Brussels, 2 December 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Some kind of new vote looks increasingly likely in Ukraine but the debate for now is about what form any new elections should take.
Late yesterday, mediators including the presidents of Poland and Lithuania, as well as the speaker of the Russian Duma and the EU's foreign policy chief, brought together rival candidates Viktor Yushchenko and Viktor Yanukovych for talks in Kyiv.
Yanukovych also said for the first time that he, too, believes the runoff was marred by fraud.
Afterwards, outgoing Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma said the two rivals had agreed to work together to prepare new elections: "The parties reached an agreement to establish an expert group which will conduct an urgent legal analysis and make the necessary proposals to complete the presidential elections in Ukraine on the basis of the verdict of the Supreme Court of Ukraine. So we all understand that there will be a need to make changes to Ukraine's current legislation."
Ukraine's Supreme Court is set to meet for a fourth day today to consider opposition appeals to invalidate on the basis of fraud in the 21 November runoff, which was officially won by Prime Minister Yanukovych.
Kuchma also said that both Yanukovych and Yushchenko had agreed to respect the Supreme Court's eventual ruling, which could prove decisive in resolving a dispute that has brought thousands of Yushchenko supporters to the streets of Kyiv.
Significantly, Yanukovych also said yesterday for the first time that he, too, believes the runoff was marred by fraud.
While momentum appears to be building for new polls, it remains unclear what form they would take.
Yushchenko says he wants a repeat of the second-round runoff -- and not a completely new election, as was suggested by Kuchma.
Yushchenko's call found an echo in Brussels during a special session of the European Parliament. European Affairs Minister Atzo Nicolai of the Netherlands, which holds the EU's rotating presidency, told deputies that the EU also wants a rerun of the second round: "Frankly speaking, I don't see how all the complaints that have been filed [after] the second round of elections can be solved in such a way that the outcome of this round of elections is ultimately acceptable to all. And in such a case a new second round of elections may be the only way out."
Addressing European deputies, Dutch official Nicolai said the EU would attach a number of conditions to a rerun. He said the polls must be "free, fair and transparent," with a level playing field for both candidates across Ukraine. He added that the most contested issues -- such as absentee ballots and access for election observers -- must be resolved beforehand.
Speaking on behalf of the parliament's largest conservative bloc, Polish Deputy Jacek Sayusz-Wolski said the EU must be prepared for all scenarios: "We should foresee two scenarios: Negative -- meaning a violation of democracy, then the eventual introduction of sanctions aimed at the undemocratic regime; second, positive, generous assistance and helping hand, if democracy wins in Ukraine."
EU officials and leaders of the larger factions in the parliament avoided talk of Ukraine's possible EU membership, promising instead increased aid and closer political ties. However, many deputies said Ukraine must be given a membership perspective provided the outcome of the electoral dispute is satisfactory.
Borys Tarasyuk, an opposition politician who heads the European Affairs Committee of the Ukrainian parliament, also attended the session in Brussels.
Speaking later to the European Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee, Tarasyuk said a rerun is possible under a number of conditions. He said the Central Electoral Commission must be replaced, and the current government must resign. Also, Tarasyuk said Kuchma must outlaw absentee ballots, which he said had contributed to up to 800,000 fraudulent votes for Yanukovych.
He also said the EU and other international groups, such as the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, must ensure a large-scale observer presence at any new poll.
"We insist there be a heavy, widespread presence and supervision on the part of the OSCE, and for this we expect that the European Parliament will recommend to the European Commission and the [EU] member states to allocate appropriate resources to send additional international observers from member states -- like the United States did -- by financing an additional 1,000 international observers from neighboring countries, some of the EU member states," he said. "I think this is the time for the EU to make this investment into Ukraine's democracy."
Earlier, the EU's external affairs commissioner, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, indicated to the parliament that the EU could finance such an effort.