Battles Leave Ukraine On Brink Of Second Election In A Year

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine was facing its worst political crisis since the Orange Revolution of 2004 on Tuesday as parties backing the country's western-minded president, Viktor Yushchenko, called for parliament to be dissolved after a pro-Russian majority emerged in the legislature.

Yushchenko's allies sounded sirens in Ukraine's parliament in Kiev, Ukraine, Tuesday, July 11, 2006. Ukraine's pro-Russian political parties have agreed to unite and try to form a governing coalition, the parliament speaker announced Tuesday, in a dramatic reversal of the country's path toward reform and closer ties with the rest of Europe

The development set the stage for a repeat of heated elections held in March and raised questions over whether the country's western integration path adopted after presidential elections in 2004 could be reversed.

The two political parties that propelled Mr Yushchenko to the country's presidency by supporting protests against election fraud in 2004 yesterday urged him to dissolve the newly-elected parliament.

Calls for repeat elections came a week after the Socialist party backed out of a coalition agreement with Mr Yushchenko's allies to join pro-Russian parties in seizing control of the nation's legislature.

The decision presents the Ukrainian president with a deep dilemma: whether to allow a hostile coalition government to be formed, headed by his old rival Viktor Yanukovich; or dissolve parliament.

Mr Yanukovich's Regions party emerged from the March elections as the largest single party. Mr Yushchenko's Our Ukraine party came third, behind the group headed by Yulia Tymoshenko, his fellow leader of the Orange Revolution, and former prime minister. But their attempt to form a coalition with the Socialists collapsed last week.

The president has called for the formation of a constructive governing coalition that would stand by his foreign policy and domestic reform plans while warning that he reserved the right to dissolve parliament if it failed to preserve political stability. He also urged lawmakers to restore the nation's constitutional court. Attempts to swear in new judges have repeatedly been delayed in parliament sincethe autumn.

Oleh Rybachuk, Mr Yushchenko's chief of staff, conceded that the country had slipped into a "political and constitutional crisis". He said the constitutional procedure raised many legal questions, including how and when parliament might be dissolved by the president.

During a heated parliament session yesterday, members of Our Ukraine and Ms Tymoshenko's bloc clashed with pro-Russian legislators, who submitted Mr Yanukovich's candidacy for prime minister.

Our Ukraine's decision to join Ms Tymoshenko's radical call for repeat elections surprised political analysts who have predicted that influential business interests who hold about a third of the bloc's seats would be more inclined to join a new coalition with the Regions party, which is backed by some of the country's richest tycoons. The Communist party was expected to be left out of a pro-business alliance that would, in theory, include Our Ukraine, Regions and possibly the Socialists.

This scenario was avoided after rightwing members of Our Ukraine threatened to split off on their own, fearing voters would view a shift towards a coalition with Regions as a sell-out of Orange Revolution principles.

The chaotic turn of events follows months of political negotiations on forming the country's first coalition government. It follows a change in Ukraine's political system through which key presidential powers moved to parliament, now responsible for forming the government.

Like Ukraine's parliament, the country's population remains split over whether to continue a strong push westward or to preserve historically strong ties with Russia. Most Ukrainians in the Russian-speaking east still favour close ties with Russia, while the largely Ukrainian speaking west stand for integration with the European Union and Nato.

Our Ukraine's decision to renew its alliance with Ms Tymoshenko, strained due to nail-biting coalition negotiations held in recent months, provides a boost for Ms Tymoshenko, who has hoped to return as prime minister after being ousted last autumn following a falling out with Mr Yushchenko.

The revived alliance should help pro-western political forces gain the largest share of seats in a repeat election, particularly given that Ms Tymoshenko managed in the past poll to increase her popularity across the country.

The new partnership will help rebuild a strong base of support for the country's pro-western agenda, but it is also seen as a double-edged sword for Mr Yushchenko, as it increases the clout of Ms Tymoshenko, seen as a challenger for the 2009 presidential elections.

Source: Financial Times