Ukraine's Prime Minister Resigns After Election Defeat

By STEVEN LEE MYERS

New York Times

December 31, 2004

MOSCOW, Dec. 31 - Viktor F. Yanukovich resigned as Ukraine's prime minister today, signaling the end of a tumultuous political drama that nearly propelled him to the presidency but ended in his defeat after a popular uprising against state-sponsored electoral fraud.

Mr. Yanukovich, who served as prime minister for two years under President Leonid D. Kuchma, said he would continue his legal challenges against last Sunday's repeat presidential election, in which the opposition candidate, Viktor A. Yushchenko, appeared to hold a commanding, if unofficial, lead.

But increasingly isolated, abandoned even by some of his closest advisers and by all appearances deeply embittered, Mr. Yanukovich held out little hope that those challenges would succeed in overturning Sunday's results.

"As far as the election results, we are keeping up the fight but I don't have much hope for a just decision from the Central Election Commission and the Supreme Court," he said, according to The Associated Press.

Speaking in a televised New Year's Eve address to the nation, Mr. Yanukovich said, bitingly, that he could not continue serving as prime minister under the country's new leadership, a reference to Mr. Yushchenko's impending presidency. "I believe it is impossible to have any position in a state that is ruled by such officials," he said.

Mr. Yanukovich's resignation as prime minister had appeared inevitable after Sunday's new vote. He had already taken a leave for what amounted to a third campaign after his apparent victory in the Nov. 21 run-off against Mr. Yushchenko was overturned as fraudulent by the Ukrainian Supreme Court after 17 days of huge street protests.

Earlier this week, he had vowed to resume work, only to have Mr. Yushchenko's supporters mass again around the government's headquarters in Kiev, preventing a meeting of his cabinet from taking place there. The cabinet met elsewhere, without Mr. Yanukovich.

Mr. Yanukovich remained defiant, insisting that he was the rightful victor in the presidential elections. He has asserted that tens of thousands of Ukrainians had been prevented from exercising their right to vote in the new run-off because of changes in election laws adopted by the country's Parliament in the wake of the demonstrations in Kiev and other cities.

International election observers, however, noted no widespread violations like those that marred the first and second rounds of the country's elections. And on Thursday, the Central Election Commission, with newly appointed members, rejected his preliminary appeals, saying there was no basis to his accusations.

Mr. Yanukovich's appeals have nevertheless delayed an official declaration of the winner, though Mr. Yushchenko acting with increasing confidence as the country's president-elect.

Having won over two million votes more than Mr. Yanukovich in Sunday's election, Mr. Yushchenko appeared likely to withstand the challenges to his apparent victory.

Today, Mr. Yushchenko and his supporters received a moral boost from a leader who, indirectly, provided inspiration for the political uprising that swept Ukraine: President Mikhail Saakashvilli of Georgia.

Mr. Saakashvilli, who rose to power 13 months ago after leading similar protests against elections under President Eduard A. Shevardnadze, toured the tent city near Kiev's central square that served as the heart of the protests.

In his address today, Mr. Yanukovich defended his term as prime minister, citing economic growth and political and social stability - all central themes of his campaigns. He also vowed that he would remain in politics, though, as appears clear, in the opposition.