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Europe

Ukraine Poll Pushes 'Orange' Rivals Into Each Others' Arms

Ukraine's parliamentary elections have dealt a humiliating personal blow to President Viktor Yushchenko but are likely to push his splintered "Orange Revolution" team back together, analysts said Monday.

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The leaders of the so-called Orange Revolution may have to cooperate again

Yushchenko was beaten in a national election both by the man he defeated in the "Orange Revolution" contest a little over a year ago, and by the woman he fired as premier six months ago, according to the exit polls.

The president's Our Ukraine bloc received just 16 percent of the vote, compared to 31 percent for Viktor Yanukovich's Regions Party and 24 percent for Yulia Timoshenko's bloc, the pollsters estimated.

The first official results were expected at about 0600 GMT Monday, but the national election commission had only tallied results from just over 8 percent of Ukraine's 34,041 polling stations by then.

"We will work all day Monday and maybe even a bit on Tuesday," Yaroslav Davydovych, the head of Ukraine's central election commission, told reporters.

The Regions Party, headed by Russia-friendly ex-premier Viktor Yanukovich, led with 24.58 percent, "orange revolution" heroine Yulia Tymoshenko's bloc had 24.08 percent, and President Viktor Yushchenko's Our Ukraine bloc was in third with 17.01 percent, the preliminary results showed. Exit polls released after the close of voting Sunday suggested Regions would get 31 percent of the overall vote, Timoshenko's bloc 24 percent, and Our Ukraine would be third with 16 percent.

Ukraine Russland Streit um Gaslieferungen Viktor Juschtschenko

The results were bad news for President Viktor Yushchenko

The polls showed that two other parties were likely to get more than the 3 percent of the general vote required to get into parliament -- the Socialists with 5 percent and the Communists with 3 percent.

Mandate for opponents

"The results are the Ukrainian population's evaluation of... (Yushchenko's) first year in office. They have given their mandate to his opponents," said Kost Bondarenko, a political analyst in Kiev.

Yushchenko was swept into power after the 2004 "orange revolution" street protests over a contested presidential ballot, amid which the nation's supreme court threw out the results that initially handed victory to Yanukovich. The then-opposition leader easily won a rerun ballot but his popularity has plummeted as the economy slumped and the "orange" team splintered amid infighting.

Wahlen Ukraine Julia Timoschenko

Yulia Tymoshenko could become prime minister once more

The president's apparent poor showing in Sunday's poll will push him towards a coalition with Tymoshenko, analysts agreed early Monday, while officials from the two parties suggested an agreement could be signed later in the day.

"The most probable coalition will be orange... the Region Party's victory is only a formal one," said Volodymyr Fesenko, an independent analyst.

"This is a blow for Yushchenko, but not defeat," said Bondarenko.

Timoshenko or Yanukovich as premier?

Tymoshenko, too, downplayed the Regions victory, saying an "orange" coalition would relegate Yanukovich's party to an opposition role in the new parliament.

"This is absolutely okay. The country needs a strong opposition," Timoshenko said in early morning televised remarks.

Tymoshenko looks set to regain the premiership in a coalition with Our Ukraine.

"Our Ukraine has agreed on the position that the force that gets the most votes... will propose its candidacy for the prime minister's post," said Roman Bezsmertnyi, campaign chief for Our Ukraine.

When asked what would happen if Yushchenko refused her candidacy for the premiership, Tymoshenko said in televised comments: "He would have to agree to the premiership of (Viktor) Yanukovich."

Ehemaliger Ministerpräsident und Präsidentkandidat von der Ukraine Viktor Janukowitsch

Yanukovich appears to be on the way up again

Such a coalition would allow Yushchenko to continue reforms aimed at driving Ukraine toward membership in the European Union and the NATO, analysts said.

But an alliance between the president and his erstwhile "orange" partner is likely to be a tense one, as the ambitious Tymoshenko and measured Yushchenko are likely to spar on several issues, analysts say. These include a recent gas deal with Russia, which Tymoshenko has demanded be scrapped; reviewing questionable privatizations, which she has vowed to pursue despite investor unease; and intervention in the economy, which free market-oriented Yushchenko opposes.



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