Tough Choices For Ukraine Leader In Big Crisis

KIEV, Ukraine -- President Viktor Yushchenko, the glow of the "Orange Revolution" he led long since faded, faces three options, all of them unpleasant, in finding a way out of Ukraine's protracted government crisis.

The outcome liberals and Yushchenko's backers in the West fear most is a dilution of the pro-western goals and commitment to transparent government proclaimed since his election.

Four months of post-election deadlock which has left Ukraine with no full-fledged government or working parliament may reach a climax this week as constitutional deadlines close in.

With a government led by rivals friendlier to Moscow poised to take office, Yushchenko must either agree to put it in place, at the risk of alienating already disenchanted "orange" backers, or go into opposition at the risk of marginalizing himself.

A third option -- seen as increasingly unlikely -- would be to reject the prospective government, headed by his arch rival Viktor Yanukovich, dissolve parliament and call a new poll.

"Yushchenko's main problem is that he leads the 'orange' alliance which represents political change, but he also must solve key national issues as head of state," said Andrei Yermolayev of the Center for Social Issues think tank.

"This means unpleasant compromises. He has to maintain a balance, but his allies will view that balance as treachery."

Nearly two years have passed since street protests led to Yushchenko's election in the re-run of a rigged poll.

Many backers of the revolution say they no longer believe in its ideals of fighting corruption and moving out of Russia's shadow into Europe's mainstream. Many blame Yushchenko for allowing the crisis to drag on.

Opinion polls underscore the reality that emerged from the March election to parliament. They show Yanukovich to be Ukraine's most popular politician on 30 percent approval, followed by Yulia Tymoshenko, the president's estranged ally sacked as premier last year, with 18 percent.

The president lies third with just under 10 percent.

That makes dissolution and a new election, uncertain in legal terms, an even less palatable political option for him.


His powers reduced under the constitution, Yushchenko has ceded to parliament the right to nominate the premier. He says he has no wish to resort to dissolving the chamber from Tuesday should no cabinet be in place 60 days after its first sitting.

The constitution also gives him 15 days from July 18 to consider Yanukovich's nomination and submit it to parliament.

Yushchenko played down the gravity of events in a weekend radio address, devoted mainly to improved economic growth under caretaker premier Yuri Yekhanurov despite the crisis.

Ukraine, he said, needed a premier to cope with new gas price increases after big New Year rises negotiated with Russia.

"Only a team of professionals can tackle these tasks," he said. "It must be led by someone able to rise above party interests and assume responsibility for economic development."

Intrigue and rivalry led to the collapse early in July of attempts by "orange" parties to form a coalition of their own.

That allowed Yanukovich, the Moscow-backed candidate beaten by Yushchenko in the 2004 presidential race, to form an alternative group with Socialists and Communists, with business magnates sitting alongside opponents of WTO and NATO membership.

Presidential endorsement, however lukewarm, of a Yanukovich government could allow Yushchenko's allies to take cabinet jobs.

Some in Yushchenko's Our Ukraine party favor a "grand coalition" to bridge the gap between the Russian-speaking east, Yanukovich's power base, and the nationalist west, which distrusts him.

Such an alliance could also suit Western investors.

But it will rankle with grassroots liberals who have abandoned the president in droves for the bloc led by Tymoshenko -- who demands a new election to uphold the revolution's aims.

Some analysts see the president and his rival making a marriage of convenience to broaden its appeal to voters.

"The president is most likely to submit Viktor Yanukovich's nomination to parliament for approval and the president will get a quota in government," wrote the weekly Zerkalo Nedeli.

Source: Reuters