Parliament on Saturday boosted the opposition’s challenge of a presidential runoff election, saying the results handing victory to Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich were invalid because of fraud.
The nonbinding resolution, which also expressed no confidence in the Central Election Commission, provided important moral and political backing to a call by opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko for repeat balloting in December.
“The most realistic political decision, taking into account the mutual claims of massive violations, is to pronounce the elections invalid,” centrist speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn said before parliament’s vote.
The opposition demand for repeat balloting also won support Saturday from the European Union, with the Dutch foreign minister telling reporters at The Hague that a revote would be the optimal solution.
“We think the best, the ideal outcome would be elections,” said Bernard Bot, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency. “If we are heading for elections, it should happen rather soon, before the end of the year,” he said.
Asked if new elections were the only solution, Bot answered, “Yes.”
Yushchenko told a massive rally in central Kiev late Friday that he wanted the new election held Dec. 12, with conditions designed to ensure a fair campaign and honest vote count.
A crowd of significantly more than 100,000 gathered again Saturday in the city center to express support for the opposition leader, who is seen as a democratic reformer who aims to strengthen the country’s ties with Western Europe and the United States.
White House spokesman Jim Morrell said President Bush, who is at his ranch near Crawford, Texas, was encouraged by efforts to resolve the election dispute and was hopeful for a democratic result.
“We continue to call on all parties to work to achieve a fair and just outcome without the use of force,” Morrell said.
The State Department said it was pleased with the Ukrainian parliament’s resolutions and the agreement of the two candidates to begin formal talks.
Yushchenko and Yanukovich aides met Saturday in talks set up Friday at a meeting presided over by President Leonid D. Kuchma, who is stepping down after 10 years in power.
It was mediated by European envoys.
A Yushchenko representative, Ivan Plyushch, was quoted by the Russian news agency Interfax as saying after Saturday’s meeting, “It seems to me that the sides have the constructive wish to reach compromise.”
There was no immediate comment from Yanukovich’s side.
Lytvyn, in proposing the resolution, said legislators were wrong in failing to act when the Central Election Commission appeared to be manipulating the vote tally after the first round of balloting Oct. 31. In that round, which had a field of 24 candidates, Yushchenko won by a fraction of a percentage point after 10 days of counting that left many Ukrainians convinced authorities were desperately trying to find a way to put Yanukovich on top.
“The CEC discredited itself in counting votes in the first round,” Lytvyn said.
“The CEC destroyed any public trust. But parliament was silent. If we had acted, we would not be in the situation we are in today. For this, I blame myself.”
Commission chief Serhiy Kivalov dismissed parliament’s criticism. The opposition “felt there was no point in a challenge using legal means,” he said in televised remarks. “They used politics instead.” But Kivalov also said he did not oppose a new vote.
Lawmakers also called for changes in election laws to be considered next week.
Bot stressed that the European Union did not view itself as taking sides or doing anything improper by backing Yushchenko’s charges of election fraud.
“We are not interfering in the internal process of another country,” Bot said. “What we are saying is: Act according to your principles, mend your ways, and have new elections.”
The Supreme Court is scheduled to consider opposition complaints of fraud Monday.
Critics have alleged that various abuses inflated Yanukovich’s votes and reduced Yushchenko’s.
These include keeping some people off voter lists and using absentee ballots and mobile ballot boxes to allow people to vote multiple times.
Supporters of Yanukovich staged a massive rally Saturday in the eastern city of Donetsk, his power base.
In the last few days, some politicians in the country’s largely Russian-speaking eastern region have discussed autonomy or even separation from Ukraine and unity with Russia -- a development Lytvyn harshly criticized in his speech to parliament.
“Today the issue is Ukraine’s survival as a territorially unitary state,” Lytvyn said. “What we are hearing are threats of separatism from some regional leaders. This is criminal.”
Times staff writers Warren Vieth in Crawford, Texas, and Paul Richter in Washington contributed to this report.