Yushchenko Ponders New Poll To Stop Rival's Return

KIEV, Ukraine -- The clock is ticking in Ukraine's worst politicalcrisis since the Orange revolution as President Viktor Yushchenko considers dissolving parliament to keep Viktor Yanukovich, hisMoscow-leaning rival, out of power.

Viktor Yushchenko (L) and Viktor Yanukovich (R)

Mr Yushchenko, who cancelled a trip to Moscow on Friday because of the deepening political trouble, has another grim option - to agree a compromise with the coalition backing Mr Yanukovich's candidacy and seeking closer ties with Russia.

Mr Yanukovich appeared cool and confident towards the end of last week after holding talks with Mr Yushchenko. "I saw a big desire in the eyes of the president to unite efforts," he said.

Mr Yanukovich, the former prime minister, is hoping to make an extraordinary comeback since losing the 2004 presidential election to Mr Yushchenko, whose public approval ratings have sunk in recent months.

The return of Mr Yanukovich to power would raise questions about Mr Yushchenko's ability to pushforward with plans to join Nato and, eventually, the European Union.

Ahead of March parliamentary elections, MrYanukovich's political camp vowed to revive strong ties with Russia and support gradual EU integration but opposed Mr Yushchenko's plan to join Nato as soon as possible. Mr Yanukovich's party mustered just over 30 per cent voter support, more than any other party.

A coalition backing Mr Yushchenko collapsed earlier this month when the Socialists backed out to join the rival group comprising Mr Yanukovich's Regions party and the Communists. The alliance that emerged triumphant from the Orange revolution first began to fall apart when Yulia Tymoshenko was ousted as prime minister in the autumnafter falling out with Mr Yushchenko.

Constitutional changes implemented this year shifted key presidentialpowers to parliament. Parliament now has the duty to form the government; the president is obliged tosubmit to parliament the candidate of the coalition that commands a parliamentary majority, within 15 days of receiving it.

Mr Yanukovich's candidacy was officially submitted on July 18, giving Mr Yushchenko until early August to submit the candidacy. But Mr Yushchenko also has the option of dissolving parliament if a new government is not formed by July 25, or 60 days after the previous government tendered its resignation.

The president has warned that he would not allow his market reform and western-integration agenda to be derailed. He has also urged legislators to swear in new judges for the constitutional court, which has not functioned since the autumn. The escalating political conflict could mutate into an even more serious constitutional crisis without a functioning constitutional court to interpret the new and still vague political rules.

Ms Tymoshenko, who controls the second largest bloc in parliament - named after herself, with 20 per cent of the vote - has urged Mr Yushchenko to call repeat elections. She has threatened to shift to fierce opposition to the president should his Our Ukraine bloc, which finished third in March with 13 per cent support, ally itself with Mr Yanukovich.

She said a compromise agreement with Mr Yanukovich would be a sell out of the Orange revolution in which massive street protests brought Mr Yushchenko into office in repeat elections after a previous poll was rigged in Mr Yanukovich's favour.

The rise to power ofMr Yanukovich's coalition "could threaten the investment climate in Ukraine and probably the prospects for structural reforms", Austria's Raiffeisen Zentralbank warned this month. "Onthe other hand, the newgovernment with Viktor Yanukovich as prime minister should have a betterposition in the negotiations with [the Russian gas giant] Gazprom concerning the [natural] gas price."

Ms Tymoshenko wants to review a controversial January accord in which Ukraine agreed to pay almost double for Russian gas imports, after a reduction in its supplies affected deliveries to other European countries.

Source: Financial Times