Sun, Dec 26, 2004 - Page 1 News List

Ukraine court rules electoral changes as unconstitutional

VOTING RULES Both presidential candidates said the court's decision to annul some recent amendments would help smooth today's election

AFP , KIEV

Ukraine's constitutional court yesterday struck down a section of a recently adopted electoral law in a decision welcomed by both camps ahead of a tense, historic presidential rerun election set for today.

"The court has decided to find unconstitutional [those changes] that made it impossible for all citizens except invalids of the first category to vote outside polling stations," said Mykola Selivon, head of the court, in announcing the decision.

"The changes are ruled unconstitutional and annulled from the day of the ruling," Selivon said.

The decision means that all those who cannot get to polling stations for health reasons today will be able to cast ballots provided they had informed their regional election commissions by 8:00pm yesterday.

Ballots from such voters will be collected at their homes or hospitals by officials from regional commissions on election day.

The ruling was welcomed by both of the bitterly-divided camps squaring off in today's election, which will once again pit Western-leaning opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko against his pro-Russia rival Viktor Yanukovich.

"In no way does this put the legitimacy of tomorrow's voting into doubt," Yushchenko spokeswoman Irina Gerashchenko said.

"This decision has removed the last doubts in regards to the legitimacy of the Dec. 26 election," said Yury Klyuchkovsky of Yushchenko's Our Ukraine opposition coalition.

Valery Konovalyuk, a pro-Yanukovich deputy, said: "With this decision we have excluded the possibility of influence of the results of the election after the vote."

Parliament adopted changes to election law in early December as part of a compromise between Yushchenko and outgoing President Leonid Kuchma to resolve a tense standoff over a Nov. 21 runoff vote, which was first announced to have been won by Yanukovich but later thrown out because of massive fraud.

The opposition had said the changes were necessary to prevent irregularities from marring the Dec. 26 rerun vote and earlier said that the legitimacy of the historic poll could be undermined if the court ruled all of the changes unconstitutional.

Saturday's ruling struck down only one part of the changes and leaders across the political spectrum said it would smooth the running of the vote.

"The constitutional court has carried out its role of a stabilizing factor," Selivon told reporters at a press conference after the decision was announced.

"Now no one will ever be able to say to the future elected president that he is illegitimate and was elected in a non-constitutional way."

Volodymyr Litvin, parliament speaker, said: "I think that this decision by the constitutional court will fully cut off possible lawsuits after the election."

"Fears that the election can be scuttled today no longer exist," Interfax quoted him as saying.

The chief of the central election commission vowed to carry out the ruling and promised an "absolutely honest and transparent" election.

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