Ukraine Heads Towards Presidential Election Re-Run

By Sergei Blagov | July 7, 2008 | 8:15 PM EDT

Moscow ( - Ukraine appears to be moving towards resolving its political crisis, after the Supreme Court backed opposition claims and ordered a re-run of the country's bitterly disputed presidential election.

The election will be held on December 26, according to last week's court ruling, which said the results of last month's run-off election were fraudulent.

Pro-Western opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko, who had rejected the earlier results which saw him narrowly lose, hailed the decision as a victory for Ukraine's democracy and said it was essential that observers monitor the re-run.

Yushchenko Sunday called on foreign leaders not to back any candidate in the rerun, saying the poll was an internal issue for Ukrainians. The comment was thought to be aimed especially at Russian President Vladimir Putin, who earlier backed Yushchenko's rival, Viktor Yanukovich.

Washington welcomed the Supreme Court ruling, and State Department spokesman Richard Boucher called for "a new vote that is fair, free and that results in an outcome that reflects the will of the Ukrainian people."

Despite a court decision seen as benefiting Yushchenko, the candidate said his family has gone into hiding for fear of their safety.

"I believe the worst is behind us, but still it is not safe for my family. It will not be safe before we have completed the political transformation of this country," he was quoted as telling a Sunday newspaper. Yushchenko's wife is a U.S. national.

Yanukovich, the prime minister who was declared a winner in the November 21 vote, called the court ruling an unconstitutional measure that was "taken under pressure from the street," but said he would contest the re-run.

Tens of thousands of Yushchenko supporters had taken to the streets of the capital, Kiev, during the drawn-out crisis.

Yanukovich made it clear through his spokeswoman that his bid to be president was far from over.

"He is convinced he will win the second time as he won the first time, since 15 million Ukrainians stand behind him," said Anna German, referring to eastern districts where he enjoys his greatest support.

Meanwhile, a fresh problem surfaced on Saturday after Ukraine's parliament failed to adopt a set of reforms.

The opposition has refused to vote for constitutional changes that would dilute the powers of the presidency by handing some to the prime minister. Outgoing President Leonid Kuchma has been trying to push through the reforms for the past year.

The dispute has also blocked important changes to electoral law, which the opposition said were needed to prevent fraud in the December 26 re-run.

An emergency parliamentary session debating the changes was adjourned for 10 days after factions failed to reach agreement.

At a meeting with Kuchma at an airport outside Moscow, Putin attacked the opposition's calls for a re-run and cautioning the West against getting too involved in Ukraine's affairs.

During the campaign ahead of the November vote, Putin twice visited Ukraine in support of Yanukovich.

Some analysts view the Ukraine situation as one in which the future of democracy in the former Soviet states is at stake.

"The issue in Ukraine is not a Russia-versus-the-West issue. It is the issue of democracy both in Russia and in Ukraine," said former U.S. national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski.

Speaking at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Brzezinski said a peaceful resolution of the crisis would give "an enormous boost" to pro-democracy forces in Russia itself.

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