Ukraine Crisis Nears Resolution as Rivals Agree to a New Vote
Government and opposition leaders agreed Wednesday to work for a rerun of a presidential election, moving closer toward ending a political crisis that for 10 days has brought this nation to a virtual standstill.
Details of a revote remained sketchy, but a deal appeared to hinge on anticipation that Ukraine’s Supreme Court would soon render invalid the official results of the Nov. 21 presidential runoff, which put Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich ahead by a slim margin.
After several hours of mediation at the presidential residence, Yanukovich; his rival, opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko; outgoing President Leonid D. Kuchma; and European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana announced that they had reached a broad agreement to resolve the crisis peacefully with some form of repeat election.
Kuchma said that “completion of the election of the president of Ukraine” would be based on pending action by the Supreme Court and parliament.
The high court, which is deliberating on opposition allegations of election fraud, was not part of Wednesday’s agreement. But Solana said it was “very unlikely” that judges would approve the disputed Central Election Commission tally.
Wednesday’s deal meant the crisis would be solved “by voting,” Solana said. The people of Ukraine “have shown their interest in free and fair elections, and this at the end of the day is what they’re going to have,” he said.
If the court quashes the election results, parliament will need to set the rules for repeat balloting.
Earlier in the day, parliament passed a resolution of no-confidence in Yanukovich as prime minister, and the opposition immediately began calling him “ex-prime minister.”
But Yanukovich disputed the legality of the action, which was also aimed at ousting his entire Cabinet. “I will never recognize this decision,” he told reporters. “They approved the decision in political terms. But it is against the law, it is against the constitution.”
Kuchma did not take any immediate action to accept the parliamentary ouster of his prime minister or appoint an acting successor, which implied that Yanukovich could still exercise his powers as head of government.
Foreign observers, including many from Western Europe, said the election failed to meet democratic standards. EU mediators have been trying to help solve the crisis.
The outcome of the political struggle is likely to determine whether this nation of 48 million moves toward warmer ties with Western Europe and the United States or back into a tighter relationship with Russia. Yushchenko is widely seen as a pro-Western democratic reformer, whereas Yanukovich, whose power base is in the country’s largely Russian-speaking east, has Moscow’s backing.
Although the day’s events marked significant movement toward a peaceful settlement, other key issues remained to be resolved.
Still unknown is whether the expected election would be another runoff between Yushchenko and Yanukovich or a new contest open to a field of candidates. Yushchenko won the first round of voting Oct. 31 by a tiny margin among 24 candidates, and he claims to be the legitimate winner of the runoff.
Yushchenko told a rally Wednesday in central Kiev that he would not back down from his demand that the new balloting be a repeat runoff.
Kuchma, however, said before the mediation session that a repeat runoff would be “a farce,” and that the only acceptable solution would be a new two-part election. He gave no indication Wednesday evening of having abandoned that position.
By endorsing a new vote, however, Kuchma has been seen as backing away from his previously firm support for Yanukovich.
Some observers said he was leaning toward promoting Serhiy Tyhypko, Yanukovich’s former campaign manager and a former central bank chief, in any new election. Centrist parliamentary speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn, who played a key role in engineering Wednesday’s no-confidence vote against Yanukovich, is considered another potential candidate.
After the mediation, Kuchma said the two sides agreed to carry out “political reform” that would transfer some powers from the presidency to the prime minister.
The opposition also agreed to lift its blockade of the Cabinet building and other government offices to allow them to function, he said. Both sides renewed their pledge to solve the dispute peacefully, he said.
After Kuchma finished speaking, Yushchenko and Yanukovich, who had been standing on either side of the outgoing president, smiled and shook hands for the cameras.
“This is a compromise by reasonable people,” Yushchenko told reporters after the talks, adding that Kuchma and Yanukovich were “feeling the pressure from the streets and from the West.”
The Yushchenko camp has organized massive daily protests, often with about 100,000 supporters in central Kiev and smaller crowds massed near key government buildings.
Further complicating the legal maneuvering, Yanukovich submitted his own appeal of election results to the Supreme Court on Wednesday, focusing on alleged violations in western Ukraine, where support for Yushchenko is strong. Yushchenko’s appeal focused on districts in eastern Ukraine.
Speaking to tens of thousands of supporters gathered in the capital’s Independence Square, Yushchenko said their massive protests had made history.
He addressed them as “my orange community,” a reference to his campaign’s official color, widely sported in banners, ribbons and scarves.
“The unprecedented 10 days of the Orange Revolution are something great and good for an independent democratic Ukraine for decades or even centuries to come,” Yushchenko declared.
He added, however, that his supporters must keep up their protests until a firm date for a revote is set and that anyone who needed to rest should find a replacement.
“I ask you to call home,” he said. “Let a brother or a wife, some adult family member, come instead of you. Our fire at Independence Square must not die out. We don’t have much further to go.”
After Yushchenko’s address, the crowd sang the national anthem as a fireworks display lighted the sky above the square.
Some protesters expressed anger at the prospect that Yanukovich and his Cabinet might remain in office.
“We’ll make things happen soon,” said Misha Vitiv, 18, a student from the western city of Lviv who was at the square about midnight. “If the government doesn’t leave tomorrow, we’ll make it go.”
With Yushchenko publicly ruling out any possibility of agreeing to a new two-part election rather than a new runoff only, few of his supporters expected anything less than fulfillment of that demand.
“We think there will be a repeat of the runoff,” said Volodymyr Mikhaylyuk, 31, a supporter who remained at Independence Square late Wednesday evening. “We will leave only with victory, because we’ve been waiting for it for so long.”