New York Times
December 2, 2004
KIEV, Ukraine, Dec. 1 - Ukraine appears to be headed toward holding a new election under an agreement announced Wednesday night to adopt a sweeping reorganization of political power.
The agreement, brokered between President Leonid D. Kuchma and the two men aspiring to succeed him, seeks to defuse a crisis that has brought the country to a standstill after a runoff election on Nov. 21 that was marred by accusations of fraud. The three politicians, meeting with European mediators, agreed to begin drafting "appropriate proposals for the completion of the election" after the Supreme Court rules on the fraud accusations.
It appears increasingly likely that the court will rule to overturn the results.
In the latest indication, Prime Minister Viktor F. Yanukovich, the candidate who last week was declared the winner and presidentelect, filed his own appeal citing fraudulent voting in Kiev. In effect, Mr. Yanukovich added ammunition to arguments by his challenger, Viktor A. Yushchenko, that the election was fraudulent.
The efforts at mediation contrasted with pointed political confrontations. By a bare majority, Parliament approved a resolution of no confidence in Mr. Yanukovich's government.
Normally the parliamentary vote would force Mr. Yanukovich to resign as prime minister, along with his ministers, but his supporters and Mr. Kuchma's aides called the vote illegal on procedural grounds and refused to recognize it.
Yelena A. Grimnitskaya, Mr. Kuchma's spokeswoman, called the notion of dismissing Mr. Yanukovich "stupidity."
On the 10th day of the crisis, which has rattled the economy and raised fears of a territorial split, Mr. Kuchma, Mr. Yanukovich and Mr. Yushchenko met for a second time and appeared to lay the groundwork for a compromise, though many details remain unresolved.
Their agreement on reforming the political system revived a proposal by Mr. Kuchma to amend the country's Constitution to transfer significant powers from the presidency to the legislative branch, led by a newly empowered prime minister.
Parliament narrowly rejected the proposal in March, in large part because the opposition bloc led by Mr. Yushchenko saw it as a ploy to allow Mr. Kuchma to retain political influence by appointing a more powerful - and loyal - prime minister before stepping down. The questions now are how power will be redistributed, how a new presidential election will be held and the timing for both.
"I do not see how the election cannot be canceled at this point," Hryhoriy M. Nemyria, director of the European Center for International Studies in Kiev, said in a telephone interview. "It is only about saving face, especially for Yanukovich."
There were still more signs that Mr. Yanukovich was losing support of powerful allies. Viktor M. Pinchuk, a powerful businessman, a member of Parliament and Mr. Kuchma's son-in-law, said that if a new election was held, Mr. Yanukovich's prospects for winning, assuming that he was a candidate, were not high.
"If we have a new election it is, frankly speaking, highly likely that Yushchenko will be the new president," Mr. Pinchuk said in an interview. Mr. Yushchenko insisted that a new election be essentially a rerun of the runoff, which Ukraine's Central Election Commission declared that Mr. Yanukovich won by roughly 800,000 votes, or 3 percentage points.
Speaking to reporters after more than three hours of talks mediated by President Aleksandr Kwasniewski of
Mr. Yushchenko later told supporters in Kiev's central square that he wanted a new election on Dec. 19. He also reiterated his demands that a new election take place only on condition that Mr. Yanukovich's government step down and that certain provisions be enacted to prevent fraudulent voting using absentee ballots.
"There is small progress regarding the item which resolves the problem of elections," he said, referring to Wednesday's negotiations, which took place in the ornate Mariinsky Palace next to the Parliament building. "We gave lawyers 24 hours to work and find the legal reply to the procedure of finalizing the election. Neither the law nor the Constitution gives the answer what has to be done if the runoff did not give any result."
Outside Parliament, as the vote against Mr. Yanukovich's government was broadcast on speakers, the crowd roared with elation. Then the demonstrators marched to Independence Square, joining thousands of others who have remained at the square for the last 10 days. Later in the evening, after the talks ended, Mr. Yushchenko returned to the square and urged the crowds to remain until the new election was set. Shortly after he spoke, fireworks exploded.
After all the recriminations of the campaign, including Mr. Yushchenko's accusation that he was poisoned, Mr. Yushchenko and Mr. Yanukovich, briefly and awkwardly, met, smiled and shook hands after Mr. Kuchma read a statement outlining the results of the negotiations.
After the meeting, Mr. Solana indicated that new elections were likely, but only after the political reforms were debated and passed by Parliament. It is unclear when those changes might take effect. If before a new election, then Mr. Kuchma would have the opportunity he sought earlier this year to appoint a new prime minister. But officials said that remained one of the crucial points to be negotiated before the impasse could end.
Still, Mr. Pinchuk said constitutional reform was now at the center of the negotiations, leaving all the other issues, including a new election, dependent on it. "This is the framework," he said.
Mr. Kuchma said earlier that he opposed another election between Mr. Yushchenko and Mr. Yanukovich, calling it a "farce" that would be unconstitutional.
Everything now appears to depend on the Supreme Court, which continued its hearings even as protesters chanted and cheered outside and Parliament's opposition members denounced Mr. Yanukovich and the Central Election Commission.
"Everything will become clear when the court hearings are over," Mr. Yanukovich said after the talks on Wednesday night. Referring to the agreement to hold discussions on drafting laws to put the court's expected ruling in place, he added, "After that we shall make a decision. I think it will be legal."
In the meantime, he said, he intends to continue acting as prime minister, dismissing the parliamentary vote as nothing but political pressure.
Roman M. Zvarich, a member of Parliament and a lawyer who has represented Mr. Yushchenko in the cramped courtroom, said in an interview that the court's 21 judges had acted fairly and objectively as they considered the challenge to the election results.
Mr. Yushchenko's legal team, he said, is trying to establish that the government's manipulation of voting and ballot counting was so compromised that it called into question the constitutional guarantee of a free and fair election. "There is no doubt - no reasonable doubt, to put it in an American context - that these elections were fraudulent," he said.
Lawyers for the Central Election Commission, by contrast, argued that they had strictly followed the law. Mr. Yanukovich's appeal, though details remain unclear, appeared to bolster the argument that the election was fundamentally unfair.
Mr. Zvarich said that the court would not decide who would be the next president, but could annul the runoff results and create the legal foundation, which does not now exist, for holding a new election. "We hope the court will open a legal gateway for a political solution of this process," he said, adding that a ruling could come as early as Thursday.
C. J. Chivers contributed reporting for this article.