- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 28, 2004

KIEV — Ukraine’s parliament yesterday called last week’s disputed presidential runoff election invalid, raising the possibility that a new election could be held as early as mid-December.

Although the parliament resolution was not binding, it sent a powerful political message to the government of outgoing President Leonid Kuchma and could strengthen opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko, who has demanded a revote.

“Maybe for the first time, the nation will love Ukraine’s politicians, and politicians will love the people,” Yulia Tymoshenko, an opposition leader, told screaming crowds several hours after the vote on the resolution.

By an overwhelming majority, parliament also voted no confidence in the Central Election Commission — saying it “discredited itself” — and called for an investigation into accusations of election violations. The resolution also promised that force would not be used against protesters, a key demand from the international community, which has watched nervously as Ukraine’s political crisis has teetered on the brink of mayhem.

Although Mr. Kuchma must sign the parliament’s resolution to make it effective, Speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn said it would be hard for the president to ignore yesterday’s decision.

In an impassioned address, Mr. Lytvyn told lawmakers: “The most realistic political decision, taking into account the mutual claims of massive violations, is to pronounce the elections invalid.”

Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators have poured into the streets of capital, Kiev, and other Ukrainian cities in the past six days to protest massive vote fraud.

Several eastern Ukrainian regions indicated that they would create an autonomous region if their favorite, Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, did not become president.

Last week, despite international warnings not to do so, the election commission declared Mr. Yanukovych the winner by nearly a three-point margin over Mr. Yushchenko.

On Friday, Mr. Kuchma organized mediation talks between the rivals, overseen by envoys from Russia and the European Union. Representatives for the two candidates continued negotiations yesterday.

After the Friday talks, Mr. Yushchenko told supporters that he wanted a new vote on Dec. 12. Yesterday, Mr. Yanukovych called a press conference, but unexpectedly canceled it after the parliament vote was announced.

Tomorrow, the country’s Supreme Court will examine Mr. Yushchenko’s complaints of widespread irregularities in last Sunday’s second-round voting. The new president is unlikely to be inaugurated until the court makes a final decision on the legality of the vote.

Regional courts also are considering more than 11,000 complaints from both sides about purported fraud.

“It’s the position of the Supreme Court to recognize or not recognize” the elections, said Petro Poroshenko, one of Mr. Yushchenko’s closest advisers.

Parliament will have to make changes to the election law to establish a new date for the election. Mr. Poroshenko said he thought the new election would take place before Dec. 20.

A European Union envoy — Dutch Foreign Minister Ben Bot — said new elections were the “ideal outcome” for the standoff. Asked whether new elections were the only solution, he answered: “Yes.”

Ukraine’s Unian news agency quoted Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Yakovenko as saying Friday that Moscow regarded a potential revote favorably — an apparently significant retreat from its earlier insistence that the Nov. 21 elections were fair and valid.

The United States and other Western nations contend that the vote was marred by massive fraud.

At President Bush’s ranch in Crawford, Texas, White House spokesman Jim Morrell said, “We are hopeful that the developments of the past two days can pave the way for a democratic process which reflects the will of the Ukrainian people. We continue to call on all parties to work to achieve a fair and just outcome without the use of force.”

Meanwhile in the east of the country that lies close to Russia, huge crowds of Yanukovych backers have been holding rallies in his support.

In the industrial town of Donetsk, tens of thousands of Yanukovych supporters yesterday demanded a referendum granting the region autonomy if Mr. Yushchenko is declared president.

Mr. Yanukovych’s Party of Regions has scheduled an urgent session today in the eastern city of Luhansk to discuss autonomy, lawmaker Anatoliy Blyzniuk told protesters gathered there.

“Some 15 million people have said: Yanukovych is our president,” he said. “It is not just that [Luhansk] region, it is the entire southeast of the country that wants [the autonomy] option.”

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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