Ukraine's parliament speaker frontrunner to replace PM Yatseniuk

KIEV (Reuters) - Ukraine’s parliamentary speaker emerged on Thursday as the frontrunner to replace the unpopular Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk, signalling a breakthrough in a political crisis that has lasted months.

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Current and former members of the ruling coalition met to discuss nominating Volodymyr Groysman, a 38-year-old former mayor and ally of President Petro Poroshenko, but stressed the appointment could only work if parties can agree on a new coalition deal.

Support for Yatseniuk’s Western-backed government has plunged since he took power after the 2013/2014 Maidan protests and his government has been hanging by a thread since three parties quit the coalition, the first in September.

Coalition infighting and corruption scandals have stymied reforms demanded by Kiev’s Western backers and derailed negotiations for a new $1.7 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund needed to prop up the war-torn economy.

Groysman might be a good compromise candidate to balance competing factional interests. But he would still need to convince the United States, the European Union and the IMF, all increasingly frustrated with Kiev, that Ukraine would honour its international commitments.

“I believe that all commitments ... regarding implementing the IMF programme, issues relating to EU association, regarding the free trade zone with the European Union, must be carried out by Ukraine seamlessly,” he told a news conference.

“This is a question of our reputation.”

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Groysman said he would invite former Slovak Finance Minister Ivan Miklos, currently an adviser to the finance minister, to join his cabinet, but did not specify for which post.

Groysman’s appointment is not a shoe-in, even assuming Yatseniuk will finally bow to calls to resign, and it is likely to come only after days or weeks of fractious talks between parties.

“I am sure that if we do not resolve the political crisis, the only way out of the crisis will be via snap parliamentary elections,” Yuriy Lutsenko, a senior lawmaker in Poroshenko’s party, told reporters.

Technocrat Finance Minister Natalia Yaresko, a foreign-born former fund manager, had also been considered as a candidate. While championed by Washington as a reformer, lawmakers said she lacked support in parliament.

Groysman is seen as a talented orator who has grown in confidence as speaker - a role that requires a calm authority to manage the bickering and all-out brawls that periodically interrupt sessions in Ukraine’s parliament.

“Groysman is able to find a compromise with all politicians. Groysman knows every deputy - he knows their desires, interests and foibles,” Serhiy Leshchenko, a lawmaker from Poroshenko’s party, said in an interview with Ukrainian news site Liga.

“Groysman knows how to use these instruments to reach agreement with different groups of deputies.”

Reporting by Pavel Polityuk, Natlalia Zinets, Alessandra Prentice and Alexei Kalmykov; Writing by Matthias Williams; Editing by Robin Pomeroy