Los Angeles Times
December 7, 2004
KIEV, Ukraine — Outgoing Ukrainian President Leonid D. Kuchma agreed early today to sack the nation's discredited Central Election Commission and support legislation to guard against fraud in a planned Dec. 26 revote for president.
The measures are intended to pave the way for a smooth rerun of the Nov. 21 contest between opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko and Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich, which the Supreme Court declared invalid due to fraud. But there were indications that each side might try to attach conditions to the measures in parliament.
Kuchma spoke briefly to reporters after a six-hour negotiating session attended by European Union mediators, Yushchenko and Yanukovich.
In a carefully worded statement, Kuchma said the participants had agreed on "the necessity" to adopt election law amendments "that would envisage a mechanism for conducting transparent and fair elections, making abuse and falsifications impossible."
Kuchma indicated that he was prepared to revise the makeup of the Central Election Commission in line with parliament's wishes.
Yushchenko's supporters have pressed for changes to the election law and the commission, which they say has been biased in favor of Yanukovich, Kuchma's choice to succeed him. The commission had declared Yanukovich the winner of the discredited November vote.
In spite of apparent agreement on those matters, Kuchma indicated that the two sides might try to link the reforms to other issues. He indicated that they remained sharply divided on several key points.
Yushchenko's camp has demanded that Kuchma dismiss Yanukovich as prime minister, in line with a recent parliamentary vote of no confidence. Yanukovich's camp, along with Kuchma, has insisted that electoral reform be linked to constitutional reforms transferring many presidential powers to the prime minister.
Also apparently unresolved is whether Yushchenko's supporters will lift their blockades of key government buildings in Kiev, the capital.
Kuchma noted that a parliamentary "reconciliation council" was trying to bridge the gap between the two sides, and added, "I wish them success in resolving those problems that we failed to resolve during the round table."
On Monday, politicians from both sides indicated there was agreement on a package of parliamentary action.
They said parliament would probably approve a package of anti-fraud measures and constitutional changes to shift some powers from the president to the prime minister. The ouster of Yanukovich as prime minister and the revamping of the Central Election Commission's membership will be part of the package, they said.
Some reports outlined a proposed compromise on when the constitutional amendments would take effect. Pro-Yanukovich legislators had wanted the shift in powers to take place almost immediately, while Yushchenko's backers wanted the changes to come into effect after parliamentary elections in 2006.
Petro Poroshenko, a prominent opposition lawmaker, told reporters the amendments to the constitution would take effect either Sept. 1, 2005, or Jan. 1, 2006.
The Ukrainian news website Pravda, in a report posted Monday evening, quoted parliamentary speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn as saying that "we have two or three proposed packages to find the way out of the crisis."
Lytvyn, speaking to foreign ambassadors in Kiev, outlined a complicated procedure for action today by parliament, the president and the opposition, Russian news agency Interfax reported.
Under the scenario described by Lytvyn, Kuchma would dismiss the Cabinet and name an acting prime minister. Then, lawmakers would pass the constitutional reform measures and the president would sign them immediately. Next, parliament would pass the anti-fraud election reforms, Kuchma would propose his nominees for the Central Election Commission, and parliament would vote on them.
On Monday, Yanukovich emerged from several days of seclusion and issued his first public comments since the Supreme Court tossed out his officially declared victory and ordered the revote. He announced a revamped campaign structure and expressed confidence in his ability to win.
Yanukovich said that when protests broke out after the November balloting, he had opposed suggestions that coal miners who supported him might go to Kiev's Independence Square to face off against the Yushchenko supporters there. He had been "strongly against the use of force," he said.
"Some might have perceived my position in these days as absence of the will to win," he said. "I will prove in the Dec. 26 election that I not only have the will, but also the support of the majority of the Ukrainian people."