KIEV Ukraine faced the prospect of an early election on Thursday after President Viktor Yushchenko's party rejected calls to rejoin the ruling coalition, but political leaders showed little enthusiasm for a snap poll.
The Speaker of Parliament, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, said the clock had started to tick towards an election -- the coalition has 10 days to sort out its differences.
The alliance of Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko's bloc and Yushchenko's Our Ukraine party had governed just nine months before collapsing on Wednesday amongst bitter recriminations.
"We are not ready for early elections, because such a scenario has not been planned," Yuri Klyuchkovsky, a senior member of Yushchenko's Our Ukraine party, told Reuters.
Another Our Ukraine parliamentarian, Ksyenia Liapyna, said saving the coalition was down to Tymoshenko's party and that the chances were "50-50". Tymoshenko said this week that "only a madman would think about early elections".
Yushchenko, expecting a visit from U.S. Vice-President Dick Cheney, told the Financial Times that a lack of desire for the third election in as many years would "cause leaders of the factions in parliament to start a constructive dialogue".
Bickering between Yushchenko and Tymoshenko has stalled reforms in the ex-Soviet state of 47 million. Yushchenko wants to move Ukraine towards European Union and NATO military alliance membership.
But despite the lack of enthusiasm for a new election, both sides stood their ground and there were no signs of compromise.
Yushchenko has accused Tymoshenko of ganging up with the Regions party of former Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich and running a "prime-ministerial dictatorship" after they mustered a large majority to pass laws reducing his powers.
Yushchenko and his party have also accused her of failing to support Georgia in its war against Russia. Yushchenko, wary of Moscow flexing its muscles in the former Soviet Union, demonstrated his support by travelling to Tbilisi while war continued last month.
Yushchenko and Tymoshenko were close allies during the 2004 Orange Revolution, a year after Georgia's Rose Revolution. Those two peaceful events helped the former Soviet republics move away from Russian influence and towards Western integration.
By accusing Tymoshenko of joining forces with Yanukovich's party -- the Moscow-backed presidential candidate whom Yushchenko defeated in 2004 -- and of not supporting Georgia, Yushchenko has tried to hijack some of her core supporters.
For now, the Regions party has distanced itself from the idea of joining with Tymoshenko.
"I think agreement in parliament will be reached, but talks about creating a new coalition have not taken place yet, because the old coalition still exists," Taras Chornovyl, a prominent Regions party member, told Reuters.
Tymoshenko in turn has accused Yushchenko of merely seeking popular support ahead of a presidential election due in 16 months and in which the three are expected to run.
Yushchenko's party said the coalition could be renewed if it formulates a joint position on Georgia, if her party stops voting with the Regions party to cut Yushchenko's powers, and if they agree to reach a consensus on all policies.
But Tymoshenko kept up the pressure on Yushchenko, telling local governors at a meeting she would try to decentralize local government, giving them a larger share of the overall budget and enabling them to hire and fire officials.
Parliament on Tuesday approved laws that enable the government to ignore the president's decrees if they interrupt the work of the cabinet. Yushchenko had issued several decrees that halted the government's privatization process.
New laws have to be signed by the president. However, Tymoshenko's and Yanukovich's parties control 331 votes out of 450, which means they could eventually bring the changes into force without Yushchenko's consent.
In parliament, a member of her bloc introduced a bill that wants to raise the bar for parties entering parliament to 10 percent of the electoral vote from 3 percent, which would exclude Yushchenko's party.
If an election were to take place, Tymoshenko's bloc would get 23.4 percent of the vote, the Regions party 20.3 percent and Our Ukraine 4.6 percent, the same as the Communist party.
(Additional reporting by Natalya Zinets; writing by Sabina Zawadzki; Editing by Giles Elgood)