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December 8, 2004
Ukraine's Orange Movement Keeps Rolling

The Orange Revolution of Viktor Yushchenko continues unabated, as the Ukrainian Rada passed a compromise electoral-reform measure that outgoing president Leonid Kuchma signed. The agreement puts into place a new run-off election between Yushchenko and Kuchma's hand-picked successor, Viktor Yanukovych, for a watered-down presidency:

Ukraine's parliament adopted a package of electoral and constitutional changes Wednesday in a compromise aimed at defusing the nation's political crisis less than three weeks before a rerun of the disputed presidential vote.

The vote came as a surprise after days of political maneuvering and massive street protests. It suggested that opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko's camp had determined that the prolonged unrest could ultimately weaken the country and his own position ahead of the Dec. 26 repeat vote.

The package was approved in a 402-21 vote with 19 abstentions, drawing a lukewarm endorsement from Yushchenko's supporters. Lawmakers stood and cheered as President Leonid Kuchma signed the measure.

It's hard to see where this amounts to much bad news for Yushchenko. New elections are set for December 26th, about the soonest it could get done under any circumstances. He got the replay of the run-off election he demanded rather than a complete restart of the entire election. Some of the powers the office had (and the article does not specify these) were transferred to the Rada, but in light of Yushchenko's popularity, that may ultimately benefit him, and certainly benefits Ukraine.

The Orange supporters did not get Yanukovych fired, although they did get another head on a stick, that of Kuchma's prosecutor general. Yanukovych will run against Yushchenko in the run-off and has been granted a leave of absence by Kuchma to campaign. (Nice boss, eh?) In a fair election, of course, it will make no difference; Yushchenko had a commanding lead before the last election, and his courage in standing up to Kuchma and Yanukovych will resonate even further this time around. Yanukovych's attempt to buy off Yushchenko with the Prime Minister job, on the other hand, looks craven and desperate in comparison.

Speaking of courage, rumors of Yushchenko's health have swirled around the globe. Over the space of six months, Yushchenko has aged about twenty years, and speculation has it that the Kuchma government had him poisoned in an unsuccessful assassination attempt. Yesterday, the Times of London reported that doctors had settled on poisoning as a diagnosis for his illness. However, the AP reports that the doctors deny saying any such thing:

Doctors are still running tests to try to determine what caused the illness, said Dr. Michael Zimpfer, the Rudolfinerhaus director, although he acknowledged that poisoning was one of the possibilities being investigated.

Zimpfer rejected as "entirely untrue" a story in the Wednesday edition of the London daily The Times, which quoted Dr. Nikolai Korpan the Rudolfinerhaus physician who oversaw Yushchenko's treatment as saying that Yushchenko had been poisoned and the intention was to kill the candidate.

Korpan also was quoted as denying making the remarks.

The transformation of Yushchenko's face has been horrifying. In July he appeared to look like a Western-style politician -- young, energetic, and handsome. By the time the elections were held, his face had sagged, become pockmarked, and his eyes now appeared like two beads between heavy and sagging eyelids. Whatever the cause may be, it certainly looks unnatural. Maybe it wasn't poisoning, but doctors seem relatively unconcerned about the potential for contagious disease as the answer to the riddle.

And just in case anyone considers the Russians to be fair arbiters of the Ukrainian political crisis, consider the remarks made by the Kremlin's mediator -- a man who ostensibly needs to work with both sides to reach a consensus:

"I am deeply convinced that only Yanukovich's victory will allow Ukraine to remain an integral and united country," Russian parliamentary speaker Boris Gryzlov said during a visit to Kazakhstan.

Asked to comment on Ukrainian opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko, who has proclaimed himself the new president, he said: "The self-declaration of oneself as president should be qualified as cheating."

So is he a mediator, or Yanukovych's talent agent? I've heard Terry McAuliffe be less partisan ... well, maybe once ...

Don't forget to keep checking in with SCSU Scholars and King Banaian, who keeps producing the best commentary this side of Kyiv on the Ukrainian political upheaval. King spent significant time in Ukraine (as an economic-reform consultant) and worked with Viktor Yushchenko and a number of other players in this drama.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at December 8, 2004 5:30 AM

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