- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 23, 2006

KIEV — Political allies who stood side by side during Ukraine’s 2004 “Orange Revolution” are waging war against each other in such a divisive campaign that the Soviet-style apparatchiks they had ousted are poised for a comeback in elections this weekend.

Opinion polls show that the party of Viktor Yanukovych, who won the presidency in an election in 2004 only to lose to Viktor Yushchenko in a court-ordered second vote, will win about a third of the seats Sunday, becoming the biggest single bloc in Ukraine’s 450-seat parliament.

The so-called “Orange coalition,” which includes followers of Mr. Yushchenko and those of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, has ruptured so badly that its ability to forge a postelection alliance is in doubt.

“We can say that Ukraine’s post-Soviet era has decidedly ended with these elections,” said Myron Wasylyk, an American who has advised politicians and businessmen in Ukraine for more than a decade. “This is the beginning of the democratic era.”

The vote is the first under constitutional changes adopted earlier this year that reduce presidential powers at the expense of a prime minister, to be elected in parliament.

Forty-four parties are vying for a presence in the legislature. The latest polls show the combined strength of the feuding Yushchenko and Tymoshenko parties at slightly less than that of the Yanukovych party.

Mr. Yushchenko and Mrs. Tymoshenko have been at odds since the president fired her as prime minister in the summer.

Mr. Yushchenko said the dismissal was prompted by infighting that followed the peaceful revolution that ushered in 2005.

The feud between former allies has helped Mr. Yanukovych, who has kept a low profile since his defeat in 2004 and has hired a U.S. public relations firm to advise his campaign. Still, Mr. Yanukovych is not trusted in many regions of Ukraine.

Many politicians and analysts say the forces of the Orange Revolution are fated to work together, even if they can’t get along.

Foreign Minister Boris Tarasyuk told the Brookings Institution in Washington earlier this month, “We are confident that the pro-democracy forces will gain a clear majority.”

“Despite the fragmentation between the pro-democracy political parties, their combined approval rating has even slightly grown. There should be no doubts that the pro-democracy parties are capable of bridging their differences and restoring the Orange coalition,” he said.

Mr. Yushchenko’s popularity has fallen since his inauguration last year. Supporters have accused him of weak leadership, mismanagement and failure to investigate crimes by former government officials, widely promised during the presidential campaign.

Still, during his tenure, Ukraine’s relationship with the West has improved markedly.

Both the United States and the European Union granted Ukraine market-economy status, important steps in the country’s bid to become a member of the World Trade Organization.

In Washington yesterday, President Bush signed legislation that ends Cold War-era trade restrictions on Ukraine. The measure frees Ukraine from a 1974 U.S. law that links trade benefits to the emigration and human rights policies of former or current communist states.

The new law is “going to strengthen our ties with our good friend Ukraine and create new economic opportunities for our two countries,” Mr. Bush said at a White House ceremony attended by members of Congress who sponsored the legislation.

As the elections approach, Kiev is awash in the colors of the various parties running not only in parliamentary, but also regional and municipal elections on the same day.

About 3,500 election observers from Europe and the United States have arrived in Ukraine. Thus far, a high-ranking Western observer told journalists, the main problems in the elections have been technical and not political.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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