Orange Coalition In Ukraine In Doubt After Socialists Break Ranks

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukrainian political parties were to hold emergency meetings Friday, with the fragile pro-Western Orange coalition in danger of falling apart after the small Socialist Party broke ranks to get its leader elected as parliament speaker.

Socialist leader Oleksandr Moroz answers media questions after he was elected the parliament speaker, in Ukraine's capital Kiev Thursday, July 6, 2006.

The ex-Soviet nation has been in political crisis without a new government for more than three months since parliamentary elections in which the pro-Russian opposition won the most seats but fell short of a majority.

After weeks of tense bargaining, the three parties involved in the 2004 Orange Revolution agreed last month to form a coalition under a deal that would give President Viktor Yushchenko's party the speaker's post and hand back his estranged ally Yulia Tymoshenko her prime minister's job.

But lawmakers on Thursday unexpectedly elected Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz as speaker, provoking accusations of betrayal from Yushchenko's and Tymoshenko's parties, which largely boycotted the vote.

The powerful pro-Russian opposition immediately reached out to the Socialists, hoping to form a coalition with them. Viktor Yanukovych, leader of the Party of Regions, said that Moroz is able to unite Ukraine and that on Friday a new coalition including his party could be formed.

Moroz urged all political forces in the parliament to come together and refused to rule out a coalition involving the Party of Regions.

On Friday, parliamentary leaders were to meet for political consultations and all three Orange parties were to hold political councils of their parties to decide the future of their coalition.

Yanukovych was Yushchenko's Kremlin-backed opponent in the 2004 presidential election that sparked the mass protests dubbed the Orange Revolution. Yanukovych won the election, but it was declared invalid and Yushchenko was elected in a court-ordered rerun.

The majority coalition formed in June reunited the central parties in the Orange Revolution, who had fallen out with each other after Yushchenko took office.

Yushchenko, whose party finished a humiliating third in the March elections, agreed that Tymoshenko would be nominated to return to the premiership - from which Yushchenko had fired her last September. But in return his party insisted on getting the powerful speaker's job.

The latest political crisis erupted Thursday only hours after the Party of Regions ended a 10-day parliament blockade that paralyzed the legislature's work and prevented the formation of the new government.

The party had complained that the coalition was trying to shut it out of key committee positions and objected to a coalition proposal to elect the premier and speaker in a single vote.

The political standoff has highlighted divisions in the country between the mainly Russian-speaking east and south of Ukraine and Ukrainian-speaking west, and the country's strategic choice between close ties with Russia and integration with the West.

Source: AP