Ukraine's Orange alliance looks to retake power
Ukraine's pro-Western Orange alliance appeared poised on Monday for victory in parliamentary elections, but intense horse-trading and the spectre of protests lay ahead.
Exit polls and preliminary official results in the ex-Soviet republic's snap election on Sunday pointed to victory for President Viktor Yushchenko's Our Ukraine party and the allied Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc.
Their combined tally was 49 per cent, based on an official count of 40 per cent of ballots cast across the country of 47 million people, which lies between Russia and the European Union.
Their arch-rival Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych's Regions Party, plus smaller parties seen as possible allies, gathered a potential total of about 43 per cent.
If confirmed, the result would mark the return of the duo who shot to prominence in the 2004 Orange Revolution when a rigged presidential election victory by the Moscow-backed Yanukovych was overturned and Yushchenko won the rerun.
Victory would also signify a stunning comeback by the glamorous Tymoshenko, famous for her firebrand speeches and braided golden hairdo.
Tymoshenko, who said she hoped to form a new government with Yushchenko within 48 hours, now looks set to oust Yanukovych as prime minister.
This would return her to a post she held in the aftermath of the Orange Revolution before falling out with Yushchenko and opening the door to her bitter rival.
"The Orange Revoltion has been saved by Tymoshenko's election results. She saved it from oblivion," said Taras Kuzio, a Ukraine specialist at George Washington University in Washington, DC.
Ukraine, which has held three national polls in as many years and suffered months of constitutional paralysis, is notorious for the complexity and rancour of political deal-making.
Some analysts question whether Tymoshenko will be able to overcome previous personality clashes with her partner Yushchenko.
They also point out that Yanukovych, whose Regions Party is forecast to have won more than a third of the vote, remains a major force.
It was unclear whether Yanukovych would dispute the results, but the Regions Party announced a rally on Kiev's main square on Monday and analysts said that court challenges were a distinct possibility.
"We have to wait for the reaction of the Regions Party.... They will go to court and they will try to mobilise protests against the election," said Nico Lange, an analyst at the Konrad Adenauer Foundation in Kiev.
Sunday's poll, the third national election for this deeply divided country in as many years, was called early after the attempt at cohabitation between a weakened Yushchenko and the ambitious Yanukovych turned to chaos.
Yanukovych had become head of the government after the Regions Party came out on top of parliamentary elections in March 2006.
Russia had strongly backed Yanukovych and saw the pro-Western Orange Revolution as a crushing foreign policy defeat and has had strained relations with both Yushchenko and Tymoshenko.
In Moscow's first reaction, Russian Ambassador Viktor Chernomyrdin told AFP late on Sunday that "we will work with any government."
But Russian parliamentary deputies and experts cast doubt on the viability of an Orange victory.
"Regions Party won the moral triumph," Konstantin Kosachev, head of the parliament's foreign affairs committee, told Interfax.
The state newspaper
said Ukraine's crisis would continue.
"Serious political battles are only beginning," the newspaper wrote.
"In the coming days after the election one can expect in Ukraine a flood of information about violations during campaigning and particularly during voting itself."
Washington, the European Union and an increasingly assertive Kremlin are all vying for influence in this strategically placed country, which has expressed interest in joining both the European Union and NATO.
Ukraine straddles key Russian gas export routes to energy-hungry EU clients.
It is also a testing ground for Western-style economic and political reforms in the former Soviet Union, where many countries are now headed by authoritarian governments.
But the country is deeply divided between the Russian-speaking east and Ukrainian-speaking west.