Ukraine Court: Election Results Invalid

Ukraine Court: Election Results Invalid (AP)

The Supreme Court declared the results of Ukraine’s disputed presidential run-off election invalid on Friday and ruled that the run-off should be repeated on Dec. 26, bringing cheers and fireworks from tens of thousands of opposition supporters massed in Kiev’s main square. The ruling, made after five days of hearings by the court’s 18 justices, was a major victory for opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko, who had rejected the government’s demands that an entirely new election be held. The opposition had pinned its hopes on the court’s ruling in its bid to overturn the results of the Nov. 21 run-off vote in which Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych was declared the winner. The opposition said the vote was rigged to cheat Yushchenko of victory.

The court decision was a blow to outgoing President Leonid Kuchma — faced with a spiraling political crisis that undermined his hopes to ensure he is succeeded by a supporter. Kuchma had been pressing for an entirely new election, apparently in hopes of replacing Yanukovych with a stronger candidate.

The ruling is final and can’t be appealed, and both sides have promised to abide by the court’s ruling. There was no immediate reaction from Yanukovych or his supporters. Representatives from Yanukovych and the Central Election Commission left the courthouse before the judges announced their decision. The court ruling said a new run-off vote should be held nationwide on Dec. 26.

The result isn’t particularly surprising, given the rebuke handed down by the parliament, the massive popular uprisings, Yanunkovych’s desperate offer of the premiership on Tuesday, the deal struck between both parties Wednesday.

The only real issue here was whether the court would insist on a strict adherence to the law, which technically required a new election in which neither Yanukovych nor Yushchenko was eligible. Under the circumstances, that would certainly have been a grave miscarriage of justice.

Update: California Yankee is more concerned than I am about this one and he has a roundup of other blogospheric reactions.

Update (1614): NYT’s Steven Meyers Assesses it this way:
Ukrainian Justices, in Show of Independence, Order New Runoff [RSS]

Ukraine’s Supreme Court, with 100 justices in four chambers, has previously displayed a degree of independence from Mr. Kuchma’s centralized power. But today’s ruling amounted to a striking defeat of his government.

The court’s hearings began on Monday and continued in full view of the nation, with its proceedings broadcast on televisions in virtually every public place in Kiev.

Lawyers for Mr. Yushchenko presented what they called voluminous evidence of violations of campaign and election laws – at times in numbing detail. On Wednesday, Mr. Yanukovich unexpectedly filed his own appeal, accusing Mr. Yushchenko’s campaign of election violations. But the court’s judges accepted most, though not all, of Mr. Yushchenko’s accusations that the government had prevented a free and fair election, as called for in the Constitution.

Roman M. Zvarich, a member of Parliament and a lawyer who represented Mr. Yushchenko in the court’s cramped chambers, said the 21 judges had displayed a certain maturity by navigating Ukraine’s complicated election laws and, for the first time, establishing a larger precedent based on the primacy of constitutional rights.

“The court took the initiative to fill in gaps in the election laws,” he said. “This is a milestone decision. The court took a very courageous stand.”

Sounds about right. Judicial activism isn’t something I tend to applaud, and this may ultimately be a horrible precedent for Ukraine. In the near term, though, it ends what had once been a potentially devastating constitutional crisis.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.