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Yanukovych wins Ukraine presidential vote, loses room for maneuver

RIA Novosti


MOSCOW, February 8 (RIA Novosti) - Viktor Yanukovych's narrow victory over archrival Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko in the presidential runoff is likely to give him Ukraine's top job, but not a free hand to carry out his plans, analysts said on Monday.

With nearly 99% of vote counted from Sunday's vote, Yanukovych leads with 48.65% of vote, a mere 2.88% over Tymoshenko, a populist who was among the leaders of the "Orange Revolution" against election fraud which overturned Yanukovych's declared victory in the previous polls in 2004 raising popular protests.

Vadim Karasyov, director of Ukrainian independent think tank Institute of Global Strategies, said the margin was too narrow to give Yanukovych a sound victory.

"Tymoshenko lost the vote, but she was not defeated," he said. "Now, Yanukovych has limited space for maneuver when forming a coalition to push a comfortable prime minister through the parliament. The trading-off over 'third candidates' is likely to start."

In the past couple of years Tymoshenko openly squabbled with her former "Orange Revolution" ally, President Viktor Yushchenko, in a feud that badly damaged Ukraine's economy as it struggled with the global crisis, effectively forcing potential foreign creditors to hold back rescue packages.

Yanukovych has already made clear that he will not retain Tymoshenko as prime minister and promised to name his candidate as soon as election smoke clears.

Tymoshenko is likely to fight to the end for her current job. She and Yanukovych have the two biggest factions in parliament, but neither has enough votes to control key nominations and both have to rely heavily on allies from smaller parties.

Karasyov said Tymoshenko's likely tactic will be pressurizing Yanukovych with threats of challenging the results of presidential polls in exchange for keeping her job. Tymoshenko's support increased 20 percentage points between the first round and the runoff, giving her a strong bargaining hand.

"With the narrow margin of Yanukovych's win, strong powers enjoyed by the prime minister and impressive personal results she maintains her position of one of the powerhouses of Ukrainian politics, the head of a political clan that cannot be split," he said.

The head of Gardarika consulting group Konstantin Minchenko said that the biggest risk for Tymoshenko would be to accept defeat in the election.

"If she acknowledges the defeat, she will have no political future because her party is very much like the party of Yanukovych, centered around one leader." he said. "Tymoshenko is a brand and once the brand is defeated, the party disappears."

In a sign of heavy considerations, Tymoshenko, who had vowed to take her supporters to the street if she were not happy with the election results, postponed twice on Monday her post-election news conference, finally moving it to Tuesday.

Under the circumstances, Yanukovych may be forced to offer prime minister's job to one of the candidates who took part in the first round, like former central bank chief Sergei Tigipko, Minchenko said. Before the runoff, Tymoshenko offered the job to Tigipko if he advised his supporters to vote for her. Tigipko rejected the offer.

European officials who monitored the elections have expressed worries that a continued fight between Tymoshenko and Yanukovych over the election results may further damage Ukraine's credentials abroad and hurt the nation's struggling economy.

The international observer team sent by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) urged both politicians at their news conference to "listen to the people's verdict," accept reality and "shake hands with the one who wins."