The Ukrainian parliament voted yesterday to hold Western-leaning President-elect Viktor Yushchenko's inauguration this coming Sunday, setting the stage for the transition to a new government following months of divisive political crisis.
Earlier in the day, the Supreme Court rejected an appeal of last year's election by former Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, Yushchenko's rival for office, saying there was insufficient evidence to support his claim that millions of citizens were deprived of their right to vote.
Shortly before the decision was announced, government newspapers printed the results of last month's revote, which had been held after a November runoff between the two men was annulled by the Supreme Court amid allegations of massive fraud.
The printing of the results opened the way for parliament to set a date, and 309 of the chamber's 450 deputies voted in favor of holding the ceremony on Sunday.
"The inauguration is set for noon, Sunday, Jan. 23," parliamentary speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn said as dozens of pro-Yushchenko deputies applauded.
In a procedural move, the parliament also ended Yushchenko's mandate as a parliamentary member. Under the Constitution, the president has a representative in the parliament and a special seat to the left of the rostrum.
Acting Prime Minister Mykola Azarov announced that the government would offer its resignation immediately after the inauguration, the Interfax news agency reported. Yushchenko will appoint a new government, though Azarov will remain as caretaker until the new government is appointed.
Yanukovych representative Nestor Shufrich said the loser's camp would take its case to the European Court of Human Rights. That likely would be an attempt to undermine Yushchenko's standing among the Western European countries he aims to court for integration into the European Union.
But Yushchenko's camp dismissed such threats. Ukraine, under Yushchenko, "will show what real democracy means," aide Petro Poroshenko declared.
Under Ukrainian law, once the results were published, the high court could not have rescinded them. The court a day earlier had ruled that the results could be published today. Poroshenko brought test copies of today's gazettes editions to the Supreme Court, where supporters cheered and autographed the papers.
"This means the presidential campaign, which should have been over last year, is finally over," Poroshenko said.
At the tent village on Kiev's main street where several hundred Yushchenko supporters have remained camped since late November, the election results brought delight.
"Now nobody can steal victory from us," said Bohdan Yakubchyk, 25.
"I'm proud for our country, which will become a part of Europe," said 30-year-old Pavlo Levchuk.
Yanukovych's appeal was based on contentions that massive numbers of Ukrainians were denied the right to vote in the Dec. 26 election because of election-law reforms canceling the use of absentee ballots. That change was overturned by the Constitutional Court one day before the vote, leaving many elderly and disabled Ukrainians no time to make voting arrangements.
Abuse of absentee ballots was cited by international observers as a key problem with the Nov. 21 presidential elections in which Yanukovych emerged victorious, only to see those results scrapped by the Supreme Court.