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2004 Presidential Election - Orange Revolution

Ukraine's 2004 presidential election was the most important event in Ukraine since independence was achieved in 1991. The November 21 runoff determined whether Ukraine fulfilled its quest for democracy and integration into the Euro-Atlantic community or maintains its corrupt status-quo drifting increasingly toward an authoritarian system along the Eurasian model. The result was what some dubbed the "Chestnut Revolution" -- named for the chestnut trees that line the boulevards of Kiev. Others called it the "Orange Revolution" -- named for the opposition's campaign color.

The campaign leading to the October 31, 2004 presidential election was characterized by widespread violations of democratic norms, including government intimidation of the opposition and of independent media, abuse of state administrative resources, highly skewed media coverage, and numerous provocations. The two major candidates--Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych and opposition leader (and former Prime Minister) Viktor Yushchenko--each garnered between 39 and 40 percent of the vote and proceeded to a winner-take-all second round. The November 21 runoff election was marred by credible reports of widespread and significant violations.

On November 27, Ukraine's Verkhovna Rada (Supreme Parliament) passed a resolution declaring that the election results as announced did not represent the will of the people. On December 1, the Rada passed a vote of "no confidence" in the government. An agreement mediated by the European leaders resulted in new legislation being passed by the Rada and signed by the President December 8. The Electoral law was reformed to close loopholes that had permitted pervasive electoral fraud. The Constitution was amended, effective not earlier than September 2005, to transfer power, especially with respect to appointment of Ministers, from the President to the Cabinet. Prime Minister Yanukovych requested and was granted a leave of absence.

A re-run election, ordered by the Ukrainian Supreme Court after the initial 21 November was conducted more transparently, with fewer reports of pressure on voters and with more balanced media coverage. The repeat second round of the presidential election in Ukraine on 26 December brought Ukraine substantially closer to meeting international standards, according to the International Election Observation Mission that deployed 1,370 observers from 44 countries for the election.

On 28 December 2004 the Central Election Commission announced that opposition candidate Viktor Yuschenko was the official winner in Ukraine's repeat presidential vote on 26 December. A reformist widely regarded as pro-Western by pundits at home and abroad, Yushchenko defeated Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych 51.99 percent to 44.19 percent. Ballots were reportedly cast against both candidates by 2.34 percent of voters. The December 26 re-vote took place in an atmosphere of calm. President Yushchenko was inaugurated 25 January 2005.


As the Kuchma era drew to a close the ruling elite was close to panic. The oligarchs feared they might not escape prosecution for corruption unless they ensured that a Kuchma loyalist was elected to succeed him in the presidential elections.

In April 2004, the Ukrainian Parliament failed to pass, by six votes, legislation proposed by President Kuchma to introduce, in essence, a parliamentary rather than a presidential system into Ukraine. The reforms would have transferred to the parliament and Cabinet many of the powers currently held by the president, including giving the parliament the right to appoint and dismiss the government. The reforms were widely viewed as an attempt by Mr Kuchma, who was not standing for another term, to enable pro-presidential factions to maintain power. The failure of the bill was seen as a significant victory for opposition parties.

The struggle between the old elite and its supporters and those who challenged the old order with a new vision for Ukraine played out in the candidacies of Prime Minister, Viktor Yanukovych, who was nominated as presidential candidate by the pro-presidential part, and the previous Prime Minister, Viktor Yushchenko, leader of a coalition of opposition political parties "Our Ukraine."

The 31 October 2004 presidential election pitted Western-leaning opposition leader Viktor Yuschenko against incumbent Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich, who advocates maintaining close links with Russia. Yuschenko, whose wife is US-born, is a reformist former prime minister who has pledged to move Ukraine closer to the European Union and may even seek entry into the NATO military alliance. In contrast, Yanukovich is popular in the largely Russian-speaking eastern part of the country, and has promised to make Russian an official second language in Ukraine. He received all but open backing from Russian President Vladimir Putin, who made two visits to Ukraine during the bitterly-fought election campaign. Yanukovich has predicted that he will be victorious, and says the authorities will take action against protesters who might break the law. He warned there will be no repeat of the "Rose revolution" in the former Soviet republic of Georgia a year earlier when President Eduard Shevardnadze was swept from power after crowds stormed parliament.

Most analysts agreed that Yuschenko was likely to win if the election is conducted fairly, in part because millions of Ukrainians were disillusioned with current President Leonid Kuchma, who strongly backed Yanukovich. Barred from seeking a third term, Mr. Kuchma's ten-year rule has been marred by allegations of human rights abuses and corruption.

Viktor Yushchenko became ill on 06 September 2004, and was hospitalized in Austria. The doctors there, a panel of nearly a dozen doctors, determined that he had been poisoned. Prosecutors in Ukraine said in a statement they were investigating charges of attempted murder. Attempted murder of a presidential candidate in a nation whose independence is only a little over 10 years old. In an address to deputies in the parliament in that country this week, candidate Viktor Yushchenko appeared haggard, his face was red and swollen; it was partially paralyzed with one of his eyes constantly tearing up. And I wish to read this evening some of what he told his fellow deputies in that parliament in a emotional speech.

The campaign leading to the 31 October 2004 presidential election was characterized by widespread violations of democratic norms, including government intimidation of the opposition and of independent media, misuse of administrative resources, and numerous provocations. Of particular concern on Election Day were confirmed reports that opposition representatives were excluded from Precinct Electoral Commissions in a number of regions (oblasts). The two major candidates -- Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych and opposition leader (and former Prime Minister) Viktor Yushchenko -- each garnered approximately 40% of the vote and faced off against each other in a 21 November second round.

The election results demonstrated deep divisions between the western and eastern regions of Ukraine. Ukrainian election officials purported to show Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych ahead of democratic candidate Viktor Yushchenko by more than two percentage points - figures at odds with exit poll numbers, and further compromised by widespread election day fraud and manipulation of the vote count and tabulation.

Ukraine's opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko said he won the presidency in the run-off election and called for the international community to recognize him. Yushchenko says he won a "convincing" victory in the runoff presidential election, and appealed to nations around the world to recognize him as Ukraine's new president. In a statment issued by his office, the longtime opposition leader said such recognition would "bolster the will of the Ukrainian people" by supporting "their aspiration to return to democracy." Yushchenko has accused the authorities in Ukraine of rigging the official results in the election in favor of Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich, the leader of a major business clan who is openly backed by neighboring Russia. The electoral commission said Mr. Yanukovich held a three-percent lead over Mr. Yushchenko with almost all ballots counted. But the commission did not immediately proclaim Mr. Yanukovich the victor in the hotly-contested election.

Kuchma suggested new balloting with new candidates. The European Union, the United States, and other Western powers wanted a rerun of the second round, as did Yushchenko. With no political resolution likely, the decision could ultimately come down to the will of the Ukrainian public. Such a scenario would presumably work in Yushchenko's favor. Hundreds of thousands of opposition protesters gathered in the capital for daily demonstrations since the runoff. The flawed vote sparked 17 days of demonstrations that have since become known as the "Orange Revolution" -- for the orange color the Yushchenko campaign adopted.

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