March 26, 2006

Ukraine’s Tymoshenko calls for liberal coalition

By Yuri Kulikov

KIEV (Reuters) - Former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia
Tymoshenko scored a triumph in parliamentary elections on
Sunday, saying "Orange Revolution" liberals could close ranks
to form a coalition and keep a pro-Russian party in opposition.

Tymoshenko emerged as the star when exit polls, while
giving the largest number of votes to pro-Russian Viktor
Yanukovich's party, showed her bloc had easily taken second

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

Yushchenko's Our Ukraine party trailed in third place, the
exit polls showed.

Tymoshenko, sporting her trademark braid hairstyle, said
three liberal parties, her own Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc, Our
Ukraine and the Socialists, had won enough votes to form a
majority and that a coalition deal was "practically ready."

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

"In this coalition agreement ... it is said that the
political group holding first place has the right to propose a
candidate to head the government," she told a news conference.

"Our political aim will be to follow the path the country
chose in the last presidential election."

The exit polls gave Yanukovich's Regions Party 27 to 31
percent, the Tymoshenko bloc 22 to 24 percent and the
pro-Yushchenko party about 15 percent.


Disillusionment over splits in the "Orange" team and a
economic slowdown clearly contributed to the big score for
Yanukovich, strong in Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine.

At stake is the fate of a country of 47 million, whose
"Orange" leaders have been unable to deliver on promises after
prising Ukraine loose from centuries of Russian domination and
setting it on a course for joining the European mainstream.

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

Yanukovich also invited other parties to join a coalition.

"We are ready to take the responsibility of forming a
government and we call on everybody who holds Ukraine's fate
dear to join us," he told reporters.

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

Before the vote, many surveys had predicted Yushchenko's
party would take second place comfortably, and speculation was
widespread of a grand coalition with Yanukovich.

But the day belonged to the 45-year-old 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.

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

True to form, she immediately played a strong populist
card, saying that if she returned to power a New Year deal
sharply increasing the price of imported Russian gas would be

"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 Gfk-USM Ukraine consultancy.

Preliminary results were not expected for two to three

Long talks could still be on the cards to form a coalition
able to command a majority in parliament that under new
constitutional rules can choose the prime minister.