Leading article: Mr Yushchenko's lost months

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The Independent Online

Last weekend, his chief aide resigned, complaining bitterly that too much of the old government's corruption had been carried over into the new. Oleksandr Zinchenko's departure may have triggered President Yushchenko's decision to start afresh, but the rot had set in months before. In fact, the wonder may be that the government lasted as long as it did. It was deeply divided from the start.

Back in January, Mr Yushchenko had to choose. He could either appoint the Independence Square Pasionaria, Yulia Tymoshenko, to head his government - so preserving the revolutionary alliance and the semblance of a united leadership - or he could face up to the real political differences between himself and Ms Tymoshenko, and risk pushing this charismatic figure into opposition.

He chose the first course, and his alliance has now foundered on what have long been irreconcilable differences. Ms Timoshenko, a successful entrepreneur who wanted to translate her new-found idealism into reversing the previous government's corrupt privatisations, fast became a liability. Where Mr Yushchenko needed coalitions and consensus to get anything done, her often ill-considered pronouncements had the opposite effect.

Mixed messages came from the new administration almost from the start. Although popular expectations of change were sky-high after the peaceful regime-change, few reforms were enacted. By the summer, there was drift at the top and growing disillusionment among the voters. Those opposed to the "orange revolution" were already organising for parliamentary elections next spring.

It is to Mr Yushchenko's credit that he has now moved decisively to nominate a new prime minister - a technocrat with no known political ambitions - and insisted on teamwork as a priority. He has also removed some of those suspected of corruption. But he was late in tackling the charges. Promises to purge graft had been one of the great causes of the revolution; the voters are entitled to be disappointed that he did not act before.

Popular disillusionment was always a risk after the heady month of December. Realistically, Mr Yushchenko had just a few months to convince people that he could revive the economy and reorientate Ukraine towards the West. That he has largely squandered this honeymoon will make his efforts to get an "orange" parliament elected much more difficult than they might otherwise have been.