PRAGUE, July 8, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Ukrainian politics has taken its second sharp turn in the space of two days, with the creation of a new coalition capable of commanding a majority in Ukraine's parliament.
The three-member coalition includes two parties with similar pro-Russian positions, the Party of Regions and the Communists. The dramatic change, announced late on July 7, is the decision of the Socialist Party to join forces with the two parties.
The announcement came a day after the party's leader, Oleksander Moroz, was on July 6 unexpectedly elected speaker of Ukraine's parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, with the backing of the Communists and the Party of the Regions.
Until that point, it had looked as if the Socialist Party would be joining its allies in the Orange Revolution -- Our Ukraine and the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc -- in a new government.
Moroz's election effectively killed off a deal that the 'Orange' coalition had struck about the distribution of leading position and, as President Viktor Yushchenko conceded, it also indicated that efforts to form a new Orange government had failed. That was swiftly confirmed by the formation of the new alliance.
The new coalition has enough seats in parliament – 230 out of 450 – to command a majority. As the leader of the party that won most votes in March's elections, the man who has been designated as the coalition's would-be prime minister is the leader of the Party of Regions, Viktor Yanukovych -- the man whose bid for the presidency in 2004, supported by widespread fraud, was foiled by the Orange Revolution.
To Dissolve, Or Not To Dissolve Parliament?
But time is short. Parliament reopened on May 25 and, under the constitution, the president has the right to dissolve parliament if no government is formed within 30 days.
Yushchenko indicated on July 7 that he might use that right.
In a radio address on July 8, he indicated a number of conditions. One rests with parliament: Yushchenko specifically stated he would endorse a new government only after the constitutional court, which has been crippled by parliament's failure to elect new judges, resumes its activities.
He also indicated he would want clear assurances about the policies of a new government, saying he would not accept major changes to Ukraine's foreign-policy goal of European integration,
He gave the new coalition three weeks to form a government.
Yanukovych and the new coalition therefore need to move quickly, first, to reach an agreement on a new government and, second, to ensure that the coalition's paper majority translates into a vote of confidence in parliament.
Yanukovych and the new coalition therefore need to move quickly to reach an agreement on a new government and to win the support of parliament.
Yanukovych has reached out to rival parties, saying his "coalition's doors will always be open, and every political force can apply to join the coalition."
There has so far been no indication that either of the more liberal parties will join the coalition.
Tymoshenko said that the primary issue at this point is whether, having failed to produce a government yet, the Ukrainian parliament remains constitutionally "legitimate" and whether the president will dissolve parliament. "Until the president takes a stand, the parliament does not enjoy full legitimacy," she concluded.
Elements in Our Ukraine are thought to be more sympathetic to a government featuring the Party of the Regions than to government with Yuliya Tymoshenko, with whom relations soured during her time as prime minister in 2005.
But the key questions now are whether the new grouping can transform its coalition into a government and whether Yushchenko might decide that the best way forward is to disband parliament.
Ukraine has not had a government since March's parliamentary elections and so far this latest twist of events has chiefly highlighted the difficulty that the country's parties in forging and then sustaining alliances.
The Key Players
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:
Click on the image for background and archived articles about Ukraine's March 26 elections.
Click on the image to see RFE/RL's coverage of the Ukrainian elections in Ukrainian.
Click on the image to view a photo gallery of some of the key players in the Ukrainian elections.