KIEV, Feb 20 (Reuters) - Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko
on Saturday dropped her legal case challenging the election of rival
Viktor Yanukovich as president, saying the court could not be trusted
to reach a fair verdict.
The about-turn by the fiery Tymoshenko left the way clear for
Yanukovich to be inaugurated as president on Feb. 25 as scheduled —
though she herself still insisted he had not been legitimately elected.
The charismatic 49-year-old premier, who had alleged vote cheating
by her opponent in the Feb. 7 runoff and had been pressing for a new
round of voting, said she was withdrawing her legal case because the
court had refused to study the evidence she had put before it.
"It became clear to us that the court has not given itself the aim
of establishing the truth," she told Ukraine’s Higher Administrative
"Under these circumstances, we simply do not see the reason for
continuing with this case being considered. We are withdrawing our
Yanukovich, 59, has denied any vote-rigging by his side. He beat
Tymoshenko by a narrow 3.5 percentage points in the Feb. 7 vote.
Few commentators had expected Tymoshenko to win the court action,
which she launched on Friday with a plea to the 49 judges to "study
carefully" the evidence before it. But her sudden announcement on
Saturday took most people by surprise all the same.
With her hair plaited in her trademark peasant braid, she looked
tired and tense on Saturday as she announced her climb-down after
months of battling with Yanukovich for the leadership of the former
Soviet republic of 46 million.
But she refused to concede his victory had been honestly won and a
deputy of her BYuT political bloc said it would boycott his swearing-in
"A fraudulent vote took place and the will of the people was
fradulently handled. Sooner or later, an honest prosecutor’s office and
an honest court will come to the view that Yanukovich was not elected
president of Ukraine and that the will of the people was falsified,"
Tymoshenko had been pressing for a new presidential vote as took
place in the 2004 "Orange Revolution" which ended with President Viktor
Yushchenko being elected. Yanukovich was denied the top job then by the
protests against electoral fraud.
GROUND CUT AWAY
Some of the ground had been cut from under Tymoshenko by Western
governments which quickly congratulated Yanukovich on his victory and
privately urged her to gracefully accept defeat.
Yushchenko, once her Orange Revolution ally and now her political
foe, added to pressure on her on Saturday by also telephoning
Yanukovich and congratulating him as the legitimately elected
Her change-of-heart may have been caused by the sudden realisation
that she was consistently losing ground.
"Tymoshenko’s decision was motivated by the fact that she realised
she had no prospects by this court action. By withdrawing her action,
she has in fact recognised Yanukovich’s victory," analyst Vadim
Some of her advisers had warned her that she could damage her huge
standing by refusing to bow to the inevitable and had urged her save
her energies for a future in opposition.
In the past few weeks, she has lost one battle after another against
Yanukovich who, while not a great public performer himself, is backed
by wealthy industrialists who have organised a strong team of
strategists for him.
On one occasion, she threatened to wage a second Orange Revolution
to bring people out on to the street if she felt the vote had been
rigged. But she drew jeers from her rivals when she later publicly
backed down on the threat.
Her climb-down defused much of the political tension which has
gripped the country and it seemed likely to be welcomed by investors
who are anxiously awaiting the return of political stability in Ukraine.
The country, whose economy took a battering in the global downturn
with its valuable steel exports losing markets, has been relying on a
$16.4 billion bail-out programme from the International Monetary Fund.
This has been suspended because of breached promises, but is
expected to resume once political stability returns.
Tymoshenko is now likely to switch her energies to the political
fight against Yanukovich, whose supporters in parliament on Friday took
the first steps to force her out as prime minister.
After a bitter campaign of smears and insults, Yanukovich has ruled
out any alliance with her and has asked her to quit.
She has refused and can be replaced only when the Yanukovich camp
has managed to forge a new coalition among the fickle deputies of
Ukraine’s parliament — normally a long and tricky task. If he fails to
do this, he may be forced to call early parliamentary elections.