Heroine of the Orange revolution seeks return as Prime Minister

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Ukraine's most charismatic politician, the heroine of the Orange Revolution Julia Tymoshenko, yesterday claimed she was the only person who could rekindle the tattered orange dream after pro-Russian forces annihilated the country's pro-Western President Viktor Yushchenko at the ballot box.

Mr Yushchenko's own job is not at stake since the elections were parliamentary and not presidential but he is faced with the unenviable task of forming a coalition government from a position of extreme weakness and he has some difficult choices to make.

Viktor Yanukovych, the Russian-leaning politician appears to have done improbably well, winning more votes than any other party and is clamouring for a place in a new government.

But so too is the glamorous Ms Tymoshenko, the woman who played a pivotal role in the revolution only to have a bitter falling out with Mr Yushchenko later, which saw her sacked from his government and forced into opposition.

Her political bloc appears to have beaten Mr Yushchenko's party into third place, an achievement she believes means she should be made prime minister in a new Orange government.

Awkwardly, Mr Yushchenko is thought to find both coalition partners unappealing but his abysmal showing at the ballot box means he has no choice but to plump for a marriage of convenience of some description. Initial signs were that Mr Yushchenko would do all he could to reform some kind of Orange government by making a series of painful political compromises with Ms Tymoshenko to keep a resurgent Mr Yanukovych out of office but there was a slew of contradictory information and Mr Yushchenko remained noticeably silent on the issue.

The count was still being conducted last night because of the complexity of Sunday's ballot, but Mr Yushchenko's party was reported to have won a mere 16per cent of the vote (based on almost half of the count) as Ukrainians issued a damning verdict on the last 15 months of Orange power.

Revolution has brought unprecedented media freedom and a vibrant political scene but has failed to improve living standards or sweep away Ukraine's appalling corruption and has seen the country's relationship with Russiadegenerate to a dangerous degree.

Mr Yanukovych, who was written off as a cheating Moscow stooge and loser in 2004, appears to have staged an unexpected comeback after reinventing himself as a more moderate independent politician who would build good relations with both Moscow and Brussels.

Agreeing to work with Ms Tymoshenko again, a woman he sacked from the premiership last September citing impossible personality clashes and infighting, would also be difficult for Mr Yushchenko. The two are reported to barely be on speaking terms and there is a feeling in the Yushchenko camp that she is too radical.

But he cannot deny her popularity - partial results indicated her bloc has won some 23 per cent of the vote with many Ukrainians seeing her as the rightful heir to the Orange Revolution.

She passionately argued yesterday that only a government which included her as prime minister could save the Orange Revolution. "We clearly won," she told a TV station. "Our society has decided on a strategy for development. I'll make every effort to reunite us. We don't have another path."