KIEV, Dec. 18 – A rump session of Parliament on Tuesday chose Yulia Tymoshenko as Ukraine’s prime minister and named a government that favors the country's winning NATO and EU membership.
Deputies in the single-chamber Parliament voted 226-0 -- the absolute minimum for a vote to pass -- in favor of Tymoshenko, the nominee of President Viktor Yushchenko. The opposition, which controls just under half of the 450 seats in the legislature, boycotted the vote.
The ruling coalition then voted in a new government, including Volodymyr Ohryzko, a strong proponent of Ukraine entering NATO and the European Union, as the foreign minister.
Tymoshenko's victory ended for the moment the impasse over forming a government that had persisted since the Sept. 30 snap election. The narrow margin, however, suggested that Tymoshenko would face a strong opposition led by Viktor Yanukovych, the outgoing prime minister.
Tymoshenko supporters cheered following her victory. However, the boycott by opposition deputies, who oppose the NATO bid and back closer ties with Russia, reflects the bitter divisions in the country.
Ukraine is a key transit route for Russian natural gas to the European Union and has had strained relations with President Vladimir Putin's Kremlin since Tymoshenko and Yushchenko led the 2004 Orange Revolution.
Tymoshenko has called for a shake-up in the way Ukraine buys gas from Russia.
Tymoshenko said her cabinet would meet on Tuesday, with the first task to produce a new budget by the New Year.
"We will carry out strategic reforms step by step," she said after the vote. "Our first steps will be in the few days left to work out our financial resources and correct the budget." Tymoshenko said Ukraine would uphold its guarantees to send Russian gas through to European customers. But she wanted talks quickly with Russia to eliminate intermediaries in gas trade.
In Moscow's first reaction to her appointment however, Putin's European affairs advisor Sergei Yastrzhembsky offered congratulations and promised that Russia would be a "stable, predictable" partner, according to an AFP report.
Tymoshenko's victory in parliament comes a week after a first vote failed to pass by just a single deputy.
On this occasion, deputies voted one by one in a show of hands to avoid a repeat of the previous week when Tymoshenko's coalition claimed that tampering with the electronic system had been responsible for her defeat.
The victory of Tymoshenko, the country's most colorful leader, who is rumored to be eyeing the presidency, will now test her tempestuous relationship with Yushchenko.
Famous for her white clothes, traditional braided hair-do and passionate speaking style, she is adored by supporters in western Ukraine, but vilified by her enemies, many of whom live in the more pro-Russian east of the country.
The Orange team won a razor-thin majority in the September election, but have so far failed to resolve the political crisis.
On Tuesday, the fiery Tymoshenko accused the opposition of corruption and said "they are petrified that... I will put order into the state."
"This vote will be a moment of truth, a test of solidarity for the democratic coalition," she said.
But faced with a more powerful opposition and a president determined to contain it, Tymoshenko may well prove less radical during her second go as prime minister, said Volodymyr Fesenko, head of the Penta research center.
"The lesson was learned and the errors of the past (notably efforts to roll back privatization) will not be reproduced," said another analyst, Andry Dmytrenko of Dragon Capital investment firm.
Underlining the strains between Ukraine's pro-Western leadership and Moscow, Russian energy giant Gazprom warned on Sunday of a risk of "tensions" with Ukraine's future government.
Ukraine relies heavily on Russian gas imports and has balked in the past at steep price rises. A price dispute in 2006 led to Russia briefly cutting supplies, with a serious knock-on effect across Europe. (tl/afp/ez)