March 27, 2006

Ukraine’s liberals talk of coalition after poll

By Yuri Kulikov

KIEV (Reuters) - Ukraine's pro-Western liberals readied on
Monday for coalition talks after former Prime Minister Yulia
Tymoshenko urged them to close ranks to keep out a
Russia-backed party after Sunday's parliamentary election.

Tymoshenko, speaking after exit polls showed her bloc was
in second place, said on Sunday a deal on a coalition
government drawn from the liberal parties of the 2004 "Orange
Revolution" was "practically ready."

Voter disillusionment over an economic slowdown and splits
among the liberals since they were thrust into power by street
protests helped Viktor Yanukovich's pro-Russia Regions Party
win the largest share of the vote.

Yanukovich, strong in Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine,
seized on his big win to also invite parties to join a

But exit polls showed the liberals, who have set the former
Soviet republic of 47 million on a course to join the European
mainstream, could still control parliament and frustrate his

Before Sunday's vote, political pundits had forseen the
prospect of President Viktor Yushchenko, who is backed by Our
Ukraine, having to form a coalition with Yanukovich whom he
humiliated in a re-run of a disputed presidential poll in 2004.

But Yushchenko, whose party was running third in the
parliamentary election, now has to patch up differences with
Tymoshenko, his close comrade in the Orange Revolution whom he
sacked as prime minister last September.

There was no immediate word from Yushchenko's camp.

Tymoshenko's strong showing was the result of relentless
campaigning by the glamorous and persuasive 45-year-old, whose
sharp tongue proved a scourge for both Yanukovich and her old
patron, Yushchenko, alike on the stump.

Preliminary talks between the liberals -- Tymoshenko's
bloc, Our Ukraine party and the Socialists -- were scheduled
for 11 a.m. (3.00 a.m. EST) on Monday.

If they do form a coalition, the poll outcome will put the
Orange Revolution leaders under pressure to deliver on reforms
after prising Ukraine from centuries of Russian domination.

The exit polls gave Yanukovich's Regions Party 27-31
percent, the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc 22-24 percent and Our
Ukraine about 15 percent. Preliminary results were not expected
for two or 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 but then fell out with


Tymoshenko's success effectively meant she took over as
standard-bearer of the "Orange" liberals from Yushchenko.

In her familiar braided hairstyle, she told a late-night
news conference that 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 axed her from the
job 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.

Yushchenko aides said the president also wanted a restored
'orange' team and that he could play a decisive role.

But allowing Tymoshenko to be prime minister will not be
easy given her interventionist views and his free market style.

True to form, Tymoshenko played a strong populist card,
saying she would scrap a New Year deal increasing the price of
imported Russian gas. A standoff with Russia at the time
triggered shortages in Europe and diplomatic uproar.

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