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END NOTE: HAS UKRAINE'S ORANGE REVOLUTION RECEIVED NEW LEASE ON LIFE? xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
EXIT POLLS GIVE YANUKOVYCH'S PARTY OF REGIONS LEAD IN UKRAINIAN ELECTION... Exit polls in Ukraine gave Viktor Yanukovych's pro-Moscow Party of Regions the largest share of the vote in the March 26 parliamentary elections, international news agencies reported the same day. But despite the Party of Regions' apparent first-place finish, a group of pro-Orange Revolution parties appear to have gained enough seats in parliament to form a government, provided they can overcome their differences and form a coalition. According to exit polls, Yanukovych's Party of Regions won between 27 and 31 percent of the vote. The Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc, led by the former prime minister, came in second with between 22 to 24 percent. Our Ukraine, which supports of President Viktor Yushchenko, came in third with approximately 15 percent, according to exit polls. Central Election Commission Chairman Yaroslav Davydovych said complete preliminary results will not be available until March 28. BW
...BUT TYMOSHENKO LOOKS LIKE REAL WINNER. Speaking after exit polls showed her bloc coming in a very strong second place, Yuliya Tymoshenko said a coalition uniting the liberal parties of the Orange Revolution is "practically ready," Reuters reported on March 27. Such a coalition would unite Tymoshenko with Our Ukraine and Oleksandr Moroz's Socialist Party of Ukraine, she said. The Socialists won approximately 5 percent, according to exit polls. "I can say that at this moment, our party, the Socialist Party [of Ukraine], and the Our Ukraine party have fully agreed on the text of a coalition agreement," Tymoshenko said on March 26. Tymoshenko also said that her potential coalition partners have agreed that she should lead the new government. "I received very kind words from Roman Bezsmertny, the head of the Our Ukraine campaign staff, who said the bloc that I head has won the election and should take responsibility for matters. We will take that responsibility," she said. BW
RUSSIAN AID CONVOY ARRIVES IN TRANSDNIESTER. A Russian aid convoy sponsored by the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party arrived in the breakaway Moldovan region of Transdniester on March 25, AP reported the same day. The convoy brought approximately 200 tons of medicine, medical equipment, and baby food. Moscow said the move was in response to an appeal for aid from Transdniester following new customs rules, which went into effect on March 3, requiring all goods crossing the Transdniester portion of the Moldovan-Ukrainian border to clear Moldovan customs (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 6, 7, and 8, 2006). Transdniestrian officials have called the move an economic blockade. In an interview with RFE/RL in Chisinau on March 24, Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin dismissed the allegations, saying the new rules "are in line with international requirements" and don't affect imports into the region in any case. BW
HAS UKRAINE'S ORANGE REVOLUTION RECEIVED NEW LEASE ON LIFE?
The March 26 parliamentary elections in Ukraine were won by Viktor Yanukovych's Party of Regions, according to three different exit polls. But these polls also indicate that the major players in the Orange Revolution -- the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc, Our Ukraine, and the Socialist Party -- could form a parliamentary majority if they are able to reunite their "Orange" coalition of 2004.
Ukrainian pollsters announced the results of three separate nationwide exit polls immediately after voting in the March 26 parliamentary elections came to a close. All three polls suggested the elections were won by the Party of Regions led by former Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych -- President Viktor Yushchenko's main rival in the 2004 presidential elections.
The exit polls predict that Yanukovych's party will win from 27-31 percent of the vote when official results are announced on March 28, which could translate into as many as 183 mandates in the 450-seat Verkhovna Rada. The Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc will finish second with 22-24 percent of the vote, while the pro-Yushchenko Our Ukraine will follow with about 15 percent, according to the polls.
These predicted results suggest that the three forces that made up the core of the 2004 Orange Revolution -- the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc, Our Ukraine, and the Socialist Party -- could together account for more than 226 parliamentary seats -- enough to allow them to form a new cabinet. Such a cabinet could depend on the support of between 229 and 257 deputies in parliament.
President Yushchenko has signaled that he is primarily inclined to seek another coalition with Yuliya Tymoshenko, whom he fired as prime minister in September 2005. "Tomorrow we will start consultations with the political forces that formed the previous administration and the same forces that won the Orange Revolution," he said after casting his ballot in Kyiv on March 26. "We will begin talks tomorrow morning, and this may give us an opportunity to develop a political strategy in the negotiations process -- and the early message is that we are looking to lay the foundation for the negotiations process."
After the polls closed, Tymoshenko went a step further, asserting that her bloc has essentially agreed on a renewed coalition accord with Our Ukraine and the Socialist Party and is ready to sign it as soon as March 27. "I can say that at this moment, our party, the Socialist Party, and the Our Ukraine party have fully agreed on the text of a coalition agreement," she said.
Tymoshenko said that under the agreement the political force finishing first among the three potential coalition partners would have the right to propose a candidate to form the next government. This, in effect, means that Tymoshenko will make a bid to regain the premiership she lost in September 2005.
A renewed Orange alliance would have to overcome the internal strife that proved to be its downfall when it led the government from January-August 2005. The biggest obstacle would be finding a way for Tymoshenko and Our Ukraine officials to work together after she accused some prominent members of the pro-presidential party of corrupt practices last year. If Tymoshenko becomes prime minister, such Orange Revolution combatants as Petro Poroshenko, Oleksandr Tretyakov, and David Zhvaniya -- all of whom were singled out by Tymoshenko -- would likely be reluctant to cooperate fully with her either as cabinet members or as Our Ukraine representatives in a joint parliamentary coalition.
A second hurdle would be finding common ground with the Socialist Party, whose participation is seen as essential if an Orange coalition is to be restored. The Socialist Party is ideologically and programmatically incompatible with Our Ukraine and the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc. This became evident in 2005, when Socialist lawmakers repeatedly voted against World Trade Organization-oriented legislation proposed by the government in which their party had several ministers.
In addition, the Socialist Party's staunch opposition to Ukraine joining NATO and the privatization of land have undermined Yushchenko's efforts to implement the reforms he promised during and after the Orange Revolution.
If the Orange coalition cannot be pieced back together, the possibility of Our Ukraine joining forces with the election-winning Party of Regions is still open. In theory, such a coalition could form a government enjoying solid parliamentary support. Immediately after the March 26 vote, Yanukovych indicated that such a development might be possible. "The Party of Regions has gained a decisive victory, and we are ready to assume a huge responsibility on behalf of the Ukrainian people -- for political, economic, and social stability in the country," he said. "We are ready to take responsibility to form a government, and we call on everybody who holds Ukraine's fate dear to join us."
But if the official results confirm the exit polls' predictions, it would appear that a Tymoshenko-Yushchenko reunion would make a happier political marriage than one between the former rivals in the bitterly disputed presidential race in 2004
This is because Tymoshenko campaigned on a ticket of returning to Orange Revolution ideals, and the support she received in this election would indicate that those who stood behind Yushchenko and Tymoshenko during that political movement want to see the two revolutionary heroes working together once again.
TURKMENISTAN, UKRAINE SIGN AGREEMENT ON DEBT SETTLEMENT. A Ukrainian delegation headed by Naftohaz Ukrayiny Commercial Director Anatoliy Popadyuk has confirmed that Ukraine owes Turkmenistan $169.6 million for 2003-05 shipments of natural gas, turkmenistan.ru reported on March 26, citing a press release from the Turkmen Foreign Ministry. The ministry said that the two sides agreed that Ukraine owes Turkmenistan $169.6 million, $46.8 million in cash, and $122.8 million in commodities. The two sides signed an agreement that Ukraine will make a cash payment of $60.6 million to cover its cash debt and an additional cash payment of $27.7 million toward its commodity debt. Ukraine will also supply pipes to cover $58.3 million of its commodity debt, with other goods shipments to cover the remainder of the commodity debt. The cash debt will be settled in the "near future," while the commodities will be shipped by August 10. DK