Kiev Reformer Suffers New Defeat

MOSCOW, Russia -- President Viktor Yushchenko of Ukraine, a Western- leaning reformist who led a wave of popular protests to office, only to stumble badly when tested in parliamentary elections, has suffered a new political defeat as his fragile coalition collapsed in acrimony two weeks after it was formed.

Viktor Yushchenko

His opponents, joined by a former ally of the president, have announced a new coalition and pledged to nominate as prime minister the man Yushchenko ultimately defeated after those protests overturned a rigged presidential election in 2004.

Friday's events, three and a half months after his party's humiliating showing in parliamentary voting in March, cast new doubts on Yushchenko's presidency, undermining his efforts to steer Ukraine on a course more closely entwined with Europe.

He faces the possibility of an opposition government and prime minister opposed to his policy of joining the European Union, NATO and the World Trade Organization.

"This is certainly going to be a blow to the president's priority objectives," said Roman Zvarich, one of Yushchenko's supporters, who previously served as justice minister.

Viktor Yanukovich, Yushchenko's presidential rival and leader of the Party of Regions, seized on the disarray among the pro-presidential parties. Only two weeks ago, the parties negotiated a fragile compromise to create a government that would, largely, support Yushchenko's policies.

Yanukovich, who has pledged closer economic, political and social ties with Russia, announced what he called an "anti-crisis coalition" uniting the Communists and the Socialist Party, which until this week had allied itself with what became known in 2004 as the Orange Revolution.

The crisis only seemed to worsen, though. Yushchenko, whose indecisiveness showed in weeks of tumultuous negotiations over forming a coalition after March's election, raised the specter of disbanding Parliament even before it effectively convened.

By law, he can call new elections if Parliament cannot form a government within 60 days of the dismissal of the old one, a deadline now set for July 25. In a statement, Yushchenko said he did not want "the country to walk in some wrong direction for five years."

"No matter what coalition we speak about," he said in a statement published on his official Web site, "I would ask all the parties not to make hasty decisions."

Yanukovich's party made haste nonetheless, nominating him as prime minister, a position that under constitutional changes approved in 2004 has enhanced powers over economic and domestic policy. The Party of Regions won the largest bloc of seats in the election, 186, but fell short of a majority in the 450-seat Parliament.

With the Communists and Socialists, the party now claims to have 240 votes, enough to form a majority and elect Yanukovich prime minister, a post he held under the previous president, Leonid Kuchma.

Yushchenko's coalition collapsed after two weeks of jockeying. For several days after the formation of a pro- presidential coalition, Yanukovich's supporters blocked Parliament from meeting by, literally, blocking the rostrum.

They relented Thursday after reaching an agreement to hold an open vote for parliamentary speaker, a potentially influential position among parties allied with Yushchenko.

Yushchenko's party, Our Ukraine, nominated Petro Poroshenko, a chocolate manufacturer and television magnate who served as national security adviser until he resigned last September in the face of accusations of corruption. He was nominated as part of a deal that would have returned Yulia Tymoshenko, Yushchenko's partner-turned-rival, to the position of prime minister.

But facing opposition not only from the Party of Regions but also from some of Yushchenko's supporters, Poroshenko withdrew his candidacy on Thursday.

The Socialists joined with the opposition to elect their party leader, Oleksandr Moroz, who once vowed never to ally himself with Yanukovich. Moroz, who previously served as speaker, had strongly supported Yushchenko in the Orange Revolution.

Moroz's defection provoked outrage. Zvarich accused him of political opportunism for personal ambitions. "Betrayal comes to mind," he said in a telephone interview.

In remarks earlier on Friday, cited by news agencies, Moroz said it was too early to discuss a coalition.

Several members of the Socialist Party were reported to have broken with Moroz in protest. His press secretary said he was not available to comment Friday night. Zvarich said the president's supporters would challenge the formation of an opposition coalition in court, citing violations of parliamentary rules.

Mychailo Wynnyckyj, a professor of sociology at the University of Kiev-Mohyla Academy, said Ukraine faced a political division like that of a previous French government, where a centrist president shared power with a leftist parliament. But the situation was more volatile, he said.

"In France, they call it cohabitation," he said in a telephone interview. And in Ukraine? "Chaos."

Source: International Herald Tribune