March 22, 2016 / 5:02 PM / 2 years ago

Ukraine's finance minister launches bid to lead technocrat government

KIEV (Reuters) - Ukrainian Finance Minister Natalia Yaresko threw her hat into the ring on Tuesday to head a technocrat government of people uncompromised by “a political past” after weeks of speculation over whether she would try to replace Arseny Yatseniuk.

Ukraine's Finance Minister Natalia Yaresko reacts during a news conference in Kiev, Ukraine, December 30, 2015. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko

Yatseniuk’s unpopular government has been hanging by a thread since three smaller parties quit his coalition and President Petro Poroshenko pushed for the premier to resign.

Yaresko has been touted as a possible replacement, but the chances of that happening had appeared to fade last week after cross-party talks failed to achieve a breakthrough on how they would form a new government.

Ukraine needs a stable government to conclude negotiations with the International Monetary Fund for new aid worth $1.7 billion to keep its war-torn economy afloat and pass economic and judicial reforms demanded by its Western backers.

U.S.-born and a former U.S. State Department official and fund manager, Yaresko, 50, received Ukrainian citizenship when she took up the finance ministry job in Dec. 2014.

She speaks fluent Ukrainian, albeit with an old-fashioned accent common to descendants of Ukrainian immigrants in North America.

Though she might be a popular choice with Ukraine’s Western allies, some believe she may lack the political muscle to push through reforms any faster than Yatseniuk could.

Moreover, a source in Poroshenko’s party told Reuters that it was more likely that the ruling coalition would push for parliament speaker Volodymyr Groysman, an ally of Poroshenko, to replace Yatseniuk.

“In my opinion, only a technocratic government can deal with the problems in this of kind of political situation,” Yaresko wrote in a Facebook post. She added that her team would have people “who do not have a political past, are not subject to any of the oligarchs, or “friends” of politicians, and have no future political ambitions.”

“I’m ready to assemble a team that is able right now to work in the interest of the whole country and all its citizens, and not some political or business groups.”

Yatseniuk’s popularity has plummeted since coming to power in 2014 after the Maidan street protests ousted a pro-Kremlin president. This reflects voters’ growing disillusion with the pace of change and what a top U.S. diplomat recently called “the unholy alliance of dirty money and dirty politics” still controlling the country.

Although it jointly governs Ukraine in coalition with Yatseniuk’s People’s Front, Poroshenko’s party tried to topple the government in a no-confidence vote in February.

When that failed, it kept searching for possible replacements to Yatseniuk.

“Everything changes every minute and the decision could be taken in the last moment,” said the source in Poroshenko’s party. “I fear that it could be too late,” the source added, speaking about Yaresko’s chances of becoming premier.

A 38-year-old former mayor, Groysman was Poroshenko’s favored candidate for prime minister after the 2014 parliamentary elections, but the appointment was scuppered by Yatseniuk party’s overall win in the polls.

A second source in Poroshenko’s party told Reuters that the faction was split between those who supported Groysman and those who supported Yaresko. A new round of talks between the parties in the coalition could happen as early as Wednesday, a third source said.

Writing by Matthias Williams; Editing by Richard Balmforth

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