PRAGUE, March 28, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Consider the two rivals of the Orange Revolution.
Viktor Yanukovych, the Kremlin's pick for president, has his official victory in the November 2004 presidential election annulled and ends up losing the runoff by more than 2 million votes.
Viktor Yushchenko, the opposition underdog, rides the wave of public protests to the presidential post and into the history books.
Just 15 months later, however, the roles appear reversed.
Yanukovych's Party of Regions is leading in the race to select a new, more powerful parliament, with exit polls estimating it will win a least 27 percent of the vote.
Yushchenko's Our Ukraine, by contrast, is running a distant third with just 15 percent, according to the same exit polls.
During a press conference following the March 26 election, Yanukovych welcomed what he called a "decisive victory," and said the Party of Regions was "ready to take responsibility" for forming a government.
"We are ready to take responsibility for the present and the future of every Ukrainian citizen, whether we speak Ukrainian or Russian, wear orange or blue scarves, live in Donetsk, Crimea, Kyiv, or Lviv," Yanukovych said. "Today, we are a united country -- a single and united Ukraine."
But it is looking more and more likely that one color may dominate Ukraine's future government -- and that color will be orange, not the blue that represents Yanukovych's party.
"We are ready to take responsibility for the present and the future of every Ukrainian citizen, whether we speak Ukrainian or Russian, wear orange or blue scarves, live in Donetsk, Crimea, Kyiv, or Lviv." -- Yanukovych
Our Ukraine, despite its low returns, may retain a government presence. An announcement is expected today on a coalition cabinet deal linking Our Ukraine with the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc and the Socialist Party led by Oleksandr Moroz.
Tymoshenko's bloc appears to be the second-place winner, with 22-24 percent of the vote. The Socialists are in fourth with approximately 8 percent.
Looking East, Or West?
The West is likely to welcome the reformation of an Orange government that will continue along a reformist path. Russia, by contrast, may be less pleased.
Sergei Markov, a pro-Kremlin analyst, is the director of the Institute of Political Studies in Moscow. He is currently in Ukraine as a member of the delegation of observers from Russia's Public Chamber consultative body.
"Personally, as a representative of Russia, I would like a coalition to be formed that would bring together the Party of Regions, the Communist Party, the party of Vitrenko (the Nataliya Vitrenko Bloc), the Ne Tak (Not Right) bloc, Lytvyn's (People's) Bloc, and which would carry out a program aiming at a maximum rapprochement with Russia," Markov said. "It is important that a coalition be formed that would be able to prevent extremes, since the most important destabilizing factor is the fact that the Orange coalition tried to take Ukraine from Russia by force and literally break it in half."
Yanukovych has reportedly invited other parties to join a coalition. But it is unlikely he will succeed in securing a majority in the 450-seat Verkhovna Rada.
The majority is key, because it is those lawmakers who are tasked with forming most of the cabinet and appointing a prime minister.
Ahead of the poll, it was suggested that Yushchenko would be forced into a partnership with Yanukovych to get a parliamentary majority. Such a deal could still theoretically be possible, if talks on an Orange coalition fall through. Some see this as a solution that both the West and Russia could find palatable, if not ideal.
Moscow and Kyiv have not enjoyed warm ties under Yushchenko's presidency.
Tymoshenko has said she is determined to throw out a deal raising on natural-gas imports from Russia.
Over the past year, the two neighbors have sparred repeatedly over gas prices, the stationing of Russia's Black Sea Fleet in the Ukrainian port city of Sevastopol, and Kyiv's recent decision to impose new customs rules on Moldova's pro-Moscow region of Transdniester.
Markov said Russia is partly to blame for finding itself in a situation where it has few like-minded partners left in power in Ukraine.
"For 15 years, Russia has provided little support to its allies in Ukraine, unlike the United States and the European Union," Markov said. "This is why there is practically no pro-Russian candidate for premier. There are either anti-Russian [candidates] like [Our Ukraine's Yuriy] Yekhanurov, or neutral like Yanukovych, or a relatively vague ideology like Yuliya Tymoshenko -- it is not clear to anyone what direction she will take."
Tymoshenko, however, has been clear on at least one point. She says she is determined to throw out the New Year's deal raising the price of Ukraine's natural-gas imports from Russia.
BEHIND THE IMAGES: Click on the links below to read RFE/RL's profiles of some of the key players in Ukraine's March 26 legislative elections:
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