Leader Offers Fresh Election for Ukrainians
By STEVEN LEE MYERS
Published: November 30, 2004
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KIEV, Ukraine, Nov. 29 - President Leonid D. Kuchma on Monday proposed
holding a new election to end the political crisis threatening to tear
the country apart, while Ukraine's Supreme Court heard complaints of
electoral fraud over last week's presidential election.
Mr. Kuchma's remarks represented the collapse of what had been a united
government position that Prime Minister Viktor F. Yanukovich won the
Nov. 21 presidential election, despite evidence of fraud and
falsification involving perhaps millions of ballots.
"If we really want to maintain peace and accord, and we really want to
build a law-governed democratic society of which we have been speaking
so much, then let us hold new elections," Mr. Kuchma said in televised
remarks, after a meeting with city and regional leaders at his residence
Much remained unclear, including whether Mr. Kuchma intended to hold a
new runoff between Mr. Yanukovich and his challenger, Viktor A.
Yushchenko, which the law does not permit, or a whole new election. Mr.
Yushchenko's campaign immediately ruled out the latter.
Heading off speculation long dogging him that he intended to somehow
remain in power himself, Mr. Kuchma said he did not intend to run for
what would be a third term. "It must be clear," he said. "I have had
The Bush administration on Monday urged a solution that maintained peace
and unity, continuing its tense balancing act between pushing for
self-determination in Ukraine and trying to preserve a relationship with
Mr. Yushchenko himself did not immediately respond to Mr. Kuchma's
proposal. In fact, he ignored it, declaring to thousands of protesters
massed on Independence Square that the struggle over Ukraine's election
would be decided by the Supreme Court and Parliament.
On Monday, the court began considering Mr. Yushchenko's election
challenges. The Parliament, after voting Saturday in a nonbinding
resolution to declare the election results invalid, is scheduled to meet
again on Tuesday. In that meeting, Mr. Yushchenko said, his supporters
would demand the resignation of Mr. Yanukovich's government. "I am
begging you to have patience," he told the boisterous crowd, making it
clear that he was not yet ready to concede an election his supporters
believe he rightfully won. He appeared Monday night with military and
police officials who have joined his side, signaling a splintering of
Mr. Kuchma's authority.
On the streets of Kiev, Mr. Kuchma's announcement created a heightened
sense that the confrontation had tipped Mr. Yushchenko's way. At the
London Cigar Club on Kreshchatik Street, the city's main thoroughfare,
the manager, Sergey Yaresko, declared a 20 percent holiday sale on Cuban
"We have a new president," he said. "The government has heard the voice
of the people."
The celebration may be premature. Mr. Kuchma, president for 10 years,
has outlasted mass demonstrations before and may yet be trying to find a
political solution short of letting Mr. Yushchenko assume office.
Also, regional leaders in the Russian-speaking eastern half of the
country on Sunday threatened to hold referendums on autonomy if the
impasse persisted. Hanna German, a spokeswoman for Mr. Yanukovich, said
Mr. Kuchma had made his proposal in an effort to find a compromise.
However, talks organized after European diplomats mediated between the
candidates on Friday appear stalled, in large part because Mr.
Yushchenko's side senses momentum.
Ms. German said the impasse was threatening not only political
stability, but also the country's economy, which Mr. Kuchma himself said
earlier on Monday could collapse "like a house of cards" in a matter of
days. There have already been reports of a run on banks and a shortage
of dollars as people try to cash in the local currency, the hryvnia,
because of the turmoil.
"Kuchma is seeking ways to a compromise with the opposition," Ms. German
said, "but they reply in the language of ultimatums."
Mr. Kuchma reversed his government's stance after eight days of huge
street demonstrations that have effectively shut down Kiev and other
cities, and after steady diplomatic pressure from the United States and
European countries that refused to recognize the election as honest or
He made his proposal after he spoke by telephone with Secretary of State
Colin L. Powell, who said he had urged Mr. Kuchma to find a peaceful
solution that would preserve a unified Ukraine. Mr. Powell's warning was
reiterated by political leaders in Europe. "I reaffirmed to President
Kuchma that it is the United States' position, and I think the position
of everyone, that the territorial integrity of Ukraine is important, and
that we once again reaffirmed that we hope that the Ukrainians would
find a legal way forward, as well as a political process based on the
constitutional law to resolve the problem they are now having with
respect to the last election," Mr. Powell said after a meeting with the
King of Bahrain.
Mr. Yushchenko's spokeswoman, Irina Gerashchenko, dismissed Mr. Kuchma's
proposal as a ploy. "They are not prepared to bear the responsibility
for the rigging and falsification of the election, and are looking for
loopholes to keep power," she said. Although Mr. Yushchenko has
repeatedly called for a rerun of the runoff vote, Ms. Gerashchenko ruled
out any possibility of a new election. "This will only prolong the agony
of the regime," she said.
Mr. Yanukovich, who spoke defiantly on Sunday, appeared to be losing
significant support. His campaign manager, Sergei Tihipko, resigned
Monday, taking much of his campaign staff with him. He also resigned as
chairman of the country's central bank, a position he held even though
he oversaw Mr. Yanukovich's campaign. Mr. Tihipko had been one of the
prime minister's most prominent spokesmen throughout the campaign.
He departed saying, "The best solution to resolve the situation would be
holding a rerun of the vote as quickly as possible." He appeared later
on Channel 5, the main opposition television channel, and said he would
not rule out the possibility of running for president himself, in the
event of a new election.
Mr. Yanukovich, who five days ago was declared president-elect only to
have the Supreme Court stay his inauguration, suggested that he, too,
would accept a new election, though he cited only a rerun in two most
fiercely disputed regions - his home region, Donetsk, and neighboring
Lugansk - and only "if there is evidence of falsification."
He also said that he had sent his family into hiding, perhaps abroad,
because of harassment from opposition protesters.
The controversy over the election consumed an extraordinary session of
the Supreme Court. With thousands of protesters assembled outside, the
court's 21 judges jousted with lawyers for both candidates over the
claims by Mr. Yushchenko's campaign that millions of votes were
fraudulently cast and counted. At turns, the chief judge, Anatoly Yarema,
chastised both sides for grandstanding.
In the morning, Justice Yarema accepted into evidence a cardboard box of
documents and video and audio cassettes that one of Mr. Yushchenko's
lawyers said proved instances of violations of election law. He also
accepted secret recordings that Mr. Yushchenko's campaign said included
conversations among Mr. Yanukovich's campaign managers indicating that
the results were being rigged.
The source of those recordings remains a mystery, though a senior
Western diplomat said in a recent interview that the tapes appeared to
After nearly eight hours of hearings, the court adjourned and scheduled
a new session for Tuesday morning.
Outside, Mr. Yushchenko's supporters listened on loudspeakers.
Konstantin Gorbach, a bricklayer from the town of Zhitomir, said he did
not need a court ruling to know that the election had not been fair. He
said he joined the protests after losing his job because he ignored his
boss's order to vote for Mr. Yanukovich.
How exactly did his boss know how he voted? "I told him myself," he
said. "Why should I conceal it?"
C. J. Chivers contributed reporting for this article.