Task for new Ukraine leader: unity
As hard as it was for Viktor Yushchenko to win the presidency of Ukraine, it might look like a cakewalk compared with the high-wire act he now faces. Mr. Yushchenko, elected Sunday five weeks after the first vote was annulled because of fraud, takes charge of a country split east and west, and caught between Europe and the US on one side, Russia on the other.Skip to next paragraph
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With most of the votes counted Monday, the Central Election Commission announced that Yushchenko, the pro-Western opposition leader, was ahead with 52 percent of the vote. Barring any legal wrangling over the results, he is expected to be inaugurated by mid-January.
Still, some 44 percent of Ukrainians - mainly in the heavily Russified industrial east - threw their support behind Viktor Yanukovich, the handpicked choice of the outgoing president and the darling of Russian leader Vladimir Putin.
Addressing that divide, which raised the threat of separatism at the height of this month's crisis, will be a top priority for a Yushchenko presidency, experts say. "If the next president is willing to meet the expectations of people in the east, for fairer policies toward them, more efficient economic approaches, then there can be lots of common ground," says Oleksandr Sushko, an expert with the independent Center for Peace, Conversion, and Foreign Policy in Kiev.
Following exit polling that showed him winning decisively, Yushchenko partied with his supporters into the early morning Monday. "Today the Ukrainian people have won, I congratulate you," he told throngs of chanting, orange-flag-waving followers on Kiev's Maidan, or main square, early Monday. "Ukraine has been independent for 14 years, but we were not free. Now we can look ahead to a free and independent Ukraine."
More than 12,500 international observers were on hand to monitor the voting. By Monday most of those groups, including the powerful Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, had certified the election as consistent with world standards. Even the 900-member Russian delegation, which converged mainly on the pro-Yushchenko western Ukraine, agreed that Yushchenko's victory was fairly obtained, though Russian Central Elections chief Alexander Veshnyakov complained the elections were "not quite irreproachable."
Mr. Yanukovich refused to concede defeat and told reporters he would go to the Supreme Court to challenge the results.
For many Ukrainians, the struggle to elect Yushchenko was about much more than simply choosing a new leader. They see the peaceful 17-day "Orange Revolution," which saw millions take to the streets and the country's Supreme Court annul the results of fraudulent Nov. 21 balloting, as a kind of democratic debut for Ukraine upon the world stage. "We are on an incredibly steep learning curve of democracy here," says Vera Nanivska, director of the International Center for Policy Studies, an independent Kiev think tank. "Ukraine is a different place today. We have learned that if we want change, we have to make it ourselves. This is not a victory that will allow us to sit back and relax. We are on a new path."