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Ukraine's Parliament Approves Shmyhal as PM Amid Government Reshuffle

Ukraine's newly elected Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal speaks at the parliament session hall in Kyiv, Ukraine, March 4, 2020.
Ukraine's newly elected Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal speaks at the parliament session hall in Kyiv, Ukraine, March 4, 2020.

Ukraine's parliament voted in favor of appointing the president's choice for a new prime minister, 44-year-old Denys Shmyhal, after overwhelmingly accepting the resignation of his predecessor, Oleksiy Honcharuk.

In all, 291 members of the Verkhovna Rada voted for Shmyhal's appointment on Wednesday with 59 opposing, 46 abstaining, and nine not voting.

Earlier, 353 lawmakers voted to accept Honcharuk's resignation, paving the way for Shmyhal to take over the post as part of a reshuffle of the government by President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

A total of 49 deputies abstained, while nine did not vote.

Ukrainian sources have told RFE/RL that other cabinet members will likely also lose their positions in the shake-up.

In a speech before parliament ahead of the votes, Zelenskiy blamed Honcharuk for failing to halt an industrial slump and for not meeting tax collection targets.β€œ

We need new brains and new hearts in the government,” said the president, whose approval ratings have been dipping lately.

The reshuffling comes less than a year after Zelenskiy ushered in the youngest and freshest government to reduce the influence of oligarchs and eliminate opportunities for corruption -- two aspects that have dominated Ukrainian life since the country gained independence in 1991.

However, public trust in Zelenskiy has slid from nearly 80 percent in September to around 50 percent last month, polling figures from Kyiv-based policy center Razumkov Center show.

The shake-up also comes days after a mission from the International Monetary Fund visited Kyiv to discuss a long-delayed $5.5 billion loan that Ukraine has failed to unlock over policy and legislative disagreements.

Shmyhal was named deputy prime minister in February. He previously served as head of the regional administration in the western Ivano-Frankivsk region, where he made a name for himself as a business-friendly governor.

In 2017-2019, Shmyhal worked as an executive at DTEK, an energy holding owned by Ukraine’s richest billionaire, Rinat Akhmetov. Shmyhal has rejected allegations that he was close to Akhmetov, saying he never met him and was hired to work for DTEK through a competitive process.

A native of Lviv, he headed several business enterprises for most of the previous decade before entering the civil service at the Lviv regional administration. He has studied abroad, including in Belgium, Canada, Georgia, and Finland.

A 35-year-old former lawyer and a political newcomer, Honcharuk was named prime minister in August 2019.

He previously submitted his resignation on January 17, amid a scandal surrounding an audio recording in which he allegedly disparages the economic knowledge and competence of both himself and Zelenskiy.

Zelenskiy at the time declined to accept it.