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Ukraine Supreme Court Allows New Run

December 3, 2004 at 12:00 AM EDT


JULIAN MANYON: It’s the same chant but this time in triumph. Independence Square was packed as Viktor Yushchenko gave the speech his supporters had been waiting for. Ukraine, he said, is now a democratic society after today’s Supreme Court judgment.

People power triumphed in the snow. It was 12 days ago that the opposition launched this extraordinary protest, which has been far bigger and lasted far longer than anyone, including the government, had imagined.

In the tent city which has taken over Kiev’s equivalent of Oxford Street, Katarina was one of the first of many young people to join what they call their revolution. This morning, the 19-year-old student was preparing food for the demonstrators.

JULIAN MANYON: Why is it so important for you that you spend ten days of your life…

KATARINA: Because I will have children, in future, children, and I want that they have a nice future.

JULIAN MANYON: While Supreme Court judges debated behind closed doors, the young people of Tent City fought their tiredness and waited. Finally, the judges emerged to declare that last month’s election was marred by fraud. They ordered the second round to be rerun on Dec. 26. In Tent City, celebrations broke out and spread through the square.

GIRL ON STREET: They’re feeling that power in our hands, not in hands of mafia or bad people. It’s in our hands.

JULIAN MANYON: Tonight they played the national anthem as Ukraine prepares for yet another round in this bitterly fought election. Then Viktor Yushchenko may well get his chance to try to heal a deeply divided nation.

JIM LEHRER: And earlier this evening, Ray Suarez spoke to frank brown in Kiev. He’s a special correspondent for Newsweek Magazine.

RAY SUAREZ: Frank Brown in Kiev, welcome to the program. Did the Supreme Court give much reason about why it declared this election invalid? What did it have to say this afternoon?

FRANK BROWN: They… in the course of the evidence that they took, it became quite clear that there was ample evidence of fraud, especially in the eastern parts of Ukraine. And they got fairly detailed explanations, including documents, showing just what sorts of methods were used to increase the vote.

For example, one election official said that after the polls closed, the computers showed a mysterious spike of one million votes, you know, that the vote tally mysteriously after 8:00 P.M. increased by one million.

So it was quite obvious that there was a lot of sort of fraud going on, a lot of inexplicable behavior that the central election commission didn’t do anything about, didn’t take into consideration in ruling Viktor Yanukovych the victor.

RAY SUAREZ: So short of having their man proclaimed the victor by the Supreme Court, was this ruling pretty much what the opposition wanted?

FRANK BROWN: Yeah, it’s exactly what the opposition was looking for. They couldn’t have expected a better decision from today. The Supreme Court ruling says that the election of Nov. 21 was invalid and they’ll have to run that election again with the two candidates on Dec. 26.

So conceivably Viktor Yanukovych could win that election. But that looks quite unlikely if you look at the polls and you look at the sort of way the government and he himself have been massively discredited by their behavior over the last two weeks.

RAY SUAREZ: Yanukovych has said he doesn’t want to participate in a runoff. Where does this leave him?

FRANK BROWN: In principle, if Yanukovych doesn’t participate and if Yushchenko runs alone and he gets more than 50 percent of the vote, then he’s the winner. It’s as simple as that. The other… it depends really when Yanukovych drops out. If he drops out soon, then the third-place finisher in the first round of the election would run against Yushchenko, a man named Olexsander Moroz.

RAY SUAREZ: If people were on the streets and watching giant television screens, I guess that means they weren’t at work. Is Kiev a capital that’s really been pretty much paralyzed by this since the standoff began?

FRANK BROWN: Well, it’s certainly paralyzed the central part of the city, but it’s a big sprawling city and so, you know, outside this maybe two-square- mile area, it’s actually quite easy to get around by car. There’s a good metro system.

But the government offices have been blockaded and they’ve even blockaded the private residence of President Kuchma located about 40 kilometers south of the city. So a lot of people have been inconvenienced, especially government workers.

RAY SUAREZ: Is this something that’s new for eastern European countries after the end of the Cold War, an independent Supreme Court that’s pushing back against the government?

FRANK BROWN: Yeah, actually. There was a good deal of surprise today at the nature of the ruling, at the independence of the court because the court really… the high court here and certainly the lower courts are very much subject to bribes, to political pressure, to even physical threats.

They have a very poor track record for arbitrating these kinds of disputes. So it was a wonderful, pleasant surprise, I think, to the Ukrainian people.

RAY SUAREZ: This must be viewed as quite a setback for both the current president, Kuchma, and the Russian president, Vladimir Putin.

FRANK BROWN: I think for Kuchma it’s a bit of a present because this offers him a graceful way to leave power. He’ll still have his legacy.

For Putin it’s a much different matter. It’s a really big international embarrassment because he time and time again inserted himself into this campaign on behalf of the government’s choice, Viktor Yanukovych. He appeared here twice during the campaign. He was one of the first, if not the first, world leader to immediately recognize Yanukovych as the winner even though there was massive fraud. And then just yesterday he met with Kuchma in an airport outside Moscow to give his personal advice about how he thought the situation here should proceed.

So Putin has a lot at stake, especially on the international stage and the consensus is back in Moscow that this is one of the biggest mistakes, a sustained mistake of his time in office.

RAY SUAREZ: Frank Brown in Kiev, thanks for being with us.

FRANK BROWN: Thank you.