Leading article: The ship of state has no rudder

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The Germans managed it, eventually, last autumn. The Italians managed it this spring, and now even the Iraqis have just about managed it in the most unpropitious of circumstances. This leaves only the Ukrainians, a full 11 weeks after their parliamentary elections, still trying to form a governing coalition. It is possible that the parties will meet their self-imposed deadline of today for agreement. It is also possible that they will not.

This protracted stalemate has not been entirely negative. Ukraine has held together; it has functioned, more or less, as an economy and as a country. What conflict there has been has been restricted to the political arena. Even without a government, Ukraine can remain stable. Through the first troubled post-Soviet years, Ukrainians had become used to fending for themselves.

That said, however, the ship of state's current rudderlessness is not a condition in which Ukraine can thrive. The lack of political direction is a far cry from the euphoric reform-fever that gripped Ukraine following the orange revolution. For many Ukrainians, buoyed by hope of change, recent months have meant lost opportunity and crushing disappointment.

Nor does the inability to form a government send the most positive of messages to the outside world. The orange revolution in the winter of 2004 placed Ukraine in the international spotlight. Waves of goodwill flowed towards the thousands of democracy supporters who stood in the snow to protest against an unfair election. Scarred by a poison attack, President Viktor Yushchenko became an international hero. There was talk of a fast-track into the European Union, membership of Nato and the World Trade Organisation. A modern, market economy seemed just around the corner.

Alas, Ukraine proved unable to digest the vast tasks it had bitten off all in one piece. Within the year, Mr Yushchenko had sacked his populist prime minister, Julia Tymoshenko, whose party then came out on top in this year's parliamentary elections. The economy has languished. In the quarrel with Russia over gas, the West was all sympathy for Ukraine, but could not offer alternative supplies. Popular opposition to closer ties with the US now threatens to scupper joint military exercises seen as a prelude to Nato membership.

The sad reality is that the orange revolution failed to erase Ukraine's political faultlines. And no politician, President Yushchenko included, has possessed the statesmanship to span the divide. The Ukrainian protesters of Independence Square deserved better leadership than this. It is high time for Mr Yushchenko, Ms Tymoshenko and the members of the new parliament to sit down in a constructive atmosphere and plan together for Ukraine's future. Too much time has been lost, and a mountain of work awaits.