Glimmers of Sanity in Ukraine

Editorial

New York Times

November 30, 2004

After days of escalating confrontation, there were encouraging signs yesterday that the crisis over Ukraine's botched presidential election might be headed for a peaceful, made-in-Ukraine solution based on both the rule of law and the continued territorial unity of this politically divided nation of 48 million. That would be the best possible outcome, and one that Ukraine's neighbors, from Russia to the European Union, should fully support.

Early last week, Ukraine's election commission, blithely ignoring the findings of a broad range of international observers who said the balloting was egregiously and unacceptably flawed, officially ruled that Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich had defeated former Prime Minister Viktor Yushchenko in the Nov. 21 balloting.

Ever since, Mr. Yanukovich has seemed determined to impose his claim to the presidency despite the huge protest demonstrations that have filled the streets of the capital, Kiev, every day demanding new elections, a parliamentary vote declaring the election invalid and the Supreme Court hearings that have now begun on the election dispute.

Mr. Yanukovich clearly felt little incentive to hold new, clean elections, expecting he could count on the full political support of the departing president, Leonid Kuchma, who had strongly endorsed his candidacy. Millions of his own supporters from his home eastern region of the country, including a long list of local officials, threatened to press for regional secession if he was denied the presidency. And from across the border in Russia, President Vladimir Putin was quick to put in his two rubles, insisting on the validity of the original, fraudulent vote.

Thankfully, daylight seemed to emerge yesterday. Some of Mr. Yanukovich's supporters began having second thoughts. President Kuchma indicated he would favor new elections as a solution to the current political crisis. Mr. Yanukovich's campaign manager, Sergei Tihipko, resigned and urged a new vote. And Mr. Yanukovich himself now says he might agree to at least a partial rerun covering Ukraine's eastern regions. Oddly, now it is Mr. Yushchenko's supporters who aren't so sure they want a new vote.

A full rerun of the election is the right way to go; limiting it to only part of the country would only intensify current divisions. We hope Mr. Yanukovich will recognize this without someone beating him over the head. If he fails to do so, Ukraine's Supreme Court should add its institutional voice to those now trying to hold the country together and salvage its democratic reputation. Once a new election is set, leaders elsewhere - Mr. Putin in particular comes to mind - can best help by lowering their voices and providing plenty of scrupulously impartial observers.