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Ukraine: Yanukovych Clings To Office But Is Poised To Build Opposition

The Yushchenko (left) and Yanukovych camps are seeking to attract allies (screen capture from 21 December presidential debate) Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych has yet to concede defeat in the 26 December presidential election, but his bid to retain power now looks hopeless. Ukraine's Supreme Court today rejected the last three legal challenges lodged by the prime minister aimed at invalidating the vote, which was won by opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko. Yanukovych has further election challenges pending, but analysts said he has already turned his thoughts to a future in opposition.

Prague, 30 December 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Yanukovych's attempt to retain his prime minister's post is looking more and more like political bravado.

He has refused to concede defeat despite losing by eight percentage points. In a news conference yesterday, he said his opponents were "shivering with fear."

"When [Yushchenko's team] says I should resign [as prime minister], my response is to let them continue their lawlessness, but as a matter of principle I will not submit a resignation," Yanukovych said. "And I know why they insist on my resignation. It is because they are shivering with fear now, just as they did in the beginning. And they have every reason to think so. We will yet have our say in the future -- in the near future."

But it was Ukraine's Supreme Court that grabbed the headlines today with rulings that analysts say are likely to hasten Yanukovych's exit from office -- and pave the way for him to become the leader of a new opposition.
The 2006 parliamentary vote could be more important than parliamentary elections in the past because Ukraine is embarking on changes to increase the power of parliament at the expense of the president.

A Yushchenko ally, Yuliya Tymoshenko, made that point yesterday during an appearance on local television in Donetsk, Yanukovych's eastern hometown.

"Viktor Fedorovych Yanukovych will find his place in politics and in parliament, and I think he will probably head the opposition which we will give the broadest rights," Tymoshenko said.

The Supreme Court so far has rejected or declined to consider three of Yanukovych's challenges to the 26 December vote. The court must still review a fourth and final complaint from Yanukovych, but analysts said it is unlikely to succeed. They said they fully expect Yushchenko to be inaugurated as Ukraine's new president in January.

But Yanukovych's future in opposition looks bright. He received 12.8 million votes in the last round. If he can consolidate that support, analysts said he could emerge as a major player in the 2006 parliamentary elections.

That vote could be more important than parliamentary elections in the past because Ukraine is embarking on changes to increase the power of parliament at the expense of the president.

"If, for example, Yanukovych wins the elections in 2006, he will be the man who will form the government. And we will have just an uneasy cohabitation of the president, Yushchenko, and Premier Yanukovych or someone from the Yanukovych camp," said Jan Maksymiuk, a Ukraine analyst for RFE/RL. "I don't see any other resolution of this conflict."

Maksymiuk said he sees three political power centers now emerging. One is Yushchenko's Our Ukraine bloc, which includes smaller forces such as Tymoshenko's Fatherland Party. Another is Yanukovych's Donetsk-based Party of Regions, which draws support mainly in eastern and southern Ukraine. And the third is the Agrarian Party led by Volodymyr Lytvyn, the speaker of parliament.

Significantly, at the moment, neither Yushchenko's bloc nor Yanukovych's party appears to have the backing to win an outright majority in parliament. So, much will depend on whether Yushchenko and Yanukovych can boost their backing over the coming year.

But with Ukraine split along cultural and regional lines, Maksymiuk said it remains to be seen whether either side can succeed.

"I think [for] Yanukovych, these elections made him a natural opposition in Ukraine," Maksymiuk said. "[But] the troubling thing is that [he] is also a leader only in half of Ukraine -- that is [the] Ukrainian divide between East and West, between [the] Ukrainian and Russian cultural traditions, may deepen because of this political standoff."

Meanwhile, both Yanukovych and Yushchenko are seeking to forge new alliances with smaller parties. Those parties are keen to negotiate since many will not be able to overcome the 3-percent threshold now needed to enter parliament.

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