Ukraine parliament appoints pro-EU Groysman as PM

Lawmakers voted by 257 to 50 to approve the resignation of Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk

Afp April 14, 2016
Newly appointed Prime Minister of Ukraine Volodymyr Groysman reacts in Parliament in Kiev on April 14, 2016. PHOTO: AFP

KIEV: Ukraine's parliament on Thursday appointed pro-Western speaker Volodymyr Groysman as prime minister in a bid to end months of political gridlock and unlock vital aid to the war torn-state.

Lawmakers voted by 257 to 50 to approve the resignation of Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk -- condemned by President Petro Poroshenko for losing the public's trust -- and select Groysman in the first cabinet overhaul since Ukraine's 2014 pro-EU revolt.

"We have to end the crisis and ensure the permanence of our course toward European integration and the resumption of economic growth," the 38-year-old Groysman told deputies shortly before the vote.

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"We have to accelerate the pace of reforms. I would like to see this government restore the public's trust."

Poroshenko himself called Groysman "a politician from a new generation" who could tackle "the real possibility of Ukraine turning into a state of chaos".

Groysman's appointment comes with Ukraine embroiled in a pro-Russian separatist insurgency in the east that has claimed nearly 9,200 lives and suffering an economic meltdown that has erased people's savings and saw inflation soar above 40 percent last year.

Ukraine's youngest-ever premier will also have to demonstrate quick returns on a fight against corruption that has permeated all levels of government and was one of the factors behind three months of protests that brought down the Russian-backed leadership in February 2014.

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The fast-rising new cabinet chief is a lawyer by training who only two years ago served as mayor of the small western Ukrainian city of Vinnytsia and remained a relative unknown.

He moved to Kiev and joined the government after the 2014 ouster of Ukraine's Moscow-backed leadership and the country's decision to strike a landmark EU trade and political association pact.

Groysman was elected to parliament on Poroshenko's party ticket in October 2014 and became speaker the following month.

He is seen as a coalition builder who has gained stature by keeping the notoriously rowdy parliament -- prone to ugly brawls -- in relative peace.

Groysman has also pronounced himself strongly committed to the belt-tightening measures prescribed by the International Monetary Fund when it approved a $17.5-billion (15.4-billion-euro) rescue package for Ukraine in March 2014.

But some economists worry that the mild-mannered Groysman may lack the toughness needed to stand up to a handful of tycoons who have dominated Ukrainian politics and made the former Soviet republic a breeding ground for graft.

The new government may draw further concern of investors because it no longer features the respected US-born former finance minister Natalie Jaresko or two other foreign technocrats Poroshenko enlisted in December 2014 to help stem Ukraine's economic nosedive.

Jaresko's post has been filled by Oleksandr Danylyuk -- the deputy head of Poroshenko's administration whom Nomura International strategist Timothy Ash described as "progressive/technocratic".

Both Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin and Defence Minister Stepan Poltorak will retain their posts in a government that will have a whopping six deputy premiers.

Yatsenyuk became prime minister days after the downfall of the Kremlin-backed regime and won renown for his scathing criticism of Russia during its March 2014 annexation of Crimea and the pro-Moscow insurrection that broke out weeks later.

But he saw his party's approval plunge to around two percent due to a broad public perception that he was working in tandem with the very oligarchs who had enjoy enormous clout under previous administrations and whose wings he had vowed to clip.

Yatsenyuk announced that he was quitting on Sunday -- almost two months after surviving a no-confidence vote in parliament.

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"I would like to thank my opponents and foes for making me stronger," the 41-year-old told the chamber before it approved his dismissal.

The Ukrainian government has been paralysed since the failed no-confidence motion because Yatsenyuk's days seemed numbered and intense backroom battles raged over who would fill the new cabinet's seats.

IMF chief Christine Lagarde said in February she could not see how funding -- suspended since the end of last year because of Ukraine's failure to follow through on some of its economic pledges -- could resume until a united new government is formed.

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