Ukraine Mulls New Elections to End Political Crisis

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

Moscow ( - Ukraine was playing a waiting game Tuesday as various options were being explored to find a solution to a political crisis triggered by a disputed presidential election.

The country's Supreme Court continued its hearings on an opposition appeal against the official election result, which handed victory to Russian-backed Viktor Yanukovich, the prime minister in the government of outgoing President Leonid Kuchma.

The central elections commission said Yanukovich had won the Nov. 21 runoff election by just under three percent of the vote.

But supporters of the other candidate, the Western-leaning Viktor Yushchenko, have refused to accept that result, and tens of thousands have been on the streets of the capital, Kiev, for days.

Western nations, including the United States, have also refused to recognize the results, citing concerns about ballot rigging.

The Yushchenko camp has asked the court to annul the result and name Yushchenko as the winner because he narrowly beat his rival in the election's first round (which was also contested by 22 other candidates.)

Under Ukrainian law, the Supreme Court cannot rule on the overall result but is able to rule on the validity of results in individual precincts.

Kuchma has backed calls for a new election to avoid splitting a nation that is divided along geographical lines between the two politicians.

"If we really want to preserve peace and accord, if we really want to build a democratic state ... let's hold new elections," said the outgoing president, who had backed Yanukovich during the campaign. Kuchma affirmed that he had no intention of running himself if new elections were held.

Opposition leader Yushchenko told massed supporters in Kiev to continue their protests, predicting that "the next couple of days will bring a solution."

But Yanukovich also received a boost Tuesday when he survived a no-confidence motion in parliament. After the vote, some protesters tried to storm the chamber but were driven out by police.

Had the no-confidence motion succeeded, it would have provided a moral boost for Yushchenko, but would have had no legal effect.

Following the vote, the opposition announced that it had withdrawn from talks with the government.

For his part, Yanukovich said he would support a new election if allegations of fraud in the election were proven. He also said that if his victory was confirmed he would offer his rival the post of prime minister. Yushchenko has already declined the offer.

Yanukovich has another bargaining tool at his disposal - threats by his native Donetsk province to hold an autonomy referendum. Other eastern regions said they would follow suit if Yanukovich was denied the presidency, although two regional councils backed down on earlier threats to introduce self-rule.

Yushchenko and his allies urged Kuchma to sack the separatist governors, and Kuchma warned that "we cannot in any instance allow the disintegration or division of Ukraine."

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell called the president and urged him to keep his country intact.

"We believe the international community should unite in support of a peaceful, democratic process in Ukraine and of Ukraine's sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity," White House spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters in Washington.

Meanwhile, in a sign that Yanukovich's support-base may be splitting, his campaign chief Serhiy Tyhypko, has resigned.

Tyhypko, a former economics minister, also stepped down from his current position as chairman of Ukraine's Central Bank, in a move seen as preparation for declaring himself a candidate if new presidential elections are held.

As the political maneuverings continue, the crisis has started to take toll on the economy. Kuchma warned that Ukraine's financial system could "fall apart" within days under the impact of protests.

The Central Bank said that the crisis had fueled a run on banks. It pledged to meet increased demands for cash.

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