(photo credit: AP)
Ukraine's parliament elected Yulia Tymoshenko, the fiery and controversial heroine of the Orange Revolution, as prime minister Tuesday, a move that could accelerate the former Soviet republic's push to become closer to the West.
Tymoshenko got 226 votes - the bare majority needed in the 450-member parliament - from deputies in her bloc and the party of President Viktor Yushchenko. Tymoshenko and the president formed a majority coalition after elections late last year, despite frequent tensions between the two.
Before the vote in the Verkhovna Rada, Tymoshenko declared that the coalition was solid.
"You have two patriots in politics who will hold this flag up high and never drop it. Today's vote is a moment of truth for the democratic coalition," she said.
However, the vote count indicated the difficulties ahead of the Yushchenko-Tymoshenko coalition. The opposition dominated by the Party of Regions, which is led by pro-Russia former prime minister Viktor Yanukovych, is in strong position to fight initiatives by the Western-leaning reformist coalition.
Loyalties switch frequently in Ukrainian politics, and an attempt to return Tymoshenko to the premiership in 2006 derailed when a formerly allied party crossed over to join a coalition with Party of Regions.
Party of Regions lawmaker Hanna Herman predicted the coalition would not last long, saying "the earlier they come, the earlier they'll leave."
Yanukovych later told the parliament "We remember well how the 'Orange Team' destroyed the economy and began redistributing property."
Tymoshenko was the most energetic and vivid figure of the 2004 Orange Revolution mass protests that helped power Yushchenko into the presidency. The protests broke out after a fraud-plagued presidential election in which Yanukovych was declared the winner. The Supreme Court annulled the election, and Yushchenko won the rerun.
The Orange Revolution left her and Yushchenko in deep opposition to Yanukovych, who returned as prime minister in 2006. Yushchenko this year accused Yanukovych of trying to usurp power and called early elections; his and Tymoshenko's parties together wracked up a narrow majority of seats in the September vote.
Tuesday's vote was held by hand, and counting took more than an hour. The laborious procedure was held in the wake of last week's complaints that a vote on Tymoshenko's nomination - in which she got only 225 votes - was invalid due to possible tampering with the parliament's vote-tallying machine.
US Ambassador William Taylor called Tymoshenko's election a vote for reform.
"It's great to have a prime minister that we can now deal with, and we hope that this is the first step toward forming a reform-minded government," he said. "We hope there will be a stable government."
Yushchenko has consistently aimed to reorient the country of 45 million people away from Moscow and toward the West, including pushing for quick membership in NATO and the European Union.
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