- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 26, 2006

KIEV — Followers of Viktor Yanukovych, the pro-Russian leader ousted from power in an Orange Revolution 15 months ago, led the field in parliamentary elections yesterday but fell short of a majority and may not be able to find partners for a coalition government, exit polls showed.

Second place went to an upstart party led by Yulia Tymoshenko, who was dismissed as prime minister amid swirling corruption charges in the summer, while President Viktor Yushchenko’s Our Ukraine bloc had less than 14 percent of the vote.

An exit poll conducted by the Democratic Initiatives, International Institute of Sociology and Razumkov Center gave Mr. Yanukovych’s Party of the Regions a little more than 33 percent of the vote compared with about 23 percent for Mrs. Tymoshenko’s bloc.

Another exit poll said Mr. Yanukovych’s party got 27 percent of the vote, while Mrs. Tymoshenko got nearly 22 percent. Official results were expected within three weeks.

Although pollsters had predicted Mr. Yanukovych’s party would make a comeback in the face of deep dissatisfaction with Mr. Yushchenko’s administration and an economic slowdown, few had predicted that Mrs. Tymoshenko would do so well.

The surprise showing raises the prospect that she could return as prime minister in a coalition that includes Our Ukraine and the Socialist party, which the exit polls showed with more than 5 percent of the vote.

Several small parties failed to pass the 3 percent threshold for seats in parliament, meaning it will take less than 50 percent to achieve a majority of seats under the proportional representation system.

That would permit the president’s reform agenda to continue, but with Mrs. Tymoshenko playing a more dominant role. The two have been openly hostile since Mrs. Tymoshenko’s firing and were bitterly critical of each other during the campaign.

Mr. Yanukovych claimed a “decisive victory” at his headquarters last night.

“We are ready to take the responsibility of forming a government, and we call on everybody who holds Ukraine’s fate dear to join us,” he said. “We are ready to work with all political parties which will be represented in parliament.”

But Mrs. Tymoshenko indicated she expected to return to the prime minister’s office at the head of the current coalition.

“I believe that this coalition agreement will be signed. I see no need to adjust this coalition,” she said. “Our political aim will be to follow the path the country chose in the last presidential election.”

The election is the first under constitutional changes introduced this year that cut back the president’s powers.

Although Mr. Yushchenko will be able to appoint his foreign and defense ministers, he will have to share power with the prime minister, which the new parliament will choose. Parliament, elected by proportional representation, becomes a more powerful body.

In the weeks leading up to yesterday’s vote, Mr. Yushchenko seems to have left the door open to an alliance with Mr. Yanukovych’s party should the former fail in rebuilding his Orange coalition. But his chief of staff, Oleh Rybachuk, rejected that notion after the exit poll results were announced.

“I could only see that in a nightmare,” he told television viewers.

Mr. Yanukovych, who opposes efforts to bring Ukraine into NATO, enjoys support in the Russian-speaking eastern and southern parts of the country.

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