Ukraine parliament calls vote invalid
MOSCOW - In a move that could lead to a new presidential election in Ukraine, the parliament Saturday passed a resolution declaring last week's disputed vote invalid.
Sun, Nov. 28, 2004
The measure said the announced result Nov. 21, a victory for Prime Minister Victor Yanukovich over his pro-Western challenger, Victor Yushchenko, was "at odds with the will of the people."
The parliament lacks the legal authority to annul the results or to declare a new election.
But its resolution, which passed easily, thrilled an estimated 100,000 anti-government protesters who gathered for a sixth straight day in the cold and snow of Kiev's main square.
Dutch foreign minister Ben Bot, speaking for the European Union, said new elections would be "the ideal outcome" to resolve the dispute between Yanukovich, who had the strong backing of Russian President Vladimir Putin, and Yushchenko.
Bot said a revote was the only acceptable solution and that he would like to see it happen "before the end of the year."
Yushchenko reportedly has mentioned Dec. 12 as a possible date, with some supervisory role given to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
Any new vote would almost certainly take place under a new Central Election Commission, though parliament slapped the commission with a no-confidence vote Saturday.
On Monday, Ukraine's Supreme Court is due to review charges of electoral fraud brought by Yushchenko, although it remained unclear under Ukrainian law how a new election would be called.
Some analysts said that a new law or constitutional amendment might have to be passed, or that outgoing president Leonid Kuchma might be able to set a new vote.
Kuchma, who personally selected Yanukovich as his successor, made no comment on Saturday's developments.
The United States and most European governments have vigorously denounced the election as fraudulent and undemocratic. Secretary of State Colin Powell called the result "unacceptable."
That view was clearly at odds with Russia, which openly backed Yanukovich during the campaign.
Putin was the only major world leader to congratulate Yanukovich after the voting, and Putin chided Western leaders for interfering with Ukraine's electoral process.
The Kremlin has since backed off a bit, saying the matter should be settled through the courts.
Parliament speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn offered something of a mea culpa Saturday, saying 10 years of arrogance by the Ukrainian government had caused the current crisis.
"We did not take the people into account," he said. "We did not listen to the people."
Tens of thousands of people took to the streets almost immediately after Yanukovich was declared the winner, by nearly three percentage points.
Exit polls had suggested his 50-year-old challenger, an economist and former head of the central bank, would win handily.
Peaceful protests in Kiev and other cities in western Ukraine, the power base for Yushchenko, grew steadily during the week.
Yushchenko's orange-clad backers blocked streets and government offices Friday as a call for a nationwide strike began to take hold.
Journalists at state-run TV stations said they would no longer permit government censorship of their newscasts, and hundreds of police cadets in Kiev joined in opposition marches.
Yushchenko and Yanukovich met face-to-face Friday night, in a meeting brokered by Kuchma, EU foreign policy minister Javier Solana and other European diplomats.
They set up a working group to seek ways to resolve the crisis, and both sides agreed to refrain from violence.
Yushchenko agreed to tell his supporters on the barricades to allow government offices to reopen.
The fight over the election -- over the country's very future -- is now moving on several fronts, each utterly unpredictable six days after the runoff.
It has been only 13 years since Ukraine became independent in the breakup of the Soviet Union; its democratic traditions are still being formed, and its branches of power are youthful and largely untested.
On the streets of Kiev and other cities, anti-government protests continued and appeared to grow.
The parliament, with 450 seats, is nominally controlled by an anti-Kuchma coalition, but not by one loyal to Yushchenko's main faction, Our Ukraine.
The resolution declaring the election invalid received 255 votes, more than the 226 needed to pass.
The vote to call for disbanding the election commission, however, received even more, with 270 deputies voting in favor as other parties joined in what amounted to criticism of Kuchma's government and the conduct of the election.
Although nonbinding, the vote underscored what appeared to be greater pressure on Kuchma.
A senior Western diplomat in Kiev, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the diplomatic sensitivities in a conflict that has divided Russia from the United States and Europe, said it appeared questionable that Kuchma could seize control with a crackdown on the mass demonstrations now occurring across the capital and other cities, even if he wanted to.
The demonstrators blocked access to much of Kiev for a sixth day Saturday and have essentially paralyzed the federal government.
Some police and other law enforcement officers have crossed the lines and sided with Yushchenko's supporters.
"The ship of state is leaking power like a sieve," the diplomat said.
During the parliament's stormy debate, some deputies called for the resignation of Yanukovich's Cabinet. Others called for new elections. Still others defended Yanukovich, though his party's deputies were the only ones to boycott the session.
Outside the parliament, Yushchenko's supporters remained confident in his ultimate victory, especially in the event of a new, and fair, vote, though they cautioned that the legislature's vote is largely symbolic.
Alexander Fostonko, a welder from Kiev who has come out to protest every day since the vote, said that "a democratic revolution" was under way.
He hesitated. "They monopolize all the power," he said, as parliament's voting progressed through the snowy afternoon.
"There are doubts because it is dragging out. Kuchma is a cunning guy. He is a fox."
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