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Election Crisis Week 1 - 21-27 November 2004

About 200,000 orange-clad opposition supporters rallied in the center of Ukraine's capital, Kiev. Police made no move to disperse the protesters. Yushchenko also led many of the protesters in a march to Ukraine's parliament building, where the legislature was holding an emergency session to consider his request to annul the election. Fewer than 200 deputies in the 450-seat chamber attended the session, so there was no quorum to issue a decision.

Undeterred, Mr. Yushchenko took a symbolic oath of office and then addressed the crowd outside through a window, again proclaiming that he had won the election. Yushchenko's supporters are readily recognized by the vivid orange campaign colors they wear and the determination they show in the snow-covered streets of Kyiv.

Even demonstrations intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational and possibly escalate into violence. The large number of police forces assembling around the rallies in Kyiv and the expectation of counterdemonstrations made the potential for disorder even greater. Within central Kyiv large, peaceful political rallies (estimated at 100,000 to 200,000 people) continued to take place around Independence Square [formerly Square of the October Revolution], Khreschatyk Street, the Presidential Administration (Bankova Street), the Verkhovna Rada, and near the Central Elections Commission on Lesi Ukrainki [Lesya Ukrainka] Square.

Many streets in the center of Kyiv are closed. Other streets may close or become blocked. Traffic may also be restricted by pedestrians, demonstrators or political rallies. Kyiv city administration has requested that traffic police close all streets in the center part of Kyiv. There were news reports of similar, large demonstrations in many other cities in Ukraine.

Observers mentioned an extensive list of serious procedural violations, including:

  • Illegal expulsions of opposition members of election commissions;
  • Inaccurate voter lists;
  • Evidence of students, government employees and private sector workers being forced by their deans and supervisors to vote for one candidate over another;
  • Busloads of people voting more than once with absentee ballots;
  • Representatives of the media being beaten and their equipment stolen or destroyed; and
  • Suspiciously large use of mobile voting.

Though the European Union pressed for Ukraine to delay publicly announcing the election results until a review could be completed, Ukraine's Central Election Commission nevertheless announced on 24 November 2004, that Yanukovych had won the election by garnering 49.46% of the votes versus 46.61% for his opponent, Yushchenko.

City council officials in three cities in western Ukraine recognized Yushchenko as president. He says he will bring Ukraine closer to the EU and NATO. Much of eastern Ukraine, where there are many Russian speakers, backs Yanukovych and his policy of bringing Ukraine closer to Moscow. The government of the economically vital region of Donetsk, in the east, threatened to seek autonomy.

There were signs that Ukrainian law enforcement and military officials were unwilling to use force against the demonstrators. Yushchenko called on the leaders of the armed forces and security forces to defy all orders to take action against the Ukrainian people, appealing to them to take care of the country's citizens. "You're obliged in any case not to allow foreign armed forces onto Ukrainian territory," Yushchenko said.

Yushchenko called for a national strike that would halt transport and shut factories in protest. Yushchenko's backers urged restraint both by their own demonstrators and by government police.

The head of Ukraine's army, Alexander Kuzmuk, said no one has given any order to use force against the protesters and he said none of his forces would obey such an order if they did. General Skipalksy, of the SBU, Ukraine's successor to the KGB, appeared on the stage with Mr. Yushchenko on 25 November 2004. Olexandr Skibinetsky, a general in Ukraine's normally loyal state security service, told demonstrators that he shared their "well-founded doubts" about the election. Lieut. General Mikhail Kutsin, the military commander for western Ukraine, said his men would not "act against their own people."

Kuchma can count on a hardcore of loyalists in the SBU, the armed forces and the interior ministry, but the majority of officers in the SBU the leadership will reject the use of force. The security forces, from Mr Yushchenko's stronghold of Lviv in the west to Mr Yanukovich's heartland of Donetsk in the east remain neutral to avoid a civil conflict. Mr Kuchma's own godson, Andrey Derkach, whose father headed the SBU secret police force until 2001, switched sides during the presidential campaign. An Interior Ministry academy, with students preparing to be federal law enforcement officers, broke ranks, with formations of hundreds of students in uniform appearing at the main opposition rally in Independence Square.

On 24 November 2004 the Viktor Yanukovych staff suggested a "reconciliation plan" to the Viktor Yuschenko staff and personality Viktor Yuschenko. As Serhi Tihipko, chief of the Yanukovych electoral staff, disclosed, the plan comprises five main points. These are

  1. the speediest possible implementation of the constitutional reform, aimed at reducing the President's authority and competence,
  2. adoption of the Law on the opposition,
  3. making amendments to media-related legislation,
  4. making a decision of Ukraine's foreign political course, and
  5. passing a bill on the parties' actions on November 21-23.

On 25 November 2004 Yushchenko supporters surrounded the Cabinet and the president's administration buildings, refusing to let anyone enter or leave.

On 26 November 2004 Ukraine's Supreme Court announced that it would cease to officially publish the election results, until the opposition's claims of widespread vote fraud could be examined. The Supreme Court delayed Yanukovych's planned inauguration by barring the Central Election Commission (TsVK) from publishing the official results until complaints of fraud are reviewed. The court's ruling boosted the morale of the hundreds of thousands of opposition sympathizers who have peacefully protested in Kyiv and other cities for the past five days.

Ukraine's outgoing president, Leonid Kuchma, said a working group had been formed to find a peaceful way out of the political deadlock now gripping Ukraine. Talks included international mediators from Europe, President Kuchma and the opposing presidential candidates. Kuchma said the parties to the group would work to see that Ukraine's Supreme Court investigates the political opposition's claims of massive electoral fraud in the recent presidential elections in what he called, "an open and transparent manner."

On 26 November 2004 Kharkiv governor Yevhen Kushnyarov declared that his oblast would rule itself and control the military on its territory before it would take orders from what it called "extreme right-wing factions" allied with Yushchenko. This is not the first time Ukraine's eastern regions have raised political demands. In 1993, coal miners went on strike throughout the Donetsk region, demanding autonomy and early national elections. Yielding to those pressures, then Ukrainian President Leonid Kravchuk appointed Yefim Zvyagilskiy -- a Donetsk mine director -- as acting prime minister to replace Kuchma, who had just resigned.

On 26 November 2004 a meeting of over 3,000 people in Odessa, a Yanukovich stronghold, threatened to declare independence if Yushchenko were to become president. The gathering called for an assembly of representatives of southern Ukrainian regions to discuss creating a "new Russian territory" that would be independent of both Moscow and Kiev.

By 27 November 2004 more than 470 foreign ministry officials had publicly pledged their support for Yushchenko, recognizing him as the next president. More law enforcement officials also pledged support or allegiance to Yushchenko.

On 27 November 2004 opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko demanded a new election to settle the crisis over the disputed presidential runoff vote. Yushchenko told supporters in Kyiv's Independence Square late that he believed a new election should be held on 12 December 2004. That same day the parliament passed a resolution declaring the disputed vote invalid. The parliament gave the Central Election Commission a vote of no-confidence. The measure, which passed easily, said the announced result was "at odds with the will of the people." Parliament lacks the legal authority to annul the results or to declare a new election.

On 27 November 2004 a rally in Donetsk adopted a resolution to hold a referendum on the autonomy of the Donetsk region (Donbass). Unofficial results indicated that Viktor F Yanukovych eceived 3,570,710 votes in Donetsk Oblast, 97.9% of the total cast in the runoff. "As a as result of the neglect of the election outcome and the Central Election Commission's decision and illegal actions by the Yushchenko-led opposition, our state is on the brink of a civil war," the resolution read. The participants in the rally called on the Donetsk regional council to make an immediate decision and hold a referendum on the Donbass autonomy if the "coup" in Ukraine becomes real. According to organizers, about 200,000 people took part in the rally. The Donetsk deputies pledged to form an "East-South" autonomous republic, along with the Crimea region, which already enjoys more powers than Ukraine's 26 other regions.

On 27 November 2004 about 30,000 people, mostly Yushchenko supporters, demonstrated in the eastern city of Kharkiv in favor of Ukrainian unity and against creating an autonomous area in southern and eastern Ukraine.



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