A senior member of the Party of Regions currently leading in Ukraine's parliamentary elections said the party would back "soft" federalism to heal the country's political rifts and was willing to listen to any offers on forming a coalition in parliament, RIA Novosty reported.

"We have an understanding or a formula for how to unite Ukraine and to make it [unified]," said Yevgeniy Kushnarev, campaign head for the Party of Regions, led by former premier and defeated 2004 presidential candidate Viktor Yanukovych. "We speak of 'soft' federalism or European regionalism, which is widely popular in Europe."

Kushnarev added that federalism had become a dirty word in Ukraine, as political analysts have associated it with the opposing concept of separatism, and was in need of rehabilitation. He said the Party of Regions was willing to form a coalition with any party in the new Supreme Rada, the Ukrainian parliament.

"We are ready to form a coalition, and open for dialogue with any [party] represented in the parliament," Kushnarev said. "Public and closed discussions will be held at the second stage, to bring concrete results."

With 93.24% of Sunday's vote counted, the Party of Regions currently has 31.26% of the vote, followed by former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko's bloc (22.47%), the pro-presidential Our Ukraine bloc (14.48%), the Socialist Party (5.87%) and the Communist Party (3.63%). Parliamentary Speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn's bloc, with 2.45%, currently looks unlikely to negotiate the 3% threshold necessary for party-list seats in the 450-seat Rada.

"The leaders of parties and political blocs should clearly understand that they represent the interests of large groups of the country's population, so they should jointly find a formula to end a 15-month political standoff in Ukraine," Kushnarev said, referring to the "orange revolution" that brought current President Viktor Yushchenko to power in late 2004.

"We should not make Ukraine mono-colored," he said.

The latest results suggest that the Party of Regions is likely to end up with about 176 seats of the total 450. Currently, Tymoshenko's bloc would take up 130 seats, Our Ukraine 89, the Socialists 36, and the Communists 21.

Kushnarev was critical of Tymoshenko's ambitions in the parliamentary elections, saying she was only interested in one thing.

"Obviously, the post of prime minister became her goal in itself," he said. "This is clear to everyone."

He was also skeptical that Yushchenko would dissolve the Rada should the factions be unable to form a coalition and agree on a candidate for prime minister.

"The president obviously can set obstacles for negotiations ... but this trick can be combated by a simple move," he said. "We will make Yulia Tymoshenko prime minister and look at Yushchenko's expression."

Tymoshenko was dismissed by Yushchenko last September, after just seven months in office.

Kushnarev also said the Party of Regions would resume talks with Russia on the formation of a common economic space, which would help settle problems in the energy sector.

"The [high] price [on natural gas] has created a current catastrophic situation in the Ukrainian economy, and leaves us no prospects for the economic growth," Kushnarev said. "A single energy tariff would be used within the framework of the common economic space, and would be much lower than today's price on natural gas."

Russian monopoly Gazprom hiked its price demands for natural gas supplies in a bitter row over supplies that saw flows to Ukraine cut off in early January. Moscow has accused Kiev of siphoning off gas meant for European consumers.

Kushnarev said the pro-Russian Party of Regions should not be seen as a Russian "fifth column" in Ukraine, but that the party sought a mutually beneficial strategic partnership with its neighbor while seeking European integration, but not EU membership.


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