Ukraine court paves way for inauguration

/ Source: The Associated Press

Ukraine's Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that presidential election results can be published before it completes hearing an appeal by the losing candidate, paving the way for the inauguration of Western-leaning reformer Viktor Yushchenko.

The court, responding to a motion by Yushchenko's camp, said the results of his victory over former Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych could be published Wednesday. Publication of the results in the two official government newspapers is a precondition for the inauguration.

Yushchenko won a Dec. 26 runoff election, a rerun of Nov. 21 balloting in which Yanukovych's victory was annulled by the court because of massive fraud.

Much of the alleged fraud was connected with misuse of absentee voting procedures that allowed multiple ballots to be cast. After the Nov. 21 vote, parliament passed election reforms that eliminated absentee balloting — but that provision was overturned by the Constitutional Court the day before the December voting.

Age issue raised
That left little time for many old and ailing people to make voting arrangements. Yanukovych’s appeal focuses on that issue, claiming that large numbers of Ukrainians were denied their right to vote.

The court rejected several motions from Yanukovych’s legal team, including a call to move the entire proceedings to the Administrative Court, which exists only on paper. A presidential order to create the court was issued in 2002, but steps to bring it into existence have not been implemented.

The court also rejected a motion to call the head of the Central Elections Commission as a witness and a request for one judge to be excluded for saying the court had already dealt with major elements of the complaint.

Before the hearing on Monday, Yanukovych accused the court of “adopting a biased position in advance.”

The court previously had rejected other, minor appeals from the Yanukovych camp.

“I and millions of my voters were thus deprived from our right to appeal to the court which constitutes a serious violation of the constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights,” he told a news conference before the court session.

European Court could be next
Yanukovych’s legal team at the hearing included three Swiss lawyers, apparently underlining his stated intention to take the case to the European Court of Human Rights if the Ukrainian court ruled against him.

Yushchenko representative Yuriy Kliutchkovsky complained about their presence: “They don’t know Ukrainian law, they are not familiar with the court proceedings and they don’t speak Ukrainian.”

The lawyers’ translator speaks Russian rather than Ukrainian, but Yanukovych’s representative Nestor Shufrich said the lawyers had qualified by “studying Ukrainian law for 10 days.”

After the session, Shufrich bitterly said, “This day has shown what kind of future we will have with Yushchenko’s team.”

Yushchenko supporters say they expect the inauguration to be held by the end of this week.

Flexible inauguration
Kliutchkovsky accused the Kremlin-backed Yanukovych of “openly delaying the inauguration.”

The Foreign Ministry has asked foreign dignitaries planning to witness Yushchenko’s inauguration to “understand the circumstances” and keep their schedules flexible.

“We already have protocol and security forward parties arriving. We are working on the scenario of the event,” ministry spokesman Markiyan Lubkivskiy said.

The Western-leaning Yushchenko has promised to crack down on widespread corruption and bring more openness to government and business. He wants to strengthen Ukraine’s ties with Europe but also says he will maintain “friendly ties” with Russia, his country’s biggest trade partner.