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Ukraine: Yushchenko Faces Tough Coalition Choice

  • Valentinas Mite --> President Viktor Yushchenko (file photo) (epa) President Viktor Yushchenko's party suffered a humiliating third-place finish in Ukraine's March 26 parliamentary elections, but is still in a position to determine the shape of the new government by joining a coalition with one of the two leading parties. Yushchenko's Our Ukraine bloc faces a tough choice -- its 81 seats can help form a solid majority in a coalition with the winner of the elections, former rival Viktor Yanukovych's Party of Regions. Or, it could repair its estranged relationship with the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc, which finished second, in an effort to form a three-party coalition including the Socialist Party of Ukraine. Both marriages of convenience pose potential pitfalls.

PRAGUE, April 4, 2006 -- The Ukrainian president must choose between two of his main political rivals to forge an alliance that will determine the next government.

His Our Ukraine bloc is the trump card in helping either of the top two finishers in the election to construct a coalition that will hold a majority of the votes in the new parliament.

The Choices

But the top party, the Party of Regions, is led by Viktor Yanukovych -- Yushchenko's bitter rival in Ukraine's 2004 presidential elections.

The second-place finisher, the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc, is led by his closest ally during the Orange Revolution that launched him to power in 2004. But their relationship became strained after Yushchenko dismissed Tymoshenko from her post as prime minister in September.

Tatyana Stanovaya, who heads the analytical department at the Center for Political Technologies, a Moscow-based think tank, says choosing Tymoshenko as a partner would be politically advantageous for the president.

"In fact, for Yushchenko the scenario of uniting with Tymoshenko is a perfect one, but only if Yuliya [Tymoshenko] abandons her pretensions of heading the government," Stanovaya said.

Tymoshenko has made no secret of her desire to regain her position as prime minister, and analyst Stanovaya believes that chances are high that she would refuse any other cabinet position.

But while Tymoshenko and Yushchenko share pro-Western principles, Stanovaya concedes that forming a coalition with the pro-Russian Party of Regions might be easier for the president.

"In the second case [a coalition with Yanukovych] there are fewer obstacles and it is less complicated and easier," Stanovaya said.

Others envision further obstacles to a Yushchenko-Tymoshenko reunion.

Stumbling Blocks

Oksana Shuliar, an analyst at the Institute of the Euro-Atlantic Cooperation think tank in Kyiv, says that talk of another Tymoshenko premiership could scare away foreign investment.

"Already now, many British experts have expressed their concern that Tymoshenko's premiership will cause a very big flight of investment from Ukraine," Shuliar said. "Investors might start doubting whether to invest in Ukraine -- as Tymoshenko's premiership was marked by calls for reprivatization and creating stricter rules for privatization."

In addition, it is plausible that in the event that Tymoshenko were to regain her position as prime minister, the president would have a harder time checking her power this time around. This is in part due to reduced presidential powers courtesy of new constitutional amendments, and because of the political strength Tymoshenko gained by finishing ahead of the president's party in the recent elections.

Shuliar believes that for investment, a Yushchenko-Yanukovych alliance makes more sense. But such a convergence would also mark a return to the past, as it would serve to unite business and politics -- the separation of which was one of the main aims of the Orange Revolution.

"The east of the country is more industrial, all big business is mainly in the east and it is represented, of course, by the Party of Regions," Shuliar said. "It [a Yanukovych-Yushchenko alliance] will be a minus. There were many calls [during the Orange Revolution] to make a clear division between the authority and business. But in case of this big coalition -- the one between the Party of Regions and Our Ukraine -- there will be no division between the authority and business."

Meanwhile, others believe that Yushchenko is in a lose-lose situation, as an alliance with either of the two parties will weaken his credibility and hinder his political future.

No Third Option

However, analyst Stanovaya says there is no third way, as a coalition between the Party of Regions and the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc is out of the question. Stanovaya says Tymoshenko has characterized Yanukovych as an evil force in the hands of the Kremlin, while Yanukovych has described Tymoshenko as unpredictable and too ambitious.

Sohat leaves Yushchenko holding the cards, and while Our Ukraine has announced that it will not decide on a coalition partner before April 7, the clock is ticking.