Ukraine Deals With Messy Side of Democracy

KIEV, Ukraine — What to do with Yulia? The fate of the ousted prime minister is much the talk among Ukrainians _ those, at least, whose eyes haven't glazed over from a surfeit of politics.

Feisty Yulia Tymoshenko

The heady days of revolution and unity of purpose have given way to squabbling and complex coalition dealings, and the nation of 47 million is discovering how messy democracy can be.

With her feisty manner and intricately braided blond hair, Yulia Tymoshenko was one of the highest-profile figures in the 2004 Orange Revolution that swept Viktor Yushchenko to the presidency of the former Soviet republic.

She became prime minister but fell out with Yushchenko and was fired, only to bounce back in parliamentary elections two months ago with more votes than her potential coalition partners combined.

That election was hailed as Ukraine's most democratic ever. But no party won enough seats to form a government, and with the parliament session due to start Thursday, the wheels of coalition-building are grinding slowly. Tymoshenko wants her old job back. Yushchenko is cool to the idea.

The fate of Tymoshenko is not the only unresolved issue. There are plenty of other potential deal-breakers that need to be sorted out, or risk scuttling any alliance that does form. And many of them are rooted in Ukraine's Soviet past:

NATO: Yushchenko wants Ukraine to join, but the Socialists, a potential coalition partner for the president's Our Ukraine party, opposes entering the Western military alliance.

Russian gas: A deal this year nearly doubled the price Ukraine pays, and has underlined how much clout the Kremlin retains even if it ceased to rule this nation nearly 15 years ago.

Tymoshenko wants the deal reversed; Yushchenko says Ukraine got the best deal it could, but allies of his party have sent mixed signals about how far they will go to defend it.

Privatization: Some industries, such as the energy sector, communized in Soviet times, remain state-owned and inefficient. Yushchenko has made their privatization a priority. The Socialists, however, oppose privatization on principle.

Tymoshenko's views are harder to read. While prime minister, she called for a large-scale review of murky privatizations carried out under former President Leonid Kuchma. Investors saw her stance as an assault on ownership, which Tymoshenko strongly denied.

Language: Yushchenko has pledged to protect Ukrainian as the nation's only state language. The Socialists say they would support making Russian a second state language, noting that much of Ukraine's east and south is Russian-speaking.

The three parties in negotiations to share power run from left through center to right. United by hatred of Kuchma's former corruption-tainted regime, their alliance quickly showed cracks once the old order was gone, highlighted by the sacking of Tymoshenko and her government last September amid mutual allegations of incompetence and corruption.

Despite Yushchenko's reluctance to give Tymoshenko her old job back, the alternative is even more awkward. The party of Viktor Yanukovych, the pro-Russia candidate who was humbled in the upheaval that brought Yushchenko to power, won the most votes in the March election. He has reached out to his former opponents, but all have rebuffed him - publicly at least.

The Socialist party differs the most ideologically from its potential coalition partners, but it won the fewest votes and has proven in the past that it knows how to compromise.

"If the Socialist Party is interested in creating a coalition of democratic forces, it must modify its position; otherwise there cannot be a coalition," Foreign Minister Borys Tarasyuk said last week.

Andriy Dmytrenko, an economics analyst with Dragon Capital, sees a more pliant Tymoshenko emerging, too.

"When Tymoshenko was campaigning, we heard a lot of pro-populist rhetoric, but there are hints now that she has become a lot softer, particularly after winning significantly," he said. "People still associate her term as prime minister with an economic slowdown and price controls.

She has to recover her image as a good economic manager."

Source: AP