Ukraine's Supreme Court on Thursday rejected losing presidential candidate Viktor Yanukovych's, bringing the former Soviet republic a step closer to resolving its political crisis.
Although his options for appeal are dwindling, Yanukovych has not exhausted quite all of them. His campaign has said that his main appeal would be filed with the court only after the Central Election Commission announces the final results of the Dec. 26 vote. Preliminary results of the balloting showed opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko winning by a decisive margin.
Meanwhile, the Bush administration is withholding formal recognition of pro-Western Yushchenko as Ukraine's new president until all complaints and challenges filed by his opponent are resolved by the country's central election commission.
Even after Thursday's Supreme Court rejection of opponent Viktor Yanukovych's appeal of the run-off election Dec. 26 that Yushchenko carried, the State Department said it was not ready to recognize Yushchenko as the new president.
"Until it does, we are really not in a position to comment on the final results of the election," said the department's deputy spokesman, Adam Ereli.
Thursday, the three-judge panel unanimously threw out what Yanukovych's team had called an "intermediate" appeal, which alleged mass fraud and had asked the court to invalidate voting in all of Ukraine's 225 electoral districts. The panel said the appeal had no basis.
The appeal was a bid to overturnto consider a similar complaint. That complaint had focused on claims that at least 4.8 million people — mainly the disabled and sick — were deprived of their right to vote by election reforms introduced after the first runoff.
Additionally, Yanukovych complained about the alleged appearance of orange items — Yushchenko's campaign color — in polling places, and problems with some voter lists.
Yanukovych has said openly he had little hope of success, but he vowed to press on with his fight against.
"We are still fighting, but I don't have much hope," Yanukovych said.
His next appeal will aim to prove that massive fraud made it impossible to determine the winner of the vote — the same argument used by Yushchenko after the Nov. 21 vote, which set off Ukraine's political crisis.
International observers said they saw no evidence in the latest election of the mass vote-rigging that marred the earlier balloting.
Hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians had flooded the streets of the capital to protest what they called their stolen votes in November. The mass protests became known as the Orange Revolution and culminated in the Supreme Court agreeing with Yushchenko's legal challenges, stripping Yanukovych of his victory and ordering the Dec. 26 revote.
Many observers say it is doubtful that Yanukovych's appeals will achieve the same success as he has been unable to summon the kind of popular support that Yushchenko used to press his demands. The Supreme Court also repeatedly has rejected these smaller claims launched by his campaign.
Yushchenko's supporters have suggested that Yanukovych's refusal to concede is merely an attempt to drag out the fight and delay Yushchenko's inauguration, which they had hoped to hold next week.
"Yanukovych's team has decided to drown the results of the election in claims, but is doing that without talent ... and only seizing time from judges and members of the election commission," said Svitlana Kustova, who represented Yushchenko in the proceedings.
Zoya Sharikova, press secretary of the Central Election Commission, said it was ready to announce results, but was being bombarded daily by new appeals from Yanukovych's campaign. The commission planned to meet this weekend despite the Orthodox Christmas holidays.
Andriy Mahera, who represented the commission before the court, complained about the endless appeals from Yanukovych, but acknowledged "that is their right."
By Yuras Karmanau