Thu Jan 6, 2005 06:04 PM GMT
By Pavel Polityuk
KIEV (Reuters) - Ukraine's Supreme Court has thrown out a challenge to last month's presidential election, paving the way for liberal Viktor Yushchenko to take power next week after two weeks in political limbo.
The court rejected an appeal by former Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich, who lost to Yushchenko in the December 26 vote but tried to force the Central Election Commission to reconsider complaints it already threw out last week.
"The Court has decided to deny the complaint by presidential candidate Viktor Yanukovich. This decision is final and cannot be challenged," a Supreme Court justice said on Thursday, reading out the decision after several hours of deliberations.
The election commission said it would resume work on Sunday, after remaining closed on Friday for Ukraine's Christmas holiday. The commission must certify and publish the final results before Yushchenko can be declared the winner.
Yushchenko had accused Yanukovich of using his challenges to "torture the nation". Yushchenko's followers suspected allies of outgoing President Leonid Kuchma of dragging out the transition to win time to cover the tracks of shady deals.
Yanukovich could mount another appeal after the commission announces its result. But the court's decisive ruling makes it unlikely he could hold up the process much longer.
"The odds are there will be more appeals to the Supreme Court. But it's unlikely they would even be accepted for consideration," Yushchenko's representative at the hearing, Svitlana Kustova, said after the judgment.
Yanukovich had long said he had little hope of success.
"This is exactly the decision we expected. For a long time the court has been making political rather than legal rulings," his lawyer, Svitlana Shapiro, said.
The same court played a decisive role in bringing Yushchenko to power by throwing out the result of a rigged November election after Yanukovich was declared the winner.
Yushchenko's supporters, who demonstrated in their hundreds of thousands against the rigged poll in November, have maintained a tent city on the streets of the capital Kiev to keep up pressure during the drawn-out transition.
In the days after the December 26 election, one member of the outgoing cabinet was found dead in his sauna with a gunshot to the head, other officials were sacked by Kuchma and some are rumoured to have left the country.
Yushchenko's allies, meanwhile, have been jockeying for positions in his new government. Yushchenko is not expected to announce a line-up until after his inauguration, which most politicians expect at the end of next week.
Picking a new prime minister will be tricky because Yushchenko's supporters are divided among several factions in parliament. Even if they agree, they do not have enough votes collectively to guarantee any candidate's confirmation.
Yushchenko has so far given few clues.
"We will count on new names," was all he would say about his new government on Wednesday at a ski resort in the Carpathian mountains of western Ukraine, where he has been on holiday during the drawn-out process of officially declaring a winner.
His spokeswoman said he would return to Kiev on Thursday from the holiday, which he spent with his friend and ally Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili -- who also took power after massive public protests following a rigged election.
Saakashvili flew home after a week in Ukraine.