Presiding Judge Anatoly Yarema delivered the ruling of the 18-judge panel, saying that a repeat of the run-off election should take place Dec. 26. Both sides promised to abide by the court’s ruling, which is final and cannot be appealed.
The decision comes after two weeks of protests by Yushchenko’s supporters paralyzed the capital, Kiev, and threatened to destabilize the struggling former Soviet republic. It is a blow to outgoing President Leonid Kuchma, who preferred a completely new election that would have taken months to organize and may have allowed for the emergence of a more popular pro-government candidate.
Cheers erupted in Ukraine’s Parliament, which earlier brought down Yanukovich’s government with a no-confidence vote. On Friday, it passed a non-binding resolution calling for the withdrawal of 1,600 Ukrainian peacekeepers in Iraq — a symbolic snub of Kuchma, who ordered the deployment.
The Supreme Court’s verdict is also a setback for Russian President Vladimir Putin who met with Kuchma Thursday. After his meeting, Putin appeared on Russian state television, which also airs in Ukraine. “A rerun of the second round may also produce nothing,” he said, “What happens then? Will there have to be a third, a fourth, a 25th round until one of the sides obtains the necessary result?”
A successful run-off could ease fears that Ukraine would be torn into a western section — where more city dwellers and entrepreneurs support Yuschenko’s platform of reform and close ties with the West — and an eastern region, where Russia still has strong religious and linguistic ties.
President Aleksander Kwasniewski of Poland, who mediated last minute talks between Yanukovich and Yushchenko Wednesday night, warned that a continued stalemate would spark violence. Kwasniewski and other European leaders called for new elections after an international monitoring report said the vote was too flawed to represent the will of the people.
President Bush, whose envoy to Ukraine called the official results of the election illegitimate, said Thursday that any new election “ought to be free from any foreign influence.”