New Bloc Could Mean Rivals Will Lead Ukraine

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine's political landscape shifted radically on Friday after President Viktor Yushchenko's party said it would join a coalition with its archrival, the pro-Russian Party of the Regions led by Viktor Yanukovich, who could make a comeback as prime minister.

"On again... off again" Yanukovich

In an extraordinary shift in fortunes for Yanukovich, who lost to Yushchenko during a presidential run-off in January 2005, any coalition would include Our Ukraine, one of two parties that spearheaded the 2004 Orange Revolution.

The Socialist party, which opposes economic reforms and Ukraine's joining NATO, will also join the coalition. But Yushchenko has insisted that the Communists, who are part of an earlier coalition agreement, must be excluded. Yanukovich has until Tuesday to decide whether he will meet Yushchenko's demands.

The participation of the Socialists in the new government could derail U.S. attempts to invite Ukraine to start negotiations for joining the alliance at the NATO meeting in Riga in November.

The "anti-crisis" coalition - the third attempt at forming a different coalition nearly four months since the parliamentary elections - was brokered after marathon talks on Thursday and Friday. The Party of the Regions had won the most seats during the March election but not enough to establish a stable government.

The latest coalition, however, will not include the other leader of the so-called Orange Revolution, Yulia Tymoshenko, whose party, the Tymoshenko Bloc, came in second in the elections.

Tymoshenko said this past week that she had no intention of supporting the anti-crisis coalition and would instead join the opposition after her own political fortunes ebbed and flowed over the past several weeks.

Tymoshenko, who is immensely popular among the younger generation, was poised 10 days ago to become prime minister after the pro-Western Orange Revolution parties had obtained the support of the Socialist Party, led by Oleksandr Moroz.

But the coalition negotiations became bogged down by bitter rivalries and clashes between Yushchenko and Tymoshenko, whose cooperation during the heady days of the Orange Revolution has all but disappeared.

Yushchenko repeatedly tried to block Tymoshenko from taking the top government job, particularly since the new constitutional changes that came into effect last January has strengthened the post of prime minister at the expense of the president, whose powers have been considerably weakened.

There were disputes, too, over who would be president of the Parliament and who would lead the parliamentary committees.

Amid such political haggling, Moroz suddenly changed sides, saying he would move over to the Party of the Regions. With support from the small Communist Party, Yanukovich this week said he would establish the next government. Moroz was rewarded by being elected president of the Parliament, a powerful position he had long sought.

Source: International Herald Tribune