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Ukrainian Parliament Declares Vote Invalid

Decisive Move Boosts Pressure to Hold New Presidential Election

By Peter Finn
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, November 28, 2004; Page A18

KIEV, Ukraine, Nov. 27 -- The Ukrainian parliament declared the country's contested presidential vote invalid Saturday, ratcheting up the political and legal pressure for new elections that were increasingly seen as acceptable to supporters of the declared winner, Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych.

The European Union also called for fresh elections. And in a significant hint that a compromise was emerging, a spokesman for the Russian Foreign Ministry, which has been at odds with the United States and Western European nations over the election, said Moscow might look favorably on a new vote.

Supporters of the opposition candidate, Viktor Yushchenko, rally in Independence Square in Kiev, Ukraine's capital, for a sixth day to protest alleged fraud in last Sunday's presidential elections. (Sergei Karpukhin -- Reuters)

_____Election Protests_____
Photo Gallery: Thousands of Ukrainians take to the streets to protest the country's election results.
Video: Rally Held at Embassy in D.C.

"We think the best, the ideal outcome would be elections," the Dutch foreign minister, Bernard Bot, told reporters in The Hague, speaking on behalf of the E.U. "If we are heading for elections, it should happen rather soon, before the end of the year."

In a resolution supported by 307 of 450 members, the parliament, or Supreme Rada, declared that the vote failed to "fully reflect the will of the people" and accused the government of a "massive violation of law." The parliament also expressed no confidence in the Central Elections Commission, which declared Yanukovych the winner over Viktor Yushchenko, the opposition candidate. Yushchenko has been calling for new elections.

The commission appeared to ignore laws that require it to wait seven days before certifying the election if there are complaints to be considered. The matter is now before the Supreme Court, which has blocked Yanukovych's inauguration.

"What we have today is a revolutionary situation," said Volodymyr Lytvyn, the speaker of parliament who previously had been considered a possible pro-government candidate to oppose Yushchenko. "In the current situation, the most realistic decision is to recognize the election as one that didn't take place because of the impossibility to define the winner."

Just a few days ago, Yushchenko could not muster enough parliamentary votes to challenge the election. But in another significant shift, members of the Communist Party, the key swing voting bloc in parliament, also supported the measure Saturday.

"Today's voting . . . indicates that there isn't a single legitimate body of power left in the country that would recognize that the election reflected the will of the people," said Pyotr Poroshenko, Yushchenko's deputy campaign manager. "The events in Independence Square have had an impact on the parliament."

For six days, tens of thousands of Yushchenko's supporters have massed in the capital to protest what they contend is electoral theft. The demonstrators shifted their location from Independence Square to the parliament building on Saturday as the debate unfolded.

The parliamentary motion is nonbinding but could have some legal standing after the Supreme Court decides whether the elections commission acted properly when it declared a winner, said Anton Buteiko, a lawyer and deputy chairman of the Ukrainian People's Party, the largest bloc in Yushchenko's coalition. The court decision is expected Monday.

Buteiko said Ukraine is heading into uncharted legal waters. If the Supreme Court rules against Yushchenko, the country could find itself in a constitutional stalemate, with the court and parliament at odds. But a court decision that the actions of the elections commission were illegal would clear the way for a new vote, Buteiko said.

With some of their supporters leaving the capital to return home to eastern Ukraine, members of Yanukovych's camp appear increasingly reconciled to new elections under new rules.

"The Yanukovych campaign is willing to consider new elections because we recognize our responsibility to improve the situation in Ukraine, but only if all decisions leading to new elections are legitimate and lawful," said Valery Konovalyuk, a member of parliament who is part of Yanukovych's campaign team. "We agree with the idea of holding new elections only if the Supreme Court will make the appropriate decision requiring them on Monday."

Other Yanukovych supporters tied the possibility of new elections to political reform that would shift some presidential powers to parliament, where they remain a potent force.

"If we approve political reform, we can vote for other resolutions," said Yuliy Yoffe, a member of parliament and Yanukovych supporter.

Yanukovych called and then canceled a news conference Saturday. He is expected to make an appearance Sunday morning in eastern Ukraine, his stronghold, his campaign office said.

Yushchenko has called for new elections on Dec. 12, a date that some observers believe is not practical given the need to change not only the Central Elections Commission, but also regional and local commissions where most of the alleged fraud took place. Parliament would also have to consider electoral reforms to prevent the kind of abuse of absentee ballots and mobile voting that election monitors said accounted for many of the violations around the country.

Mobile voting -- polling booths that move from place to place -- allows hospital patients and others who are unable to get to the polls to cast their ballots. Critics say that such mobility allows for ballot-stuffing.

Buteiko said a majority in parliament, including the Communists, are close to reaching an agreement on a new elections commission, with five members chosen by Yushchenko, five by Yanukovych and five by the speaker of the parliament.

Buteiko said the speaker would give the president the names of the people selected for the commission so that the president could formally nominate them, although he would have had no real role in choosing them. Members of parliament said they want a new commission in place by Dec. 1.

© 2004 The Washington Post Company