Ukraine poll drives former allies into each other's arms
Ukraine's estranged Orange Revolution leaders were forced into uneasy coalition talks after voters snubbed President Viktor Yushchenko at the ballot box, dealing his party a resounding defeat in the first parliamentary election since he took power 15 months ago.
With nearly half the votes from Sunday's poll counted, the pro-Russia bloc led by the president's arch-rival, Viktor Yanukovich, was poised to win the largest share of seats but looked set to fall well short of a parliamentary majority.
Even so, the result is a remarkable comeback for a man whose political career seemed over after half a million protesters overturned his dubious presidential election victory in December 2004.
Mr Yanukovich's Party of Regions had 27 per cent of the vote, against just 16 per cent for the president's Our Ukraine bloc.
A triumphant Mr Yanukovich said yesterday. "We are ready to undertake responsiblity for forming the cabinet and we are calling on everyone to join us."
Mr Yushchenko may have to turn to his charismatic former prime minister Yulia Timoshenko, whose bloc leapfrogged Our Ukraine into second place, polling nearly 24 per cent of the vote so far.
As joint leaders of the protests they were an ideal couple, but as partners in government, they seemed totally unsuited to each other and Mr Yushchenko eventually sacked her after details of infighting within his administration were explosively made public last September.
Mrs Timoshenko's position tried to push for an immediate coalition agreement with the president yesterday. "We don't have another path," she said. "It's our only option." The share of the vote is enough for the two blocs to hold more than 50 per cent of the seats.
The president refused to conclude a deal until the count was complete, although an initial declaration of intent to reunify the Orange Revolution forces is expected to be signed today.
But previous attempts at reunification have failed. Under Ukrainian law, coalition talks can continue for a month.