Parliament Says Votes in Ukraine Were Not Valid


New York Times

November 27, 2004

KIEV, Ukraine, Nov. 27 - Ukraine's Parliament, meeting in special session, voted Saturday to declare last Sunday's presidential runoff invalid, but failed to set a date for a new election, as the country's opposition leader and diplomats in Europe have demanded.

Outside Parliament, tens of thousands of supporters of Viktor A. Yushchenko, the challenger, who has claimed the government stole his rightful victory, cheered and jeered as the debate inside unfolded, broadcast on large television screens set up on the streets.

As the Parliament voted on each of several resolutions, the crowd roared, chanting "Yushchenko is our president!" or "Kuchma out!"

Parliament, the Supreme Rada, does not have the authority to overturn the election results, which, according to the government, made Prime Minister Viktor F. Yanukovich the country's next president. But the vote - even the debate itself - signaled the swelling dissatisfaction over an election marred by accusations of wholesale fraud.

The resolutions called on the departing president, Leonid D. Kuchma, to disband the central election commission and form a new one to oversee what could be a third round, something not foreseen in the country's election laws.

The Parliament is to meet again on Tuesday, when deputies said they would set a date, either Dec. 12 or Dec. 19, for a new ballot.

Saturday's votes handed at least a symbolic victory to Mr. Yushchenko, expanding the protests against the election from the streets of Kiev and other cities to at least one branch of government. Only four days ago, Mr. Yushchenko failed to muster a quorum in Parliament to proclaim him president.

"In the current situation," the Parliament's speaker, Volodymyr Lytvyn, said as the session opened, "the most realistic decision is to recognize the election as one that did not take place because of the impossibility to define the winner."

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, antigovernment protests continued and appeared to grow.

On the legal front, the Supreme Court is to hear Mr. Yushchenko's complaints of electoral fraud on Monday.

And a day after European and Russian diplomats mediated between the two candidates, aides to Mr. Yushchenko and Mr. Yanukovich met behind closed doors to try to end their bitter stalemate.

Parliament, with 450 seats, is nominally controlled by an anti-Kuchma coalition, but not by one loyal to Mr. 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 Mr. Kuchma's government and the conduct of the election.

Although nonbinding, the vote underscored what appeared to be greater pressure on Mr. 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 whether Mr. Kuchma could seize control of the situation with a crackdown on the mass demonstrations now taking place across the capital and other cities, even if he wanted to.

The demonstrators blocked access to much of the city for a sixth day on Saturday and have essentially paralyzed the federal government. Some police and other law enforcement officers have crossed the lines and sided with Mr. 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 Mr. Yanukovich's cabinet. Others called for new elections. Still others defended Mr. Yanukovich, though his party's deputies were the only ones to boycott the session.

Outside Parliament, Mr. Yushchenko's supporters remained confident in his ultimate victory, especially in the event of a new, and fair, vote. They cautioned that the vote remained largely symbolic, and they, like most here, had no idea how this would end.

Oleskandr Fostonko, a welder from Kiev who has come out to protest every day since last Sunday's vote, said that "a democratic revolution" was under way. He hesitated. "They monopolize all the power," he said, as Parliament's voting progressed through a snowy afternoon. "There are doubts because it is dragging out. Kuchma is a cunning guy. He is a fox."

C. J. Chivers contributed reporting for this article.