KIEV, Ukraine – President Viktor Yushchenko met separately Tuesday with both his estranged Orange Revolution ally and an old pro-Moscow adversary as he sought to form a coalition after most of Ukraine's voters rejected his party in weekend parliamentary elections.
Ukrainian television showed Yushchenko sitting opposite former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko at a big, round table in what was their first formal meeting since he fired her six months ago as their Orange Revolution alliance from 2004 splintered.
Yushchenko's meeting with pro-Russian opposition leader Viktor Yanukovych also revived bitter memories of the 2004 election, a hard-fought contest that deeply divided this nation of 47 million.
Each one-on-one meeting took about 45 minutes, said Yushchenko's deputy spokeswoman, Larisa Mudrak.
Yanukovych's party won the most votes — but not a majority — in Sunday's elections, according to incomplete results. Tymoshenko's party came in second and Yushchenko's party finished third.
Tymoshenko has publicly pushed for a reunited Orange Team, saying it was the only way to preserve the democratic and pro-Western ideals that formed the basis of the 2004 election protest triggered by Yanukovych's ballot-stuffing bid to win the presidency.
After the talks, Yanukovych told journalists they did not discuss a coalition, adding that his Party of the Regions would wait until there was a final vote count. But he insisted that as the leader of the race, his party should take responsibility for forming the coalition.
Asked by reporters if he would demand that he return to the prime minister's job — which under new constitutional reforms will now be chosen by parliament — Yanukovych said his "party will decide."
Tymoshenko kept up the pressure on Yushchenko after their meeting, saying they "have a common vision for Ukraine's future and for the future coalition." Tymoshenko, who wants her old job back, predicted a deal could be signed within a week, adding that she was confident "that a democratic coalition will be born."
The Orange parties won more votes combined, but it remains unclear whether they will be able to overcome deep personal animosity and forge a coalition.
With more than 70 percent of the ballots counted, Yanukovych's party had a little more than 30 percent of the vote. Tymoshenko's party had about 22 percent, significantly ahead of Yushchenko's Our Ukraine party, which had a little more than 15 percent.
The Socialist Party, which backed the Orange Revolution and serves in Yushchenko's government, was in fourth place with about 6 percent of the vote, followed by the Communists with nearly 4 percent. No other parties had made it over the 3 percent barrier, according to the preliminary results.
Many analysts have suggested Yushchenko might try to unite with Yanukovych as an effort to bridge deep divisions. Yanukovych's party dominates in the Russian-speaking east, while the Orange forces rule in the Ukrainian-speaking west and center. Yushchenko seemed to leave that option open, putting out a statement after Tuesday's talks that emphasized the importance of consolidating Ukrainian society.
Yushchenko's job was not at stake in Sunday's vote, but parliament will enjoy vast new powers under reforms that give it the right to name — and dismiss — the prime minister and much of the Cabinet. Since no one party won an outright majority in the 450-seat chamber, the parties will have to hammer out a coalition to form the government.
A reunion with Tymoshenko could be personally unpalatable for Yushchenko, but analysts said it is the only way for him to preserve his support base in western Ukraine, where she is very popular.
A revived Orange Team would frustrate Yanukovych's efforts to return to power, but as the expected leader of the biggest parliamentary faction, he could still play a key role in shaping Ukrainian politics.
Yushchenko, who retains the right to set the nation's foreign policy and appoint the foreign and defense ministers, pledged that Ukraine would continue on its West-leaning path. Yanukovych, who is supported by the industrial magnates of eastern Ukraine, has called for closer ties with Moscow and an end to Kiev's bid to join NATO, but he supports European Union membership.