Viktor Yanukovych will be sworn in as Ukraine’s fourth president with the country still locked in crisis as his defeated election rival, Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, clings to office.
Yanukovych will take his oath in parliament by placing his right hand on a 16th-century Ukrainian-language gospel and a copy of Ukraine’s constitution, in a ceremony attended by a host of international dignitaries.
The new president is expected to return the country of 46 million bridging Russia and the European Union to a more Moscow-friendly course, in a reversal of the pro-Western policies of outgoing President Viktor Yushchenko.
But in a signal that he does not want to abandon EU integration, Yanukovych has chosen the EU’s headquarters in Brussels for his first foreign trip Monday before heading to Moscow.
Inauguration to be low key
The inauguration “will all take place without fanfare, in a very modest way and without the pointless use of budgetary resources,” said one of Yanukovych’s top aides, Anna German.
International officials attending the ceremony will include EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton, US national security advisor James Jones and speaker of the Russian parliament Boris Gryzlov.
Also in Kiev will be the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, who will hold a service to be attended by Yanukovych. His presence has infuriated Ukrainian nationalists, who have vowed to hold protests.
After the ceremony but before his trip to Brussels, Yanukovych is due to fly to his eastern stronghold of Donetsk to watch local side Shakhtar Donetsk play England’s Fulham in the Europa League, the Interfax news agency reported.
PM refused to budge
Yanukovych has called on Tymoshenko to resign gracefully after her narrow defeat by a margin of some 3.5 percent in February 7 presidential elections. But the charismatic prime minister has refused to budge.
“Her days of lies and avoiding responsibility are numbered,” Yanukovych’s Regions Party said in a statement.
But Tymoshenko has defiantly vowed to find enough support in parliament to prevent “the creation of an anti-Ukrainian dictatorship.”
She has sought to persuade Ukraine’s parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, to hold a vote of confidence in the government although her request has been rejected on technicalities.
On paper, Tymoshenko can muster an anti-Yanukovych majority in parliament, but this could be seriously undermined by defections from the minority parties and even her own.
If parliament rejects a no-confidence vote, Tymoshenko’s government would be able to stay on in power until July as only one such motion is allowed per session.
“This question needs to be made clear,” Tymoshenko said, according to the Interfax news agency. Aides said that she would not be taking part in the inauguration.
Yanukovych’s controversial past
Yanukovych will become Ukraine’s fourth post-independence president after Leonid Kravchuk, Leonid Kuchma and the outgoing Viktor Yushchenko, who led the Orange Revolution of 2004 that raised hopes of reform but ultimately disappointed its supporters.
The president-elect has a controversial past that saw him jailed twice for theft and assault as a youth under the Soviet Union, although the convictions were later erased.
He is also accused of involvement in the vote-rigging in the 2004 election that sparked the Orange Revolution. He initially won but the courts ordered the vote to be re-run after they found mass irregularities. In the subsequent vote, Yanukovych lost to Yushchenko.
Tymoshenko has alleged that Yanukovych’s victory in the February elections was marred by mass election fraud, even though international observers gave the polls a clean bill of health.