Ukraine Shifts Focus to Polling Booth ; Parliament Failed Tuesday to Agree on Constitutional Changes and Election Reforms

By Fred Weir Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, December 8, 2004 | Go to article overview

Ukraine Shifts Focus to Polling Booth ; Parliament Failed Tuesday to Agree on Constitutional Changes and Election Reforms


Fred Weir Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


A compromise slowly taking shape may soon redirect the "orange revolution" from the streets to the polling booths, but many here say the past 16 days of peaceful upheaval and sharp public debate have stretched Ukraine's political institutions and changed the country forever.

"I'm very tired and prepared to go home as soon as it's clear we'll get new elections," says Andrei Pashkeyevich, a local disc jockey who's lived in a tent on Kiev's main street, Kreshatik, along with thousands of others, mainly students, from around the country. Their numbers have been dwindling since Ukraine's Supreme Court invalidated the fraud-plagued Nov. 21 presidential election last week and they have relaxed a crippling blockade of government buildings, but they remain the dominant force in central Kiev.

Mr. Pashkeyevich says the experience of public protest has been an education, and if he sees vote-rigging or power abuse in future, he'll be back in the streets in an instant. "We've all learned something through this, and it must never be lost," he says.

Outgoing President Leonid Kuchma still controls the state machine while his anointed heir, Viktor Yanukovich, insists he will run again "and win" in fresh voting slated for Dec. 26, but the liberal challenger Viktor Yushchenko increasingly appears to be the one setting the agenda.

Contentious issues remain, but most experts say the new election will certainly take place and, with a vastly beefed-up foreign observer presence and alert public mood, they are likely to be relatively clean. "I am sure there will be an election, and that Yushchenko will win," says Volodymyr Zmyr, deputy editor of Philosophical and Sociological Thought, an academic journal. "Our society has moved, people have changed so much, it's all different now," he says.

Mr. Kuchma agreed Monday to dismiss the old corruption-tainted Central Election Commission, and called on parliament to pass measures that will ensure a fair and transparent vote. But Tuesday, amid opposition claims that the president was exploiting the crisis to find some means of hanging onto power after his term expires, Kuchma announced the deal had collapsed - the third such compromise to break down in less than a week.

The orange wave in Kiev appears to have forced a rethink in the Kremlin, which openly backed Mr. Yanukovich in last month's now- discredited election. Speaking to journalists during a visit to Turkey, President Vladimir Putin said he "is ready to work with any elected leader" a signal that Moscow may be resigned to a Yushchenko- run Ukraine. And he insisted that Russia's actions "are absolutely tactful throughout the former Soviet space, we are doing nothing clandestine."

Yushchenko wants Yanukovich, officially on vacation, to resign from his job as prime minister and for Ukraine's reluctant Rada, or parliament, to pass laws aimed at making the next round of the elections more transparent and tamper-resistant.

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Ukraine Shifts Focus to Polling Booth ; Parliament Failed Tuesday to Agree on Constitutional Changes and Election Reforms
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