March 26, 2006

Ukraine’s Tymoshenko seeks to head coalition

By Yuri Kulikov

KIEV (Reuters) - Former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia
Tymoshenko signaled a return to office to form a coalition
government after a poll triumph, urging pro-Western liberals to
end squabbles and keep out a pro-Russian party.

Tymoshenko said on Sunday a coalition deal was "practically
ready," but the poll outcome put her and other 2004 "Orange
Revolution" leaders under pressure to deliver on reforms after
prizing Ukraine from centuries of Russian domination.

Voter disillusionment over "Orange" team splits and an
economic slowdown hit the liberals and clearly helped Viktor
Yanukovich's pro-Russian Regions Party win the largest share of
the ballot in the parliamentary elections on Sunday.

But exit polls showed the liberals, who have set the former
Soviet republic on a course to join the European mainstream,
can still control parliament. Further talks between the
liberals on a coalition were scheduled for 11 a.m. (0800 GMT)
on Monday.

The exit polls gave Yanukovich's Regions Party 27-31
percent, the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc 22-24 percent and President
Viktor Yushchenko's Our Ukraine party about 15 percent.
Preliminary results were not expected for two to three days.

The poll outcome was a double humiliation for Yushchenko,
who beat Yanukovich in a presidential poll re-run after the
December 2004 street protests and who later fell out with
Tymoshenko, his former Orange Revolution comrade.


The 45-year-old Tymoshenko, sporting her trademark braid
hairstyle at a late-night news conference, said three liberal
parties -- her own bloc, Our Ukraine and the Socialists -- had
won enough votes to form a majority government.

She implied she would be back as prime minister to head the
coalition -- a shot aimed at Yushchenko, who sacked her from
the job last September after infighting in "Orange" ranks over
corruption charges.

"I received very kind words from Roman Bezsmertny, the head
of the Our Ukraine campaign staff, who said the bloc that I
head had won the election and should take responsibility for
matters. We will take that responsibility," said Tymoshenko.

But allowing her to be prime minister will not be easy
given her interventionist views and Yushchenko's free market

Yushchenko made no immediate comment after the polls but
aides said the president also wanted a restored "Orange" team
and that he could play a decisive role.

Ukraine's export-led economic growth has slowed markedly
over the last year due to lower world prices for steel and
chemicals, its major exports, and a lack of investment.

Foreign investors have expressed concern over uncertainty
in privatization policy, frequent rows in the government over
major policy issues and failure to simplify an opaque legal

Yanukovich, strong in Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine,
also invited other parties to join a coalition.

But despite his comeback after a shattering defeat in 2004,
the strong showing of Tymoshenko's bloc seemed to make this an
unlikely prospect.

The day belonged to Tymoshenko, whose oratory electrified
thousands in Kiev in the Orange Revolution.

Her strong showing effectively meant she took over as
standard-bearer of the "Orange" liberals from Yushchenko and he
now has little choice but to paper over differences with her.

"Two versions are realistically possible -- either a
failure to form a government and a dissolution of parliament or
a government headed by Tymoshenko," said analyst Hleb
Vyshlynsky, of the Gfk-USM Ukraine consultancy.

Central Electoral Commission head Yaroslav Davydovich said
voter turnout was 70 percent. Four hours after polls closed,
officials had counted a mere 0.04 percent of votes.