Ukraine's parliament passed a no-confidence vote yesterday, ousting Prime Minister Victor Yanukovych's government, as the declared winner of the disputed election refused to step down from his post.
Opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko, savoring the momentum generated by mass street protests and Western pressure on outgoing President Leonid Kuchma's government, told thousands of his shivering supporters massed in Kiev's Independence Square on Wednesday night that victory was near.
International mediators brought the two candidates and Kuchma together on Wednesday for compromise talks and won agreement from all sides that they would respect the court's ruling.
The negotiations -- shepherded by EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski and other European officials -- came after Ukraine's parliament passed a no-confidence measure in Yanukovych's government with 229 votes, just three more than necessary in the 450-seat parliament.
A no-confidence vote automatically triggers the government's resignation, which the president must accept -- though he can allow it to continue to exercise its powers for up to 60 days until a new Cabinet is formed.
However, many experts questioned the constitutionality of the vote, and Yanukovych called it a "political move that contradicted the law." He refused to step down.
Yushchenko urged the crowds to stay out in the streets until a revote of the Nov. 21 runoff with Kremlin-backed Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych is called and a date set. Yushchenko, who claims his victory was stolen by government-backed fraud, suggested such a vote could be held as early as Dec. 19.
The Supreme Court was expected to rule yesterdayday on the appeal by Yushchenko's campaign to invalidate the runoff result, based on claims of widespread violations across Yanukovych's eastern and southern strongholds. The runoff has been discredited by both sides, with Yanukovych -- the officially declared winner -- submitting his own appeal against the results, focusing on pro-Yushchenko western provinces and the capital.
Yanukovych's appeal has not yet been taken up for consideration, but if the court rules in Yushchenko's favor and declares the vote invalid, considering Yanukovych's appeal would be pointless.
The Supreme Court yesterdayy rejected Yanukovych's objections to parts of the opposition's appeal, leaving open the possibility that the judges might name Yushchenko the president based on first-round results, which Yushchenko won. The court has not yet started deliberating on the merits of the appeal itself.
While a new election in this bitterly divided nation of 48 million is looking increasingly possible, what remains unclear is whether Ukraine will stage a repeat of the runoff, as Yushchenko is demanding -- or start the election from scratch, as Kuchma proposed.
Kuchma has pushed for a completely new election in apparent hopes of fielding a new, more popular successor as his government scrambles to stay in power with his 10 years in office running out.
Ukrainian media have frequently tipped Yanukovych's former campaign chief, Serhiy Tyhypko, as the most likely choice. Tyhypko, a young and charismatic politician, might fare better against the reform- and Western-oriented Yushchenko than Yanukovych did.