Ukraine ruling coalition heading toward collapse

The hero and heroine of the Orange Revolution are once again on the brink of divorce. And it's ordinary Ukrainians who are paying the price.

In the seven months since President Viktor Yushchenko and Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko reunited in a coalition government with vows to carry out crucial reforms, they have spent more time sniping at each other than governing, the AP reported.

Experts say the question isn't if, but rather when the coalition will collapse.

Meanwhile, Ukrainians are having to tighten their belts to cope with 30 percent inflation - the highest in Europe. Economic progress has been hampered by rampant corruption and the lack of judicial, land and other reforms.

"It's hard to imagine how could it be worse. They simply haven't done anything. It's been a political crisis," said political analyst Ivan Lozowy.

The country's top two officials were allies when they led the 2004 pro-democracy protests that shook this former Soviet republic loose from the grip of Russian influence and launched often chaotic democracy for its 46 million people.

While they share a common vision of a more Western-leaning Ukraine, the bookish, careful Yushchenko and the glamorous, impetuous Tymoshenko are seen as likely opponents in the 2010 presidential election and they have sought to undermine each other at every turn.

The sense of disappointment over broken promises of prosperity and quick European Union integration has devastated Yushchenko's popularity - his support ratings in polls have sunk below 10 percent. Tymoshenko has dropped from 30 percent to 20 percent.

Their rivalry has severely strained the governing coalition. Last month, two lawmakers quit the alliance, threatening its ability to hold on to the narrowest-possible majority in parliament.

Most experts believe Yushchenko and Tymoshenko will replace the defectors and restore the minimum of 226 lawmakers needed to keep the coalition in power. But the experts still don't expect the government to last beyond the fall.

Analysts predict Yushchenko may call yet another early parliamentary election - the third in less than three years - or someone will form a new coalition, this time involving the opposition.

Tymoshenko, 47, has seen nearly every initiative of her government either challenged or blocked by the president's office.

Most notably, her attempts to privatize key enterprises and raise money for the budget have been stalled by presidential decrees. Her program to compensate millions of Ukrainians for savings lost amid the Soviet collapse also has been put on hold.

The rivalry reached its peak in May when Tymoshenko's faction in parliament blocked the rostrum and prevented Yushchenko, 54, from delivering his state-of-the-nation speech. An embarrassed president was forced to post his speech online.

"Both sides have used the budget dispute as a tactic in their longer-term fight for political supremacy," said Geoffrey Smith, strategist at the Renaissance Capital investment bank in Kiev.

There have been some achievements.

Experts praise Tymoshenko for cleaning up the shady natural gas trade with Russia and removing intermediaries that were widely seen as mechanisms to siphon large sums money into private pockets.

Yushchenko, meanwhile, is noted for his push to get NATO membership for Ukraine and bring it closer to the European community. Despite his failings, many credit him for his role in bringing freedom of speech, holding free elections and allowing civil society to gain strength.

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