Yushchenko agonises over appointing rival

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The Independent Online

Viktor Yushchenko, the Ukrainian President, last night proposed his pro-Moscow rival Viktor Yanukovich as Prime Minister in a deal that should end months of political deadlock.

Mr Yushchenko said he decided to propose Mr Yanukovich ­ the man he defeated in the 2004 "Orange Revolution" ­ after his rival signed up to a declaration of principles safeguarding Ukraine's drive for closer integration with Europe and market reforms. The decision came after hours of talks which went on deep into the night.

Mr Yushchenko had faced a stark choice: to sacrifice his principles on the altar of pragmatism and appoint the pro-Russian candidate as his Prime Minister and work with him in a coalition government; or to dissolve the country's parliament and call fresh elections just four months after the last ones, plunging Ukraine into another period of political limbo.

Earlier in the day Mr Yanukovych appealed to Mr Yushchenko to nominate him as Prime Minister so as to unite the east and west of the country. But it seemed difficult for Mr Yushchenko to compromise with a man whom he once suspected of poisoning him.

Mr Yushchenko needs a breakthrough after four months of roller-coaster negotiations that have seen Ukraine totter from political drama to drama without an effective government. When he swept to power in 2004 during the Orange Revolution he enjoyed widespread popular support. He promised to root out corruption, to take Ukraine towards the EU and Nato, and to stop kow-towing to Russia, its former colonial master.

Though he managed to introduce a free press, he made scant progress on his main pledges as his political allies wasted their energy on squabbling, and his government staggered from crisis to crisis.

The sense of anticlimax has taken its toll on the streets. When thousands protested in Kiev during the revolution it was common to hear people say that they finally felt empowered after more than a decade of Soviet-style autocracy.

But after the limbo of the past four months many say they are disenchanted with the political process and disappointed by politicians of all parties. The crisis has left the country without meaningful direction since 26 March when parliamentary elections were held.

Ukraine has traditionally been split along an east-west fault line and that was reflected in the March ballot where no party won enough votes to govern alone. The Russian-speaking east voted for Mr Yanukovych while the Ukrainian-speaking west split its vote between Mr Yushchenko and his onetime revolutionary ally, Julia Tymoshenko.

Mr Yanukovych's pro-Russian Party of the Regions won more votes than any other while Ms Tymoshenko's Fatherland Party came second and Mr Yushchenko's Our Ukraine Party was beaten into a humiliating third place. The two former orange allies, Yushchenko and Tymoshenko, spent months trying to form a coalition government but their talks collapsed in acrimony last month.

They worked together during the revolution and in government afterwards but their relationship was soured when Mr Yushchenko sacked Ms Tymoshenko as his Prime Minister. His supporters' mantra has been that Ms Tymoshenko is a self-serving megalomaniac.

Her supporters have cast him as a malleable President in the thrall of a corrupt coterie of advisers.

The drama has been played out in the debating chamber of the country's parliament-in-waiting, complete with brawls and name calling.