KIEV, UKRAINE – The scenes were not as dramatic Monday as the upheaval of three years ago — but Ukraine's weekend elections show the spirit of the Orange Revolution may still be alive.
President Viktor Yushchenko and charismatic opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko made a strong combined showing in the parliamentary ballot, winning what could be their last chance to reunite and steer the country more firmly onto a pro-Western course.
The chief obstacle: Yushchenko and Tymoshenko — hero and heroine respectively of the popular movement that overturned a rigged 2004 presidential election — have long been estranged and there's no guarantee they'll be able to patch up their differences.
With ballots from 70 percent of polling stations counted Monday, the two together accumulated enough votes to win a thin majority of seats in parliament, allowing them to form a government. Tymoshenko's party collected about 32 percent of the vote; Yushchenko's party trailed with about 15 percent.
In 2004, the stodgy Yushchenko — his face disfigured by dioxin poisoning linked to his opponents — and the charismatic, golden-tressed Tymoshenko inspired thousands of protesters to brave the bitter winter cold in Kiev's main square and stand up for democracy.
Yushchenko won a court-ordered rerun and named Tymoshenko his prime minister, replacing Viktor Yanukovych, the Kremlin-backed candidate who had been declared winner of the annulled election.
But the onetime comrades fell out quickly and Yushchenko fired Tymoshenko after just seven months. The infighting opened the way for Yanukovych to return as premier.
On Monday, a jubilant Tymoshenko said she would meet with Yushchenko to quickly formalize a new alliance with Yushchenko.
However, by reaffirming her ambitions to run for president in 2009 she also immediately underlined one of the potential obstacles in forming a lasting coalition. Tymoshenko's hunger for power was a major factor behind Yushchenko sacking her.
Yushchenko hasn't said whether he would seek another presidential term, but he is widely expected to run. That would put him on a collision course with Tymoshenko and make their future alliance fragile.
"Two leaders aiming for the same presidential seat make the Orange coalition quite unstable," said Mykhailo Pohrebinsky, an independent political analyst.
Yanukovych's Party of Regions appears to have matched the Bloc Yulia Tymoshenko party, with about 32 percent of the vote. A handful of seats could go to three minor parties, one of which could emerge as a potential kingmaker.
Yanukovych said it was premature for his opponents to claim victory.
"The Orange have made hasty conclusions and tried to further split the nation," he said in a statement. "The distribution of forces in the future parliament is unclear yet, and there is no evidence of a victory of the Orange coalition."
Yanukovych has hinted his party could protest against a fraudulent vote — an ironic role reversal from 2004. But an influential international democracy group's observers undermined that possibility on Monday with a largely favorable assessment of Sunday's vote.
The election was conducted "mostly in line with international commitments and standards for democratic elections," the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's observer mission said in a statement.
Yushchenko, 53, has struggled with disillusionment and a loss of support among many voters now backing Tymoshenko, 46, known for her intense demeanor and the photogenic flaxen braid wrapped on her head.
"I'm sure that Yushchenko and Yulia won't repeat their mistakes. I want to live in Europe, and only the Orange forces can take us there," said Oleg Kileiko, a 46-year old businessman who voted for the president's bloc.
The infighting in the Orange camp has fueled widespread cynicism and apathy among voters who blamed leaders for failing to deliver on their promises.
"This is the final chance for the Orange to restore people's trust and correct the mistakes of the past," Pohrebinsky said.
Yanukovych has continued to enjoy broad support from the Russian-speaking east and south. He is considered more Russia-friendly, though he has increasingly underlined his push for Ukraine's integration into Europe.
Speaking earlier at his campaign headquarters, he said that "we consider the election results as a carte blanche for our party to form a new government."
After the Orange Revolution turfed him from power, Yanukovych sought to change his image, casting himself as a democrat, preaching compromise and stability and easing his affiliation with Russia.
But he resisted Yushchenko's April decision to dissolve parliament and call new elections after the president accused him of seeking to usurp power.