KYIV (Reuters) -- Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych pushed today for a new ruling coalition within the week to avoid snap elections and tackle a deep economic crisis.
The ex-Soviet republic, battered by the economic downturn, needs a new government to adopt a delayed 2010 budget and restart talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on a suspended $16.4 billion bail-out package.
The Regions Party of the recently elected Yanukovych said it expected to announce a coalition in parliament and possibly a government line-up on March 11, likely headed by Russian-born former Finance Minister Mykola Azarov.
Azarov, 62, an old ally of Yanukovych, would replace Yulia Tymoshenko, co-architect of the 2004 pro-Western "Orange Revolution" who was ousted last week in a vote of no-confidence after losing to Yanukovich in a February 7 presidential runoff.
He is seen as a safe pair of hands though no radical reformer. But he would give Yanukovich a reliable ruling partner after the infighting of Orange co-revolutionaries Tymoshenko and former President Viktor Yushchenko.
Yanukovich's narrow victory tilted the country of 46 million people -- split between a Russian-leaning south and east and a Western-friendly west and centre -- back towards Russia after years of fractious 'Orange' rule.
Azarov met today with the loose Our Ukraine bloc of former president Viktor Yushchenko, needing the support of at least part of the alliance to secure a majority.
Our Ukraine deputy Roman Zvarych said Azarov gave them an "ultimatum" to decide on Wednesday whether to join as a whole, or be split by a new law giving deputies the right to enter a coalition on an individual basis.
"If the decision is not favorable, I understood from Azarov's words that a coalition will be formed and announced tomorrow anyway, as well as his candidacy for prime minister," he was quoted as saying by Interfax-Ukraine.
Tymoshenko's camp has condemned as a "constitutional coup d'etat" the amendment adopted on Tuesday on the rules governing how a coalition can be formed. The Regions Party shrugged off the criticism.
"I think that it [the new law] will be signed today by the president, tomorrow it will be published and tomorrow in the assembly...a historic decision will be taken to form a coalition," Regions Party lawmaker Mykhailo Chechetov said.
Yanukovych's office said he had offered the post of deputy prime minister to former central bank chairman Serhiy Tihipko, a reformer who has called for "unpopular" measures to deal with an economic crisis that saw GDP contract by 15 percent in 2009.
Tihipko, 50, came a strong third in the first round of the presidential election.
The president's office said he had "agreed to work in the new government", but Tihipko's spokeswoman could not confirm whether or not he had accepted the offer.
Political analysts question whether Tihipko could pursue the reforms he wants within a government beholden in large part to Yanukovych's wealthy industrial backers. It is also unclear how far Azarov would share his vision of what needs to be done.
Reliance on a handful of disaffected Our Ukraine deputies for a coalition majority could yet spell trouble and unsettle investors.