Friday, September 23, 2005

Ukrainian President Victor Yushchenko adeptly restored his tottering government Thursday by reaching out to a former rival and winning parliamentary approval of his choice for prime minister, Yuri Yekhanurov. Then again, perhaps Mr. Yushchenko just won a reprieve.

Given the White House’s strong support of Mr. Yushchenko, his fate will reflect back on the Bush adminstration. President Bush has wagered his global democracy push on the success of new democracies, like Ukraine’s, and if Ukraine falters, the administration’s global clout will be affected.

Mr. Yushchenko won parliamentary approval of Mr. Yekhanurov after the legislature rejected him on Tuesday. Mr. Yushchenko’s victory means that he has secured his leadership for the next few months, but his troubles of the past three weeks reveal fault lines in his coalition and possible troubles ahead.

The Yushchenko government was badly shaken when chief of staff Oleksandr Zinchenko resigned on Sept. 2, claiming that corruption had overwhelmed the government. Mr. Yushchenko fumbled in his response, initially downplaying the charges. But later he was compelled to fire his prime minister, Yuliya Tymoshenko, and the entire cabinet she headed. Mrs. Tymoshenko’s faction in the legislature then mobilized against the president’s candidate on Tuesday. Mr. Yushchenko won the parliament’s approval two days later by reaching out to Victor Yanokovich, his rival in the presidential election.

Facing challenges from the beginning of his presidency, Mr. Yushchenko had little choice but to choose the charismatic Mrs. Tymoshenko as his prime minister, since she had the rallying power to send thousands of supporters into the freezing streets of Kiev to demand free and fair elections last winter. She was controversial, though, given the allegations of fraud surrounding her, her staunch stance against Russia that alienated the Russian-speaking east of the country and her call to cancel the privatizations of the 1990s. Mr. Yushchenko has gained a freer hand by firing her, but the move will likely prove problematic when the country transitions to a parliamentary system following the March 2006 elections.

In addition, noted Nikolas Gvosdev, a senior fellow at the Nixon Center, Mr. Yushchenko has fallen victim to the euphoria of many pundits regarding the Orange Revolution. Many observers predicted that Ukraine’s alignment with the West would fast-track the country’s membership to the European Union and NATO. Europe’s enlargement fatigue has become glaringly clear in the past months, though, and there have been no substantial overtures by NATO. Mr. Yushchenko has failed to meet the trumped-up expectations.

Still, the president appeared to find his footing on Thursday, and he has also been effective in winning some support in Moscow, thereby pleasing eastern Ukrainians, while maintaining good relations with the West. His government remains vulnerable to the political infighting and jockeying that beset young democracies, but Ukrainians would be wise to keep Mr. Yushchenko at the helm.

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