Ukraine's Pro-West Alliance Eyes Victory

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine's pro-Western alliance appeared poised Monday for victory in parliamentary elections, but intense horse-trading and the spectre of protests lay ahead.

Preliminary official results in the ex-Soviet republic's snap election Sunday pointed to a dramatic win for President Viktor Yushchenko's Our Ukraine party and the allied Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc.

Their combined tally was 48.6 percent, based on an official count of 60.5 percent of ballots cast across the country of 47 million people, which lies between Russia and the European Union.

Arch-rival Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych's Regions Party, plus all smaller parties that might agree to join him, gathered a potential total of only 43 percent.

Regions Party, which had been the largest in the parliament, known as the Rada, slipped to second place behind Tymoshenko's party, according to preliminary results.

If confirmed, this would be a sensational comeback for the masterminds of the 2004 Orange Revolution, which overturned a rigged presidential election win by the Moscow-backed Yanukovych and led to Yushchenko's triumph in the rerun.

"The Orange Revolution has been saved by Tymoshenko's election results. She saved it from oblivion," said Taras Kuzio, a Ukraine specialist at George Washington University in Washington, D.C.

Yushchenko and Tymoshenko had yet to set up a formal coalition, as promised on the eve of elections, and analysts cautioned that almost any twist is possible in Ukraine's turbulent politics -- including a collapse of the Orange team even before it was formed.

Yanukovych did not concede defeat and the Regions Party was due to hold a rally on Kiev's Independence Square.

"Nothing confirms the Orange forces' victory," Yanukovych said on Channel Five television. "There aren't official results yet and to draw conclusions on exit polls is irresponsible."

The glamorous Tymoshenko is clearly gunning to replace Yanukovych as prime minister, returning to a post she held in the aftermath of the Orange Revolution before falling out with Yushchenko and opening the door to Yanukovych.

Tymoshenko, famous for her firebrand speeches and braided golden hairdo, said she wanted to form a new government with Yushchenko within 48 hours.

Ukraine, which has held three national polls in as many years and suffered months of constitutional paralysis, is notorious for the complexity and rancour of political deal-making.

Nico Lange, at the Konrad Adenauer Foundation in Kiev, warned that Yanukovych's Regions Party might challenge the results.

"They will go to court and they will try to mobilise protests against the election," said

However, the main Western monitoring group, the OSCE, gave Sunday's election a clean bill of health.

"The elections met levels of well-accepted European standards," said Adrian Severin, a European Parliament member in the observer team.

The election was called early after the attempt at cohabitation between a weakened Yushchenko and the ambitious Yanukovych turned to chaos.

Yanukovych had become head of the government after the Regions Party came out on top of parliamentary elections in March 2006.

Russia had strongly backed Yanukovych and saw the pro-Western Orange Revolution as a crushing foreign policy defeat and has had strained relations with both Yushchenko and Tymoshenko.

In Moscow's first reaction, Russian Ambassador Viktor Chernomyrdin told AFP late Sunday that "we will work with any government."

But Russia's state newspaper Rossiiskaya Gazeta cast doubt on the viability of an Orange victory.

"Serious political battles are only beginning," the newspaper wrote, prediciting "a flood of information about violations."

Washington, the European Union and an increasingly assertive Kremlin are all vying for influence in this strategically placed country, which has expressed interest in joining both the European Union and NATO.

Ukraine straddles key Russian gas export routes to energy-hungry EU clients.

It is also a testing ground for Western-style economic and political reforms in the former Soviet Union, where many countries are now headed by authoritarian governments.

But the country is deeply divided between the Russian-speaking east and Ukrainian-speaking west.

Source: AFP