But the man who has led Ukraine's amazing political rebirth and survived potentially deadly dioxin poisoning still faces serious political threats.
Apart from awakening grand hopes both at home and abroad that democracy might take deeper root in Ukraine, the "Orange Revolution" has instilled millions of Ukrainians with the firm belief that Yushchenko is truly capable of ousting "criminal clans" from power in Kyiv and making the livelihood of ordinary Ukrainians better in a shorter rather than longer term -- as he pledged during the election campaign. He will have to deliver substantially on his election promises in 2005 if he wants to improve his political position ahead of the parliament-approved reductions in presidential powers that will take effect in one year and the March 2006 parliamentary elections. Arguably, 2005 will be a year of primarily domestic concerns for Yushchenko. Kyiv's relations with Moscow and Brussels will likely remain on a back burner as Yushchenko grapples with the political legacy of outgoing President Leonid Kuchma. And the domestic problems that Yushchenko will face in the coming year appear immensely tricky.
To begin with, Yushchenko needs quickly to build a parliamentary coalition and propose a prime minister who might be acceptable to such a coalition. Both tasks will present major headaches. The main problem is that his parliamentary base, the Our Ukraine bloc, along with its current political allies -- Oleksandr Moroz's Socialist Party, the eponymous political bloc of Yuliya Tymoshenko, and Anatoliy Kinakh's Party of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs -- has just 150 deputies, which is well below the 226 votes needed to pass most resolutions in the 450-seat Verkhovna Rada.
The "Orange Revolution" has prompted numerous defections from previously pro-Yanukovych parliamentary caucuses, but these defectors -- who include a group of some 50 nonaligned deputies -- need yet to be effectively courted by Yushchenko. Still, even absolute success would translate into a total of 200 votes rather than the required 226. Yushchenko must therefore draw at least two other minor parliamentary groups into his camp in order to form a new government on solid footing. Presumably, such parliamentary maneuvers will lead to offers of government posts to people who appear distant from the ideals of the "Orange Revolution" -- or even who stood by his rival's side when the revolution was taking place.
Choosing a prime minister is a difficult problem, too. Yuliya Tymoshenko has made little secret of her willingness to accept the job. The same applies to lawmaker and businessman Petro Poroshenko, who supported Yushchenko's "Orange Revolution" both financially and propagandistically (Poroshenko owns the Channel 5 television station that took much of the credit for having promoted Yushchenko's presidential bid consistently throughout the campaign).
Tymoshenko is widely perceived as a radical and a bitter enemy of pro-Kuchma oligarchs, so her potential premiership could exacerbate tense relations between Yushchenko and the deep-pocketed elements from eastern Ukraine who supported Yanukovych and control a hefty segment of the national economy. Poroshenko is seen as a moderate in comparison to Tymoshenko, but his strong business connections arguably weaken his credibility as a fair-minded political dealer in the post-Kuchma era.
Yushchenko might indeed decide on a less colorful, less controversial, and less politically known than Tymoshenko or Poroshenko for the job of prime minister.
The New Opposition
On the other hand, Yushchenko during his presidency will certainly face a strong opposition from the political camp of his presidential rival, outgoing Prime Minister Yanukovych. Some 12.8 million Ukrainians voted for Yanukovych on 26 December, and his defeat appears to have inflicted a sort of personal trauma on many of them. The 2004 presidential election has doubtless made Yanukovych a natural opposition leader in Ukraine.
Yanukovych leads the Donetsk-based Party of Regions, which draws its support primarily in Ukraine's eastern and southern regions. But this regional party has every chance to become a major national player after the 2006 parliamentary elections, which are to be held under a fully proportional party-list system and a 3-percent threshold to qualify for parliamentary representation.
The Kyiv-based Razumkov Center conducted two interesting polls recently, one from 6-9 December and the other from 14-19 December, on voter preference on a hypothetical parliamentary ballot. The first poll offered respondents a list of 20 parties, while the other presented the same list of parties with the names of their leaders attached. The first poll found that just four parties -- Our Ukraine (with 28.8 percent backing), Yanukovych's Party of Regions (14.5 percent), Petro Symonenko's Communist Party (6 percent), and Oleksandr Moroz's Socialist Party (4.5 percent) -- could count on overcoming the 3-percent barrier in the current environment.
But the second poll -- with a list of parties and their political leaders -- painted a somewhat different picture. It suggested that six parties would have deputies in the Verkhovna Rada: Party of Regions-Viktor Yanukovych (20.5 percent backing); Our Ukraine-Viktor Pynzenyk (17.1 percent); Socialist Party-Oleksandr Moroz (8 percent); Fatherland Party-Yuliya Tymoshenko (6.7 percent); Communist Party-Petro Symonenko (6.2 percent); and the Popular Agrarian Party-Volodymyr Lytvyn (3.5 percent).
First, the Razumkov Center's December polls highlighted the crucial role of leaders in Ukrainian politics: Party stripes do not appear to be of paramount importance to Ukrainian voters.
Second, the polls disclosed a startling and little-known reality: that the Our Ukraine "brand" belongs legally not to Yushchenko but to his political ally, Viktor Pynzenyk. Pynzenyk appears to have managed to re-register his former group -- the Reforms and Order Party -- with the Justice Ministry under the name of Our Ukraine while everyone else from Yushchenko's Our Ukraine bloc was busy preparing and implementing the "Orange Revolution."
The "appropriation" by Pynzenyk of the Our Ukraine name could became an additional source of political grief for Yushchenko in 2005, after he forms a new government and starts to think about securing political support for himself in the 2006 legislative elections. It is highly unlikely that other parties from the Yushchenko camp would be delighted either to allow Pynzenyk to participate in the election under the victorious bloc so closely associated with the "Orange Revolution" or to agree to field their candidates on Pynzenyk's party ticket. Besides, as the polls suggested, the support for Our Ukraine might be significantly lower once voters realize the astounding fact that the Our Ukraine party is not run by Yushchenko.
In other words, Yushchenko should perhaps be as mindful of his allies in 2005 as of his opponents. It is still unclear which side might steer him into greater trouble.
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[For more RFE/RL coverage and analysis, see our dedicated "Ukraine's Disputed Election" website.]