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Last Updated: Monday, 27 March 2006, 17:30 GMT 18:30 UK
Ukraine's Orange hero loses zest
By Steven Eke
BBC News

Viktor Yushchenko and Yulia Tymoshenko
Yushchenko and Tymoshenko fell out - but may be forced to make up
The early results of Ukraine's parliamentary elections show that the pro-Russian party of Viktor Yanukovych, the Party of the Regions, has done best, taking almost 30% of the vote.

In that, there is no great surprise. Opinion polls in the run-up to the elections suggested the party was doing well, falling back on its own stable electorate, and also capitalising on some of those disillusioned with the results of the "Orange Revolution".

Viktor Yanukovych was initially triumphant about his party's share of the vote, but later toned down his language.

Since the 2004 presidential election, which he lost, he has undergone a major change of image. A smiling, tanned face now appears on the front of much of his campaign literature.

More importantly, he has brought in a number of top American image consultants, to go with the Russian spin doctors who unsuccessfully portrayed Orange leader Viktor Yushchenko as an American stooge in the presidential election.

Interventionist

The votes are still being counted, but the results so far show that Yulia Tymoshenko, the former prime minister, has taken second place.

Her bloc has gained a much higher score than many analysts expected. But her appeal has many dimensions. To many Ukrainian women, she is a heroine who has made it in the male-dominated fields of business and politics.

Voters in Kiev
Voters in Kiev took part in a genuinely democratic election

Others like her socially-oriented policies, aimed at raising pensions and student grants - even though many economists say her interventionist tendencies would lead to disaster.

Ms Tymoshenko's movement, BYT (the Bloc of Yulia Tymoshenko), ran an exceptionally slick campaign, making much use of the latest interactive and audio-visual technologies.

Ms Tymoshenko's bloc will now be a key power-broker in forming a coalition government. In her first statements on the issue, Ms Tymoshenko has suggested that she wants to keep the Party of the Regions out of it, by uniting with other pro-Orange groups in parliament.

She has said that, together with Our Ukraine (which backs President Yushchenko) and the Socialist Party of Oleksandr Moroz, the Orange camp would command, just, a majority of seats in parliament.

Nato debate

For his part, Mr Yanukovych says he is ready to work with any of the elected political forces for the benefit of Ukraine. Keeping to the major line of his election campaign - "economic competence above all else" - he has said he will embrace any compromise for the sake of stability and economic revival.

There has been much speculation in the Western media that a coalition including Mr Yanukovych would see Ukraine abandon its pro-Western policies. And certainly, membership of Nato is one line Mr Yanukovych would not cross.

He can point to opinion polls showing the vast majority of Ukrainians opposed to their country joining Nato.

Viktor Yanukovych
Viktor Yanukovych now has a slick PR operation

But among Mr Yanukovych's financiers and political supporters, there are many who would sign up to the pro-European policies of Mr Yushchenko. The alternative - a Belarussian-style model of integration with Russia, a closed society, and isolation from the West - finds little support in Ukraine.

The West has welcomed the conduct and outcome of the parliamentary vote. The EU has described it as "further proof of the consolidation of democracy in Ukraine", while urging the country to continue firmly on the path of reform.

But a number of Russian officials have voiced concerns. The deputy speaker of the Russian parliament, Sergei Baburin, said the elections were conducted in accordance with Ukrainian law, but said Ukrainian democracy was "virtual".

President Yushchenko says Ukraine now needs to draw breath and calm down after voters apparently delivered something of a rebuke to his West-leaning administration. He is still pushing ambitious legislation aimed at root-and-branch modernisation of the judiciary, economy and social sectors.

But with Our Ukraine coming third, some commentators have rushed to write the Orange Revolution off. This over-simplistic analysis fails to take account of just how much has changed in Ukraine since the revolution.

While the election campaign was far from faultless, the country has free media, had an election campaign involving real competition and drama, and politicians gracious enough to accept the results. In the context of the former Soviet Union, all of that is quite remarkable.




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