PRAGUE, 28 March 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Spotting the loser in Ukraine's parliamentary elections is easy enough.
President Viktor Yushchenko's vertiginous fall from grace has left his party reeling.
"It's a tremendous humiliation for Yushchenko and his Our Ukraine party, which just over a year ago in the opinion polls held over 70 percent...support, and that's dwindled to under 20 [percent] so far," said Askold Krushelnycky, who is the author of a book on the Orange Revolution and is in Kyiv to report on the elections for RFE/RL.
"That's disastrous for Our Ukraine, which even though it expected the Party of Regions to gain the largest single share of the vote, thought that they would come in second and would be the dominant partner in any coalition with the [bloc of Yuliya] Tymoshenko," he added.
Spotting the winner in the parliamentary vote, meanwhile, is a little less easy.
In numerical terms, of course, there can be no doubt. Yanukovych's Party of Regions looks set to take over 30 percent of the vote, some 7 percentage points ahead of the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc, its nearest rival.
But that still leaves Yanukovych far short of the numbers needed to form a majority in parliament -- and it's less than he won in the runoff for the presidency with Yushchenko in late 2004.
"The Our Ukraine bloc needs time to come to terms with the outcome of
the polls and to choose the direction it wants to move in." -- Tymoshenko
The real winner has to be Tymoshenko, who only last September was dismissed as prime minister by Yushchenko. She now holds most of the political trump cards.
Yushchenko could, of course, form a coalition with Yanukovych, the man he defeated in the bitter presidential election that began the Orange Revolution. But that would be to risk losing even more credibility with his dwindling popular support.Tough Choices Ahead
The pressure, then, is on Yushchenko to form an alliance to put the Orange Revolution back on track. The question is, can he swallow his pride?
"The biggest obstacle seems a personality clash," Krushelnycky said. "Yushchenko and people very close to him have an intense personal dislike of Tymoshenko. Also, they know that the price she will exact for any coalition is the removal from any possibility of holding public office of five or six people who have been the most prominent associates of Yushchenko so far."
Tymoshenko has said only a united Orange front can check the resurgence of Yanukovych's pro-Russian forces, and that an agreement has already been drawn up on a new alliance reuniting her bloc with Our Ukraine and the Socialists.
Tymoshenko appeared ready to sign the deal as soon as the polls closed. But Yushchenko appears less eager to proceed. Today he chose to meet first with Yanukovych before heading to scheduled talks with Tymoshenko and Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz.
Moreover, he called for reaching an agreement on a "system of common values" rather than a immediate division of cabinet posts.
Yushchenko's caution may be a reaction to Tymoshenko. She has made it plain that as the biggest vote-winner in the proposed coalition, she expects nothing less than to be reappointed prime minister.
"There are no disagreements in principle, and the delay in signing the memorandum shows only that there are very deep discussions going on with the Our Ukraine party, and I think that at the moment they are going over the unexpected results of the election," she said. "The Our Ukraine bloc needs time to come to terms with the outcome of the polls and to choose the direction it wants to move in."
For the moment, all eyes are on the Central Election Commission and the announcement of a final result. By mid-afternoon, approximately 75 percent of the votes had been counted.
The chairman of the commission, Yaroslav Davydovych, apologized today for the delay. "We would like to finish our task as soon as possible, since we understand that the world is waiting -- even for preliminary results," he said.
Much though is already clear. For example, Ukraine now appears to be split not two ways geographically, as before, but three -- with the west voting for Yushchenko, the center for Tymoshenko, and the east for Yanukovych.
And whatever the outcome of the coalition talks, Yushchenko is greatly weakened. The center of gravity in Ukraine appears to have shifted toward Tymoshenko.
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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