<style=”text-align: center;”>Hoping to create opportunities to find a peaceful resolution to two months’ political and social unrest, Serhiy Azarov, Prime Minister of Ukraine, has resigned. After accepting Azarov’s resignation, the president dismissed cabinet ministers by decree, but they will remain in place until parliament approves a new cabinet while First Deputy Prime Minister Serhiy Azarov, a former central bank chief, will temporarily perform the prime ministerial duties. Opposition leader and former Economy Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk was offered the position of prime minister, Azarov said, but he turned it down.
The Ukraine Cabinet of Ministers is the chief body of state executive power, which among other things is responsible for executing the law. Because the judicial system in Ukraine is not well-separated from the political sphere, judges are subjected to the interests of businessmen and politicians. It is widely considered a corrupt system. In addition, the criminal justice and prison systems are quite punitive as compared to other European countries, with a 99.84 percent conviction rate. In 2010, President Yanukovych set up a commission to organize and clean up the court system, calling it a disgrace to the country.
Azarov’s resignation came just hours before a planned no-confidence vote that would have effectively stripped him of his powers. It also came after parliament voted 361-2 to annul most laws within a legislation package–pushed through parliament 12 days ago–that restricted freedom of speech and assembly and, among other measures, banned protesters from wearing helmets. The laws fueled the protests, and at least five protestors and one policeman have died since they began. The emergency vote and subsequent annulment of the laws came after a meeting between President Yanukovych and three opposition leaders.
The prime minister’s resignation, dismissal of the cabinet, and repeal of what the opposition calls “dictator laws,” have together made significant concessions to the opposition. The concessions also speak to the momentum gaining behind the opposition. Other concessions have been promised by the president as well, including a weakening of presidential powers through Constitutional revision and an amnesty for arrested protesters, though the opposition remains wary of the latter. Protestors have been demanding that the leader of the All-Ukrainian “Fatherland,” the largest opposition party, be released from jail since demonstrations began in November. The jailed opposition party leader and former prime minister, Yulia, has been serving out a seven-year jail sentence since 2011.
Demonstrations began two months ago Kiev’s Independence Square when President Yanukovych chose a $15 billion bailout from Russia over a trade deal with the European Union. Political analysts have commented that the roots of Ukraine’s protests are both economic and cultural, that people want less corruption in the justice and political systems and a path to European values. The Ukraine has deep historical ties with Russia but want the personal freedom and money that their neighbors like Poland, who joined the EU in 1994, have. Ukrainian demonstrators see this protest as their last chance to make politicians understand that people are willing to give up their physical freedom, health, and even lives to achieve their goals.
By Donna Westlund