Ukrainian presidential frontrunner Viktor Yanukovych flexed his muscles in parliament on Thursday as MPs voted to dismiss the interior minister, a close ally of his opponent, Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko.
Yanukovych's opposition Party of Regions initiated Yuryi Lutsenko's removal, accusing him of political bias, and 231 members of the Supreme Rada voted to dismiss the minister, narrowly clearing the 226 votes required.
Tymoshenko struck back swiftly, however, calling an extraordinary meeting of the government at which Lutsenko was appointed first deputy interior minister, authorizing him to run the ministry.
'Printing House' standoff
The spark for the move to oust Lutsenko occurred on Monday when Party of Regions accused police of inactivity after a group of people raided the Ukraina printing house, where ballots for the presidential runoff between Yanukovych and Tymoshenko were being prepared.
Yanukovych's party accused the prime minister of an attempt to seize the building and print an additional 1.5 million ballots to falsify the results of the runoff.
While Tymoshenko denied the accusations, Lutsenko went further and accused unnamed Party of Regions deputies of seizing the printing house, saying it was a commercial takeover.
While the rivals continued to trade accusations, the Ukrainian Prosecutor General's Office has opened a criminal case into the situation.
Election commission praises Lutsenko's removal
Mykhailo Okhendovskiy, a member of the Ukrainian Election Commission, said that the parliament's decision to remove Lutsenko will have a positive impact on the election.
"First of all it [the decision] will decriminalize police work and make it impossible for interior ministry to illegally interfere in the work of election commissions," he said.
Ukrainians will choose between Yanukovych and Tymoshenko in a runoff election on February 7. The first round of the presidential vote, on January 17, saw Yanukovych finish first, 10 percentage points ahead of Tymoshenko.
Experts refrain from predicting the outcome of the runoff but believe the margin of victory will be minimal, which could be a reason for the losing candidate to contest the results.
The worst scenario, according to political scientists, would be if the defeated candidate calls on his supporters to take to the streets in protest, forcing law enforcement bodies to take a significantly increased role.
From interior minister to presidential adviser and back
Lutsenko first took charge of the Interior Ministry in February of 2005 in the government of Tymoshenko, but on December 1 of that year the Supreme Rada voted to dismiss him from the post.
Three days after President Viktor Yushchenko has appointed him as a presidential adviser.
In December 2007, when Tymoshenko became prime minister for a second time, the parliament approved her list of Cabinet members and Lutsenko again took the post of the country's interior minister.
KIEV, January 28 (RIA Novosti)