The Irish Times
Brawl erupts in Ukraine’s parliament as prime minister defends record
Arseniy Yatsenyuk is lambasted by many for deep cutbacks, while others accuse him of doing too little to fight graft and the influence of oligarchs
Ukrainian prime minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk faced down threats of dismissal yesterday, but was grappled by an angry deputy as he gave an account of his unpopular government’s work, triggering a brief brawl in the chamber.
Ukraine’s parliament is no stranger to scuffles, but the latest dust-up was particularly embarrassing for the country, coming just three days after US vice president Joe Biden stood at the rostrum and urged deputies to put differences aside and instead focus on vital reforms and fighting rampant corruption.
As Mr Yatsenyuk answered questions on his performance, Oleh Barna – a deputy from the party of Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko – strode up to the rostrum, handed the premier a bunch of red roses, and started manhandling him.
Hoist into the air
Mr Barna pulled Mr Yatsenyuk to the side of the rostrum and then grabbed him around the waist and groin, hoisting him into the air, before the premier’s allies dashed through the chamber to help, punching the prime minister’s assailant and hauling him away.
The bookish Mr Yatsenyuk waited for the melee to subside before concluding his briefing on a year that crushed his own ratings, and made his People’s Front party so unpopular that it declined to take part in recent nationwide local elections.
Mr Yatsenyuk is lambasted by many in Ukraine for imposing deep cutbacks, while others accuse him of doing too little to fight graft and reduce the influence of the billionaire oligarchs that the country’s 2014 revolution sought to sideline.
“When I took this post, I knew what it would mean for my ratings. I came here not for my own ratings, but to implement reforms,” Mr Yatsenyuk told parliament, challenging deputies to hold a confidence vote in his government.
“Place [the motion] and vote. I will accept the decision of the Ukrainian parliament,” he declared. No such vote was held and Yuri Lutsenko, the leader of the Petro Poroshenko Bloc that is a restive ally of People’s Front, said that although there were sufficient votes in the house to sack Mr Yatsenyuk, there was no consensus on a replacement.
‘Hyperinflation and anarchy’
“To act this way would be irresponsible, because a government without a leader, a parliament without a coalition, a country without a budget would mean an automatic halt to co-operation with the IMF, and without the next [loan] tranche of nearly $5 billion [¤4.6 billion], in a month the country would slide into hyperinflation and anarchy,” Mr Lutsenko said.
“That’s an unacceptable scenario, and the decision of the Petro Poroshenko Bloc today is that the question of the government’s responsibility should under no circumstances be raised until the budget and tax code are passed.”
The government has approved spending plans for 2016 and an overhaul of the tax system, and hopes parliament will approve them this month.
Mr Barna was swiftly expelled from his party, but defended his actions. “It may not be European-style behaviour, but other methods don’t work,” he said. “If Yatsenyuk does not leave, I am very worried that the people will cart him out themselves.”