President Viktor Yushchenko faced a difficult decision yesterday -- let his Orange Revolution arch foe become prime minister, or throw Ukraine into more political paralysis.
As the deadline looms for the Western-oriented reformer to decide whether to sign off on Viktor Yanukovych's nomination, Yushchenko swung between compromise and confrontation on Tuesday -- promoting a "national unity" agreement with his rival, but still dangling the prospect of dissolving parliament and calling new elections.
The president's apparent indecision angered the Party of Regions, which won the most votes in the March parliamentary election and successfully put together the pro-Russian parliamentary majority last month that proposed Yanukovych as prime minister.
"Why should the country and the Ukrainian people be held hostage to the constantly changing mood of one diffident person who is burdened by endless scandals and conflicts among his allies, a person who is permanently exhausted?" said Evhen Kushnaryov, one of Yanukovych's top allies.
Yushchenko's decision is critical for the country, where political leaders have been trying to form a government for more than four months. Initially, the three parties that were key to the Orange Revolution -- the massive protests that broke out after Yanukovych's fraud-riddled grab for the presidency in 2004 -- pooled their seats and formed a majority coalition, but one of the parties, the Socialists, defected last month and teamed up with Yanukovych.
Yushchenko faced a constitutional deadline yesterday to act on Yanukovych's nomination. As the clock ticked, he had scrambled to persuade Yanukovych to sign off on a unity agreement, seen as a way to ensure that Yushchenko's pro-Western and reformist policies continue, even under a Yanukovych government.
Wrangling such an agreement from Yanukovych could also pave the way for Yushchenko's political bloc, Our Ukraine, to join the new coalition in parliament and the government, rather than being stranded in opposition.
Taras Chornovil of the Party of Regions said the party was eager for compromise because the coalition would be strengthened by the addition of Yushchenko's 80-person bloc. Its presence would ensure that even if the Socialists or Communists bolted, the coalition would not collapse.
Chornovil also acknowledged that the new coalition wasn't popular in Ukraine's nationalistic west and support from Yushchenko could help change some opinions of the coalition, led by the man who was seen as a Kremlin stooge in the 2004 election.
This ex-Soviet republic remains deeply divided between the Russian-speaking east and south, which favor closer ties with Moscow, and the Ukrainian-speaking west, which wants to shed any last vestiges of Kremlin influence.