New Ukraine poll looms as coalition collapses

Ukraine was on Tuesday night facing the prospect of further political instability and its sixth election in four years after the pro-Western coalition formally collapsed.

The government was made up of parties loyal to Ukraine’s President, Viktor Yushchenko, and his 2004 Orange revolution partner, Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko. It fell apart after months of bitter quarrelling between the leaders.

The nine-month-old coalition’s collapse is a major setback, and comes amid rising tensions with Russia over the war in Georgia and Ukraine’s attempts to join Nato.

Its politicians are split between those who condemn the Kremlin’s invasion of Georgia, led by Yushchenko, and others including Timoshenko who believe Ukraine should be cautiously ”neutral” in its dealings with Moscow.

However, the collapse has little to do with resisting Russia or integrating with the West — it is about who holds power. Yushchenko and Tymoshenko are likely to be rivals in presidential elections in early 2010.

”I officially announce the termination of the democratic coalition in the Verkhovna rada [Lower House],” parliamentary Speaker Arseniy Yatsenyuk told MPs. ”It is yet another democratic challenge, but I hope that together we will overcome the challenge.”

Parliament now has 30 days to form a new coalition. On Tuesday night, however, indications suggested Tymoshenko was unlikely to form an alliance with the opposition Party of the Regions — making elections almost inevitable.

The coalition split earlier this month after Tymoshenko’s bloc and the Party of the Regions, led by former prime minister Viktor Yanukovich, voted to strip Yushchenko of several powers. The president accused her of staging a parliamentary coup.

The feud is further linked to which leader controls lucrative pipeline revenues on oil and gas shipped through Ukraine from Russia.

”It’s not about being pro-Western or pro-Russian. It’s about who gets to sit on the pipe,” one official remarked on Tuesday. ”Tymoshenko is only interested in what serves her. She wants a monopoly on power. She was pro-Western when she needed the West’s support. Now she is trying to be pro-Russian.”

Yushchenko accused Tymoshenko of betraying Ukraine’s interests, and suggested voters would not forgive her. He also claimed the Kremlin was trying to promote ”internal instability”, and aiding separatists in Crimea who wanted to return the ethnic Russian region to Moscow’s control.

But he did not foresee any military action by Russia. ”Will they repeat the Georgian scenario? For sure, no,” he said.

Polls suggest Yushchenko’s Our Ukraine party would be wise to avoid an election. According to a recent one, Tymoshenko’s party would get 24%, the Party of Regions 23% and his bloc less than 4%. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2008

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