Inspired Tymoshenko saves Ukraine's 'Orange Revolution'

Ukraine appears to have distanced itself further from Russia as early election results last night showed strong support for the pro-Western democratic parties.

Almost single-handedly, Julia Tymoshenko, flamboyant heroine of the so-called Orange Revolution in 2004, inspired an electorate weary of broken promises and three elections in as many years to go to the polls and back efforts to solidify their country's democracy and independence.

With some 90 per cent of the ballots counted, the party of the Russian-backed Prime Minister, Viktor Yanukovych led with 33 per cent, but Ms Tymoshenko's party, with 31.5 per cent, can call on the support of President Viktor Yushchenko, whose party has won 15 per cent of the vote.

There is a fragile truce currently between Ms Tymoshenko and the President, who were allies during the popular revolution three years ago but have been rivals more recently.

Taras Kuzio, a British academic and Ukraine expert, said: "Tymoshenko has saved the Orange Revolution. Ukraine has got a second chance to finish what the Orange Revolution started."

The electoral picture will be completed by two or three small parties, which will pass the 3 per cent threshold needed to enter parliament. One of those, the Communists, will side with Mr Yanukovych. The party led by the maverick Volodymyr Lytvyn will go to the highest bidder, probably the renewed Orange coalition.

Meanwhile, Mr Yanukovych said he would hold a 50,000-strong rally in the centre of the Ukrainian capital, Kiev, yesterday afternoon ,supposedly to spearhead a campaign to challenge the results of Sunday's election. But only 6,000 turned up, most in buses from the Prime Minister's Donetsk stronghold in the east. The demonstrators, many of whom admitted they were being paid the equivalent of $20 (£10) to appear, disappeared after uninspiring speeches from party leaders.

EU and Western monitors said there had been some infringements in the voting but mostly the balloting had been conducted fairly and the results should be recognised as valid.

The election was an attempt to break the cycle of continuous political turmoil in Ukraine since the Orange Revolution, which brought Mr Yushchenko to power in January 2005. His dithering transformed a slim pro-Orange parliamentary majority in elections last year into a victory for his pro-Moscow arch-rival, Viktor Yanukovych.

After parliamentary elections last year, Mr Yushchenko reneged on a pre-election deal which should have seen Ms Tymoshenko, installed as premier. As the two quarrelled one of their allies defected, which allowed Mr Yanukovych to become premier. Ms Tymoshenko launched a campaign for fresh elections saying that the last thing most of the Socialist voters had wanted when they cast their ballots was government by the Party of the Regions, which blends a rapacious pseudo-capitalism with Goodfellas-style ethics.

Little separates Mr Yushchenko and Ms Tymoshenko ideologically, but his rejection of Ms Tymoshenko has been perceived as a betrayal by many of his former supporters. That was reflected in Sunday's polls and Ms Tymoshenko is now seen as the standard bearer of democracy in Ukraine.

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