The leader of the main opposition party in Ukraine has been named the country’s new Prime Minister.
Arseniy Yatsenyuk, leader of the Fatherland Party, will be formally approved by parliament on Thursday, acting President Oleksandr Turchynov confirmed Wednesday.
The announcement was made from a stage in Independence Square, where a popular uprising against ousted President Viktor Yanukovych began months ago. The reaction from the crowd was lukewarm, with many whistling and booing, reflecting the huge challenges Mr. Yatsenyuk faces. Many protesters have been calling for sweeping changes and are not keen to see long-time politicians, even those in opposition, simply take over from the Yanukovych administration.
Mr. Yatsenyuk, 39, is a trained lawyer and economist. He has served as governor of Ukraine’s central bank, minister of economic affairs, speaker of the parliament and foreign minister. He speaks fluent English and is seen by many in the West as the most capable of Ukraine’s three opposition party leaders.
In a brief interview Saturday, Mr. Yatsenyuk was exceedingly careful, refusing to call the removal of Mr. Yanukovych a victory and playing down speculation that he might run for higher office.
“I want to be very cautious on every particular issue,” he said, adding that his priorities are improving the country’s tattered economy and steering Ukraine toward membership in the European Union. “This is the real mess. And I do understand tremendous and unbelievable political and economic challenges my country is facing.”
While those tempered statements may reassure Ukraine’s lenders and allies, Mr. Yatsenyuk’s rather nerdy image has not won over many voters.
He got barely 7 per cent of the vote when he ran for president in 2010, when Mr. Yanukovych was elected. And while his party, called Fatherland, is the second largest in parliament, it was largely the creation of Yulia Tymoshenko, the Orange Revolution figure who was released from jail last weekend after serving more than two years on charges many say were trumped up by Mr. Yanukovych. Now that she is free, Mr. Yatsenyuk’s role in the party is unclear.
Still, he has tried to rework his image during the recent uprising against Mr. Yanukovych. He offered uncharacteristically firebrand speeches from the giant stage in Kiev’s Independence Square, the centre of the protest movement. Last month, he told the crowd that if Mr. Yanukovych refused to step aside, “then we will go forward together and if it means a bullet to the head, then it is a bullet to the head.”
Those words came back to haunt him when he returned to the stage last week after he and the other leaders had agreed to deal with Mr. Yanukovych that could have seen him stay in office until December. The agreement came a day after more than 80 people died in clashes with militia; the protesters bitterly opposed anything that fell short of Mr. Yanukovych’s immediate removal and arrest.
When Mr. Yatsenyuk appeared on stage with the other leaders to try to explain it, the crowd shouted, “Bullet to the head, bullet to the head.” The next day, parliament voted to immediately remove Mr. Yanukovych from office and two days later an arrest warrant was issued.