Ukraine Leader Cautious On Reuniting Pro-Western Team

KIEV, Ukraine -- President Viktor Yushchenko warned that his party's decision to reunite with estranged pro-Western allies was only the "beginning of negotiations," suggesting talks over Ukraine's new government faced a long and rocky road.

Former Ukranian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko (R) speaks to Socialist leader Oleksander Moroz during a news conference in Kiev, April 6, 2006

He also said the pro-Russian opposition, which won the legislative ballot on March 26, had to be considered when dividing the election spoils.

"This is the beginning of negotiations," he said after an announcement by his Our Ukraine bloc that it would join with its "orange revolution" allies in parliament, spurning a union with the pro-Russian Regions Party.

"And it's no great secret that we have aimed and will continue to aim, to create an 'orange' coalition," with the Socialists and Yulia Tymoshenko's bloc, who backed the "orange" protests that brought Yushchenko to power in late 2004.

The three pro-Western forces are expected to control 243 seats in the 450-member Upper Rada legislature, compared with 207 seats for the pro-Russian Regions and their likely allies, the Communists.

"On the other hand, we have to be honest and admit that eight months ago such a coalition was created. It fell apart and the lessons have been learned. How long-lived can such a coalition be?" Yushchenko said.

The main stumbling block in the talks ahead is the demand by fiery Tymoshenko, who split with the president after he fired her as premier six months ago and drubbed his party in the recent ballot, to once again head the government.

Following their acrimonious breakup, Yushchenko is widely believed to distrust his ambious and charismatic one-time ally and analysts says he is groping for ways to keep her out of the premiership, which will have expanded powers after constitutional changes that took effect this year.

Officials with Our Ukraine told AFP that the majority of the party is against a Tymoshenko premiership and said coalition talks could fall apart if she did not give up on her demand.

"Practically all those present said... that a Tymoshenko premiership would be inadmissible," one party official said.

"If she doesn't enter the coalition without the premiership, she can go somewhere else," said another. "Then we'll unite with Regions."

Meanwhile Yushchenko said the future coalition had to take the Regions into account.

"We have to take into account that there is a third of voters who gave preference to another political force," he said.

"I wouldn't want that, in talking about an 'orange' coalition, Ukraine found itself before a choice of de-facto splitting the country," he said.

Regions is headed by ex-premier Viktor Yanukovych, who was kept from power in the 2004 "orange" revolt that split the ex-Soviet country in two, with the Russian-speaking southeast supporting him, and the Ukrainian-speaking northwest backing Yushchenko.

According to preliminary election results from the March 26 ballot, Regions finished first with an expected 186 seats in the legislature, followed by Tymoshenko's bloc with an expected 129 seats, Our Ukraine with 81 seats, the Socialists with 33 seats and the Communists with 21.

Despite the humiliating third-place election finish of Yushchenko's party, the Ukrainian president is the king-maker, deciding with whom to form the next government following Tymoshenko's refusal to join the pro-Russian Regions.

Yanukovych's party has courted Yushchenko, saying it was ready to strike a deal with the president provided it gets control over the premiership and energy and economy portfolios.

Yushchenko is expected to hold repeat talks with the ballot winners after the release of final election results, which are due to be published by April 10.

The poll winners have until June 10 to form a majority coalition. Yushchenko can dissolve parliament and call new elections otherwise.

Source: AFP