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Profile: Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych

Viktor Yanukovych`s return to the post of Ukraine`s prime minister marks the comeback of a politician whose career appeared to many to be finished after the Orange Revolution. With his victory in the controversial second round of the 2004 presidential election overturned by the Supreme Court,...

Viktor Yanukovych`s return to the post of Ukraine`s prime minister marks the comeback of a politician whose career appeared to many to be finished after the Orange Revolution. With his victory in the controversial second round of the 2004 presidential election overturned by the Supreme Court, Yanukovych has defeated in the repeat runoff by Viktor Yushchenko.

But now, 18 months on from the revolution and four months after an inconclusive parliamentary election, Yushchenko has found himself forced to submit his erstwhile rival`s nomination for the post of prime minister for parliamentary approval.

Yanukovych`s Party of Regions, which campaigned on a pro-business and pro-Russian platform, gained the most votes in the 26 March poll but failed to win a majority. Unable to form a government on its own, Yanukovych was eventually nominated for prime minister in mid-July by an "anti-crisis" coalition formed with the Socialists and Communists.

Yushchenko`s decision to accept the nomination in the early hours of 2 August came as the constitutional deadline for doing so expired and followed several days of intensive talks intended to bridge the gap between the pro-Yushchenko camp and the Party of Regions on key foreign and domestic policies, such as the status of the Russian language, federalism, and relations with Russia and NATO.

These talks eventually led to the signing of a declaration of national unity by representatives of the coalition and the pro-presidential Our Ukraine on 3 August.

In the parliamentary vote on 4 August, Yanukovych received 271 votes, including 30 from Our Ukraine.

CAREER

Born in the Donetsk Region steel town of Yenakiyeve in 1950, Yanukovych had a turbulent youth and twice served time in a penitentiary for violent crimes. The convictions were later overturned, his official biography says.

Having received a university degree in mechanical engineering at the age of 30, Yanukovych began a successful career as a transport executive in the coal-mining industry, reaching senior managerial posts. He became deputy Donetsk regional governor in 1996 and was promoted to governor the following year.

Yanukovych was viewed as a representative of the Donetsk business elite led by Rinat Akhmetov, a Donetsk tycoon who is now a key member of the Party of Regions.

As governor, Yanukovych gained a reputation as a no-nonsense manager and was widely credited with boosting the region`s economy during his five years in office.

Yanukovych appears to have gained the trust of President Leonid Kuchma after the 1999 presidential election, when contrary to expectations, the densely-populated and traditionally pro-Communist Donetsk Region gave more votes to Kuchma than to Communist leader Petro Symonenko in the run-off. In the 2001 parliamentary election, the pro-Kuchma For a United Ukraine alliance also did well in Donetsk.

Yanukovych rose to national prominence when Kuchma named him as prime minister in November 2002. Despite having the physique of a heavyweight boxer (a height of 195 cm) and a somewhat awkward manner of speaking and carrying himself, which was often ridiculed by the Kiev establishment and the opposition, Yanukovych surprised critics by mastering the Ukrainian language and presiding over a period of strong economic growth.

As prime minister, Yanukovych sought to maintain his image as a representative of Ukraine`s Russian-speaking and Russia-friendly east, while consolidating a reputation as a statist willing and able to defend national interests. However, the Yanukovych government`s decision to reverse the flow of the controversial Odessa-Brody oil pipeline seemed to be a clear victory for Russia.

Yanukovych became a doctor of economics in 2000 and was president of the National Olympic Committee from 2002-2005. He is married to Lyudmyla, a housewife, and has two grown-up sons, Oleksandr and Viktor (who was elected to parliament on the Party of Regions list in March 2006).

                                 PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN

In early 2004, Yanukovych emerged as the single presidential candidate of the parliamentary-government coalition loyal to President Kuchma. Despite the clear problems presented by his early biography, Yanukovych was apparently seen as the authorities` best hope for defeating popular opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko.

During a campaign that often appeared heavy handed, ubiquitous billboards bearing Yanukovych`s face and the slogan "Tomu Shcho" ("Because") became the object of widespread ridicule and irritation - at least outside his main support base in eastern Ukraine.

Yanukovych`s contacts with the media and public often appeared stilted or hostile. To make matters worse, his reputation as a hard man was seriously undermined when he had to be hospitalized after being knocked down by an egg thrown by a student protester in the western city of Ivano Frankivsk.

With all the government machinery behind him and with the still heavily controlled media providing fulsome coverage of his every move as prime minister, Yanukovych was seen to gradually close the gap on Yushchenko in popularity ratings.

His decision to raise pensions significantly several months ahead of the election may also have given his ratings an extra boost, although it was condemned by the Yushchenko campaign as economically risky populism.

In an apparent effort to further strengthen support in the traditionally pro-Russian eastern regions, Yanukovych`s candidacy was endorsed by Russia`s President Vladimir Putin on a visit to Kiev shortly before the election`s first round.

Yanukovych came a close second to Yushchenko in the first round. Ahead of the run-off, Yanukovych surprised many by turning in a fluent and aggressive performance in a carefully controlled live TV debate against a lacklustre Yushchenko.

Yanukovych was declared the winner of the run-off, but the Yushchenko team challenged the legitimacy of the result in the Supreme Court amid mass protests in Kiev against alleged vote fraud. The Supreme Court ruled to invalidate the second round and, instead of calling a new election, it ordered a re-run of the second round, which was won by Yushchenko.

                                AFTER THE REVOLUTION

For a time in early 2005, Yanukovych and his party appeared to be a spent force, with other more radical opposition forces encroaching on its support base even in its eastern strongholds. Yanukovych was virtually invisible during the first half of the year, during which he was several times called in by the police for questioning in various cases.

But, with the acrimonious break up of the Orange team over the summer and growing public disillusionment at the perceived incompetence and corruption of the new authorities, Yanukovych bounced back strongly.

The Party of Regions retained the loyalty of voters in the densely-populated industrial regions of eastern Ukraine, which overwhelmingly backed Yanukovych in the 2004 election.

Its campaign advertising ahead of the March parliamentary election highlighted the alleged decline in living standards over the past year, and promised to restore the economic growth and stability that the country enjoyed when Yanukovych was prime minister.

It criticized the authorities` pro-Western foreign policy and opposed NATO membership, and promised to rebuild "a special relationship" with Russia and to work to form a Single Economic Space with Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan.

  STRONG SHOWING IN THE PARLIAMENTARY ELECTION

After its strong showing in the poll, the Party of Regions insisted on its right to form the new government with Yanukovych as prime minister and made no secret of their wish to form a grand coalition with Our Ukraine.

However, it initially appeared that a majority coalition would be formed by three forces that supported the Orange Revolution - the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc, Our Ukraine and the Socialist Party. The formation of an Orange coalition was announced in parliament on 22 June.

Party of Regions responded by blocking parliament for several days, ostensibly over their exclusion from committee leadership posts in parliament. Meanwhile, the Orange coalition was unable to vote on its candidates for speaker and prime minister.

After the blockade ended on 6 July, Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz was unexpectedly elected parliament speaker with the support of the Party of Regions and the Communist Party. On 11 July, Moroz announced the formation of a new "anti-crisis" coalition of Regions, Socialists and Communists. The new coalition formally nominated Yanukovych as prime minister on 18 July.

The news was monitored by The Action Ukraine Report (AUR) Monitoring Service, Morgan Williams, Editor.

 

BBC Monitoring research in English 20 Jul 06

BBC Monitoring Service, United Kingdom, Friday, Aug 04, 2006

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