers counting the votes.
The Regions Party complained that the speaker voting procedure was unfair as Tymoshenko lawmakers have been showing their marked ballots to the leader of the group as a proof that all of them are voting in favor of Yatseniuk.
The Regions Party, which until the last minute hoped the vote would fail, has been seeking to appoint a more loyal candidate for the speaker in an attempt to maintain the power.
The Regions Party’s withdrawal from the session after the approval of Yatseniuk forced Yushchenko to cancel his scheduled arrival to Parliament late Tuesday. Most of Yushchenko’s top staff, including Viktror Baloha, his chief of staff, have joined the session of Parliament.
Yatseniuk, in his brief address to lawmakers, assured opposition deputies that they will be involved in drafting, debating and approving major policy initiatives for Ukraine.
“Although one half of Parliament failed to wait until the election results had been announced, I plan to be the speaker of Parliament as of the entire body,” Yatseniuk said. “Every lawmaker will be heard, every group will have the equal rights and we will form a workable institution that will be aimed at accelerating Ukraine.” (nr/ez)