Deputies met in an emergency session to prepare for a new presidential runoff between Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych and opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenkos in the wake of a landmark verdict by the Supreme Court yesterday.
Communist and pro-government deputies refused to back the proposals after opposition lawmakers said they would not vote until after the runoff on a separate package of constitutional amendments curbing presidential powers.
A second emergency session scheduled for tomorrow was canceled.
The Supreme Court ruling has been welcomed as a major victory by opposition candidate Yushchenko and his supporters, who have been staging mass demonstrations for nearly two weeks.
Also today, the embattled Central Election Commission announced its recommendation to hold the new vote on 26 December. The advice of the commission, whose members the opposition has insisted must be replaced, has to be approved by parliament and then signed by the president before it can take effect.
Thousands of people thronged the streets of Kyiv last night to celebrate the announcement of the Supreme Court verdict.
Judges said the poll should be annulled because of widespread fraud and that a new election should be held in the coming weeks.
Judges sustained an appeal by Yushchenko, who said the runoff vote had been rigged to give victory to his opponent, Prime Minister Yanukovych.
Yushchenko told supporters after the verdict was announced that the ruling was a victory for their "orange revolution" and 12 days of nonstop, massive street protests.
"We proved that there is a civil society in Ukraine," said Yushchenko, who made the need for change the central refrain of his campaign against the administration-backed Yanukovych.
Yushchenko appears well-set for victory in the new vote, which is expected to be held on 26 December based on the Supreme Court's announcement.
Preparing For Repeat Vote
But first, the logistics must be worked out.
The parliament, or Verkhovna Rada, was seeking to set the legal framework for the late-December balloting at its aborted emergency session today.
Yushchenko's supporters are pushing for changes in the membership of the 15-member Central Election Commission -- which has been largely discredited by its refusal to consider seriously evidence of widespread flaws in the voting -- and to amend election legislation in hopes of preventing vote fraud in the repeat vote.
Opposition-led deputies have demanded that outgoing President Leonid Kuchma dismiss Yanukovych and his government and appoint a new, caretaker cabinet in light of a no-confidence vote in parliament on 1 December.
Announcing the decision, Supreme Court Chairman Anatoliy Yarema said yesterday that a repeat of the second round should be held by 26 December: "[The court orders] the Central Election Commission to call a repeat of the [runoff] election of the president of Ukraine in the period determined by Part 1 of Article 85 of the Ukrainian law on presidential elections [three weeks], starting from 5 December 2004."
Calm, Not Quiet
Until all that happens, Yushchenko said last night that he wants his supporters to keep up their demonstrations.
"We demand that the Central Election Commission be dismissed. These people betrayed their oath, [and] betrayed millions of Ukrainians. They should be dismissed," Yushchenko said.
The ruling is a defeat for Yanukovych, to whom the embattled election commission had awarded victory by nearly 3 percent, but his spokeswoman said today the prime minister will run against Yushchenko in the fresh poll.
Yanokovych has been out of the public eye for the past few days, apparently due to illness.
He was expected to take part in talks today with Yushchenko, Kuchma, and international mediators.
While Yushchenko had pressed hard for a repeat of the runoff, Kuchma and his hand-picked successor Yanukovych had sought a whole new election process, which would have required up to three months to be organized and kept Kuchma in office for that time. Such a process might also have allowed Kuchma and his allies to select a new candidate to compete against Yushchenko -- possibly former central bank Governor Serhiy Tihipko, who helped manage the Yanukovych campaign but also heads the Labor Ukraine Party.
Keeping Moscow At Bay
Yesterday, Kuchma had secured the backing of Russian President Vladimir Putin for his position in talks in Moscow.
The Russian leader, who had receded from the debate in recent days, said a repeat of the 21 November runoff would "yield nothing" and backed Kuchma's call for a fresh election: "We express our support for everything you are doing to strengthen the country and to find a way out of the crisis, and I want to assure you that Russia will always be with Ukraine and will always support and help Ukraine in all its efforts aimed at stabilizing the situation in the country."
Putin's remarks on the eve of the court's ruling left analysts wondering whether Russia would seek to have a final say in a crisis that has strained relations between Moscow and the West.
The European Union and the United States had condemned the 21 November election as deeply flawed and undemocratic.
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