Ukraine PM faces possible dismissal as crisis deepens

Kiev (AFP) - Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk was fighting for his political life on Tuesday as parliament considered holding a vote of no confidence in the government over its perceived failure to fight graft.

Even President Petro Poroshenko appeared to withdraw support for the 41-year-old former banker after he reportedly told his own party members that he no longer believed his ministers' reform pledges.

The risk of the Ukrainian government falling also threatens a massive IMF-led rescue package aimed at reviving the country's shattered economy and slashing its reliance on Russian financial support.

Yatsenyuk was a seminal figure during Ukraine's 2014 pro-EU revolution who enraged Moscow but endeared himself to the West by promoting belt-tightening measures that could return growth to the former Soviet state.

But his vows to clean up the government by cutting its ties to shadowy tycoons soon fell flat with voters who accused him of defending the interests of the very same billionaires he had vowed to sideline.

A former lawmaker accused a close Yatsenyuk associate in December of receiving a massive bribe for giving the Czech company Skoda the right to provide equipment for Ukraine's nuclear power plants.

Yatsenyuk dismissed the charges but was unable to shed the shadow of corruption that has trailed him ever since.

Recent opinion polls show 70 percent of Ukrainians supporting Yatsenyuk's dismissal and only one percent backing his People's Front parliamentary bloc.

"People expected real and quick changes from Yatsenyuk, and they did not come," political analyst Mykola Davydyuk told AFP.

The prime minister appeared to have been dealt another blow when Poroshenko reportedly told his party members at a meeting Monday that they were free to vote for Yatsenyuk's dismissal if they wished.

"I am not going to put pressure on you," Poroshenko ally Sergiy Leshchenko quoted the president as saying.

- Western aid under threat -

"When ministers tell television channels about the government's successes, even I do not believe him," Leshchenko further quoted him as saying.

Parliamentary procedure requires at least 150 deputies in the 450-seat chamber to sign a petition to put a vote of no confidence on the agenda.

That number is likely to be exceeded because most members of Ukraine's existing coalition now back Yatsenyuk's ouster.

Deputies will then need to collect 226 votes to dismiss the government and propose a new prime minister.

Poroshenko will have the right to call snap legislative elections if parliament fails to form a new coalition and agree on a prime ministerial nomination within two months.

Yatsenyuk assumed office in February 2014 -- just weeks before Russia's annexation of Crimea and the bloody pro-Moscow revolt in eastern Ukraine that followed.

His resolute commitment to the European Union helped persuade the IMF to cobble together a $40-billion (35.8-billion-euro) economic rescue package aimed at cementing Kiev's new westward tilt.

But the political uncertainty that has riven the country since this month's resignation of its reformist economy minister and a top prosecutor over their alleged inability to fight state graft threatens to put that assistance on hold.

IMF chief Christine Lagarde warned last week that it was "hard to see" how the bailout could continue without Ukraine pushing through the economic restructuring and anti-corruption measures it had signed on to when the package was agreed.

Economists said funding of around $4 billion in IMF and other Western aid that Ukraine was expecting in January were almost certainly going to be delayed.

"If the government is quickly changed and filled with technocrats, there is a chance we can quickly emerge from this crisis," Dragon Capital investment company economist Olena Bilan told AFP.

"But if politicians are appointed, then we might see reforms rolled back. The crisis will end, but the country will not move forward."