KIEV, Oct 4 (Reuters) President Viktor Yushchenko's unexpected call to include his political opponents in talks to form a government pitches Ukraine into new turmoil, with the only certainty that the process will be a long one.
Last weekend's election appears to have produced a narrow majority for parties linked to the ''Orange Revolution'' that swept the president to power in 2004. Yushchenko had said during the campaign that he would back just such an ''orange'' coalition.
But yesterday, Yushchenko reversed course. He called for talks to include two ''orange'' groups -- ex-prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko's bloc and his own Our Ukraine party -- as well as the party of his arch-rival, Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich.
Yanukovich welcomed it as a step towards a ''broad coalition'' of rival groups in a country polarised between a nationalist west and Russian-speaking east. But the ''orange'' camp paid little heed and scheduled talks on their own from tomorrow.
Analysts were taken aback by the appeal, pointing to a year of stormy ''co-habitation'' since Yushchenko agreed to appoint his rival prime minister in August 2006 and share power.
''We are seeing, over and over, the same recycled ideas. What Ukraine needs to do is move forward,'' said Tammy Lynch of the US Institute for the Study of Conflict, Ideology and Policy.
''I think there will eventually be an (orange) government, but before that happens Ukraine faces a long, drawn-out negotiation process. This is the scenario EU representatives and other officials most wanted Ukraine to avoid.'' All parties remained firm in their positions a day after the president issued his call, saying Ukraine needed constructive relations between parties in power and the opposition -- which included giving opposition figures cabinet posts.
''I see the president's statement as a call for understanding with the future parliamentary opposition,'' said Yuri Lutsenko, leader of a group that ran in tandem with Our Ukraine.
TYMOSHENKO SAYS 'NO' Tymoshenko's bloc, which scored big poll gains, said it would meet with Yanukovich's Regions Party only once an ''orange'' coalition was in place. Tymoshenko was appointed Yushchenko's first prime minister in 2005, but was sacked after eight months, a dismissal that disillusioned many ''orange'' supporters.
Yanukovich issued a statement calling for quick formation of a broad-based government including his party, which took first place but was outscored by the combined ''orange'' tally.
''Nothing unexpected has occurred,'' he said after meeting the US ambassador. ''We propose a broad coalition to stabilise the situation and keep the country from being divided in two.'' With all politicians keenly aware of the 2009 presidential election, the notion of a ''broad coalition'' has been touted for months, bringing together the Regions Party and Our Ukraine -- or willing elements from the president's party.
Yanukovich was defeated in the 2004 revolution but, after Tymoshenko's dismissal, bounced back to take first place in a parliamentary election last year. He became prime minister after four months of talks, marked by defections in the ''orange'' camp.
Given the long hostility, most observers doubt Yushchenko's call will produce a ''broad coalition'' or that he even wants one.
''The president was most likely trying very simply to show who is boss,'' said independent analyst Viktor Nebozhenko. ''I think he understands that it is impossible to unite three antagonistic political forces.'' And one factor hindering rapid formation of a ''orange'' coalition might be the president's latent mistrust of Tymoshenko, despite a public embrace between the two said to have sealed their reconciliation in the campaign's final days.
''Embraces are one thing, but it's no secret that Yushchenko views Tymoshenko with great suspicion. He sees her as a potential competitor,'' said Volodymyr Fesenko of the Penta think tank.
''Either they failed to reach agreement or, more probably, there is a psychological factor at work here -- that Yushchenko does not really want to see Tymoshenko as prime minister.'' REUTERS AM MIR KP2232