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Election Crisis Week 2 - 28 November - 4 December 2004

On November 28 Severodonetsk (Lugansk region) hosted an extraordinary congress of the Party of Regions. "We invited everyone and the majority will come. I mean these 15 million who said that Viktor Yanukovich is our President. Therefore not one region but Southeastern Ukraine on the whole will vote for the federation," head of the Donetsk region Anatoly Bliznyuk said. About 3,500 members from councils from 17 of Ukraine's 27 regions, including 30 from the Supreme Council, attended the meeting.

Flanked by Moscow mayor Yury Luzhkov, Yanukovich called on the meeting to pass an emergency resolution to safeguard the nation's stability and unity. Opposition leader Yushchenko called on the meeting not to adopt any resolution that might endangers Ukraine's territorial integrity. Poland's President Aleksander Kwasniewski, who had travelled to Ukraine to mediate between the opposition, said that there was a realistic threat of an internal split in Ukraine. The meeting passed a resolution warning that if an "illegal president" [ie, Yushchenko] takes up the presidency, they will hold a referendum on changing the division of administrative regions of Ukraine and setting up a trans-province autonomous alliance.

The delegates voted unanimously to hold a referendum in December 2004 to determine the status of the region. The meeting decided to create an interregional committee for local self-governance. The decision was supported by members of the local councils who came from Dnipropetrovsk, Donetsk, Zhitomir, Zakarpattya, Kyiv, Luhansk, Nikolaev, Odessa, Poltava and Kharkiv oblasts, plus Crimea. They also decided to form an executive committee for the union in Kharkiv to coordinate self-government efforts.

Yushchenko, speaking to his supporters in Kiev, denounced such talk as a threat to Ukraine. Yushchenko said Ukraine's Constitution clearly states that people leading any such discussions should be brought to justice, as they seek to destroy Ukraine's sovereignty. He also said Ukraine needs to seek good relations with both Europe and Russia, because, he said, it is not possible for one or the other to make the final determination of what happens in Ukraine.

On 28 November 2004 outgoing President Leonid Kuchma called on the political opposition to end its four-day blockade of government buildings. But opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko urged his supporters to stay in the streets. On 28 November 2004 Ukraine's National Security and Defense Commission, consisting of President Kuchma, Prime Minister Yanukovych, The Rada Chairman, the Defense Minister, and the Interior Minister, put forward a four-part proposal to resolve the election standoff.

  1. Parties involved to quicken the pace of political dialogue;
  2. Blocking of buildings of the presidential office, congress and governmental departments is not allowed;
  3. All illegal decisions adopted by local governments and congresses will be abolished, and any decision adopted by these organs shall conform to the national Constitution and laws;
  4. It is prohibited to resort to force against participants in the protests, so as to avoid the escalation of the situation.

The country's SBU security service issued a statement vowing to "fulfill its responsibilities to protect the constitutional order and territorial integrity of Ukraine."

The opposition camp said it would ask for international mediators to intervene if their call for a new election was not accepted by 30 November 2004. Yushchenko insists that balloting would have to be overseen by "honest officials" to prevent fraud.

On 29 November 2004 Ukraine's Supreme Court began hearing the opposition's claim that the election was fraudulent. Yanukovich cannot be inaugurated pending the hearing of an appeal to the Supreme Court. Under to Ukrainian election legislation, the Supreme Court is unable to rule on the overall results, but can declare the results invalid in individual precincts. The court does not have the authority to invalidate the overall election results, or to order a new election. With regard to the invalidation of the election results, the only means the opposition has at its disposal to obtain justice is to appeal against returns filed by each individual polling station. Legally, it is impossible to invalidate the overall outcome of the vote and it is equally impossible to invalidate the results in such or such election constituency. It has to be done on a station-to-station basis."

A crowd of opposition supporters and pro-government demonstrators backing Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, who Ukraine's Election Commission named as winner, blocked the way to Kiev's Supreme Court. A full road-block was put in place and the demonstrators peacefully agreed to move several-hundred meters away from the building, as they await the court's expected results.

Regional courts are also considering some 11,000 complaints from both sides about alleged voting fraud. One of the technical problems facing the opposition, would be to provide regional courts documentary evidence of fraud. This might be difficult. In Ukraine's predominantly Russian-speaking eastern regions, where Yanukovych garnered the most votes, opposition election observers were barred from polling stations or dismissed from local election commissions before the vote took place.

On 29 November 2004 the Committee of National Salvation of Ukraine, headed by Viktor Yushchenko, issued an ultimatum to Leonid Kuchma. Within 24 hours, the Committee demanded that Kuchma fulfill the following terms:

  1. Discharge Yanukovych from his position of Prime Minister, because of his instigation and support of the falsification of the election and in the separatist actions;
  2. On the demands of of the decision of the Verkhovna Rada (Ukrainian Parliament) of November 27, immediately to begin an investigation into new candidates for membership of the Central Election Committee;
  3. Discharge from their positions the directors of the Donetsk, Luhansk and Kharkiv regional administrations -- the initiators of the break-up of Ukraine;
  4. Give a deadline to the Attorney General and the Security Services of Ukraine to open a criminal investigation against the separatists/secessionists of Ukraine.

In the case of noncompliance with the ultimata, "we will judge Kuchma's inaction as a crime against the people, with results indicated in the Criminal Code of Ukraine," continues the ultimatum. "If the demands are not met, we will begin blocking with people the movements of Kuchma himself on the territory of Ukraine. We know where he is and how he is moving about. And we are able to ensure that he will not make a single step without complying with our demands," stated Yulia Tymoshenko, who read the ultimatum at the meeting.

On 29 November 2004, Kuchma said he would support a repeat vote as a compromise to pull Ukraine out of the crisis. Kuchma condemned the calls for autonomy from Ukraine's eastern regions, while stressing that Ukraine's threatened split was initiated in the western part of the country, where local councilors pledged allegiance to "people's president" Yushchenko.

On 29 November 2004, in the first significant crack in the Yanukovich camp, the prime minister's campaign chief, Sergiy Tigipko, resigned, saying he agreed with the opposition that the best solution to end the political crisis would be to hold a re-run of the disputed election. Tigipko, who also stepped down as head of Ukraine's central bank, said he was ashamed by the talk of separatism now being raised in Ukraine's east. This is madness, he said, and must be stopped immediately.

On November 30, 2004, the National Bank of Ukraine introduced limits to certain cash operations until the end of calendar year 2004. These include: a 1500 hryvnya (approximately $280) limit on cash withdrawals from ATM machines per day; a $1000 limit of a one time sale of dollars to a private person from a currency exchange booth. Besides these limits, most banks are allowing ATM withdrawals only for their own customers and several banks have imposed more stringent limits on withdrawal amounts.

On 30 November 2004 the Security Service of Ukraine - Sluzhba Bespeky Ukrayiny (SBU) - Ukraine's main security agency, started a criminal investigation into threats to the country's territorial integrity in eastern Ukraine. Donetsk Governor Anatoliy Bliznyuk said his region's referendum on self-rule wouldn't take place as planned, stressing they were seeking "not autonomy, but to become a republic within Ukraine." The Kharkiv regional legislature had already retracted its threat to introduce self-rule.

On 30 November 2004 Yushchenko's side said it was breaking off compromise talks with Yanukovych, accusing him of trying to drag them out to consolidate his grip on power. Yushchenko's side rejecte an offer of the prime minister's job from Yanukovych, the declared winner of the disputed presidential election. Yanukovych, proposed that he and opposition presidential candidate Viktor Yushchenko both drop out if fraud is proven and a new election is held. "I propose that neither Viktor Andriyevych Yushchenko, nor I run for president if it is proven legally that the elections have been falsified," Yanukovych said.

On 30 November 2004 throngs of opposition protesters stormed the Rada, after lawmakers tentatively approved a resolution that would overturn the earlier nonbinding decision declaring the election results invalid. Protesters crawled on each other's shoulders, getting as far as the Rada lobby before police pushed them back. Supporters of Yushchenko broke through a fence surrounding the parliament building during the debate before being pushed back.

On 01 December 2004 Ukraine's parliament passed a vote of no-confidence in the government of Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich. Commenting on the parliament's resolution, President Kuchma said he would act in accordance with the constitution. Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich said he would not accept his dismissal by parliament. Yanukovych rejected the resolution completely calling it politically motivated and illegal. The move came as foreign mediators returned to Ukraine for a fresh round of talks with the two rivals in the ongoing election dispute. The legislature narrowly passed the measure, which effectively dismisses the government of Mr. Yanukovich. The vote of no-confidence was put forward by the opposition after the parliament failed to pass a similar measure the previous day. The enforceability of the parliamentary vote is unclear, since under the Ukrainian Constitution the power to dismiss the government also lies with the president. Moreover, the legislature may not dismiss the prime minister within one year of its approval of a government program, a step that the Verkhovna Rada took in March 2004. The parliament in a separate vote annulled its March resolution on approving the government's program, but that move would likely face legal challenges if invoked to unseat Yanukovych.

On 01 December 2004 the regional assembly in Yanukovych's home region of Donetsk voted to hold a referendum on 9 January to seek autonomy from the central government, heightening fears that the crisis could ignite historical east-west divisions in the country. But other reports suggested that regions in southeastern Ukraine that strongly support Mr. Yanukovich appeared to be backing away from their threat to break away from the rest of the country. On December 1, 2004, Dnipropetrivsk City Council, has condemned separatism in all forms, adding that the Council was against falsification of elections and using government resources to aid the falsification.

On 01 December 2004 Viktor Yushchenko agreed to lift the blockade of government buildings. The formal agreement, also signed by Yanukovych, Kuchma and European envoys, called for talks on changes in the Ukrainian law to resolve the crisis.

On 01 December 2004 the two rivals, Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych and opposition presidential candidate Viktor Yushchenko, agreed to seek to reduce the power of the president and boost the powers of parliament in a bid to end the 11-day-old crisis. The next oday, parliament began drafting changes to legislation necessary to implement these changes.

On 02 December 2004 it was unclear whether protesters were complying with Yushchenko's request that they allow employees access to government and other key buildings, a concession that emerged from yesterday's negotiations. One of Our Ukraine's leaders, Petro Poroshenko, said that Yushchenko's supporters would end their blockade of the Cabinet of Ministers only if Yanukovych's dismissed government vacated the premises. "We will end the blockade when the former Prime Minister vacates the building. There is no government; it has been dismissed, and this decision does not require any further action by the President or the Prime Minister. If the fallen government continues to disregard its dismissal, it is proof of its own ignorance of the law. We will ensure that the law is enacted," Poroshenko explained.

On 02 December 2004, Yushchenko told supporters gathered in Kyiv's Independence Square that Kuchma and Yanukovych might be willing to resort to police action in order to hold on to the presidency. "We know that whatever the extent of falsification of the 21 November election, they would have never won this election. So the use of force was and remains one of the key scenarios in Kuchma and Yanukovych's behavior," Yushchenko said.

On 02 December 2004, Borys Tarasyuk, an opposition politician who heads the European Affairs Committee of the Ukrainian parliament, attended a session of the European Parliament in Brussels. Speaking to the European Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee, Tarasyuk said a rerun is possible under a number of conditions. He said the Central Electoral Commission must be replaced, and the current government must resign. Also, Tarasyuk said Kuchma must outlaw absentee ballots, which he said had contributed to up to 800,000 fraudulent votes for Yanukovych. He also said the EU and other international groups, such as the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, must ensure a large-scale observer presence at any new poll.

On December 3, 2004, Ukraine's Supreme Court ruled the November 21, 2004, presidential runoff election illegal and as a result canceled that elections' results. The ruling followed five days of deliberation by the Court whose Chairman, Anatoliy Yarema, declared during the announcement that another vote would be needed, three weeks from December 5, on December 26.

The landmark ruling led to some bitter feelings in the east, where more than one-thousand pro-government supporters met in Kharkiv to discuss whether to hold a referendum on declaring autonomy from central control, now that Mr. Yanukovich's declared win has been annulled. In the autonomous republic of Crimea,in the south, fist fights broke out among pro-government and opposition forces. But no major unrest was reported.

On 04 December 2004 Ukraine's Central Election Commission met and voted to accept the Supreme Court's ruling for a third round run-off election on December 26th between Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich and opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko.

On 04 December 2004 opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko lost a round in parliament, when pro-government lawmakers blocked legal changes intended to prevent fraud in the new election. The parliament adjourned for 10 days without passing the legislation. The compromise agreement sponsored by EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski and other mediators, had called for parliament to vote for the electoral and constitutional changes all at once. Communists, socialists and pro-government factions had pledged to back electoral reforms, in exchange for opposition supporting for a constitutional reform bill that would transfer some of the president's powers to parliament.

The pro-Yushchenko members of parliament refused to pair the vote on curbing presidential powers with the electoral reform bill. Yushchenko walked away from the deal to reduce the president's powers, and told his supporters to keep up pressure on the streets. Yushchenko also rejected further dialogue with outgoing President Kuchma as meaningless. Yulia Tymoshenko, suggested the Yushchenko camp was now strong enough to win the new vote without any fresh legislation by parliament.

Kuchma in turn accused the opposition of breaking its promises. "The opposition isn't fulfilling practically any of the agreements reached at a round table that involved European politicians," Kuchma said.



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