Ukraine's President Zelensky refuses PM's resignation amid tape scandal

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky on Friday rejected an offer by Oleksiy Honcharuk to resign as prime minister after an audio recording suggested the latter had criticised Zelensky's knowledge of economics.

In a video released by Zelensky’s office on Friday evening, the president said he decided to “give a chance” to Honcharuk and his cabinet, noting “now is not the time to shake the country economically and politically.”

Zelensky called the tape situation "unpleasant" but said he'd asked Honcharuk to present a report on the results of his work to parliament.

Speculation over Honcharuk’s future grew this week after a recording of a man discussing Zelensky’s purported lack of knowledge of economics was circulated on messaging channels, apparently at a meeting of the prime minister, finance minister and the National Bank of Ukraine (NBU) in December.

Zelensky is a former comic actor who had no political experience when he swept to power in an election last year on the back of public anger over high-level corruption.

Honcharuk said on Friday the recording had been doctored and was made up of different fragments of what had been said at government meetings.

“Its contents artificially create the impression that my team and I do not respect the president, who is our political leader,” Honcharuk said on social media. He did not say whether it was his voice heard in the recording.

Central bank officials and the finance minister have declined to comment on the recording.

Zelensky asked law enforcement agencies to determine who was involved in making the recording and how to prevent such incidents from occurring in future.

Under Ukraine’s previous president, Honcharuk’s predecessor as prime minister, Volodymyr Groysman, also made threats to resign but ultimately stayed the course until last July’s parliamentary election which Zelensky’s party won.

Honcharuk, appointed by lawmakers last August, declined to say whether his resignation letter was a test of the president’s confidence in him.

“It doesn’t show the prime minister’s desire to resign, but rather it’s a way for him to fight to stay in his position,” Volodymyr Fesenko, a Kiev-based political analyst.

‘Model of openness and decency’

Honcharuk announced his resignation in a message on Facebook where he also praised Zelensky as “a model of openness and decency”.

“However, in order to remove any doubts about our respect and trust in the President, I wrote a letter of resignation and handed it to the President with the right to submit it to Parliament,” he said.

Honcharuk appeared in parliament on Friday and reaffirmed his respect for the president, adding that Ukraine must remain united in the face of what he called information attacks and manipulations.

He was given a standing ovation by a number of lawmakers, though some shouted “shame on you”.

Since taking office, Honcharuk has set out an ambitious reform agenda and secured provisional agreement from the IMF for a three-year-loan programme seen as key to maintaining investor confidence and economic stability.

Honcharuk’s government managed to secure a $5.5 billion IMF loan programme in December but this is still subject to Ukraine’s performance on reforms and tackling vested interests.

(FRANCE 24 with AP and REUTERS)

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