There was no hiding the relief on the faces of the supporters of Viktor Yushchenko, the Ukrainian president-elect, after the Supreme Court early on Thursday finally rejected the challenges to his election victory lodged by his opponent, Viktor Yanukovich.
Even though they had long expected a positive verdict, Mr Yushchenko's followers were unsure until the last moment when it might be announced. Mr Yanukovich's legal appeals had already forced the Yushchenko team to abandon several proposed inauguration dates, including tomorrow, and the event will now be staged on Sunday to ensure foreign dignitaries have time to reach Kiev.
Mr Yushchenko has waited patiently for the court, resisting calls from more radical followers to press ahead even before officially taking the reins from authoritarian president Leonid Kuchma and his allies.
Having fought for months for the rule of law, he did not want to pre-empt the court. But he is paying a price for his principles. First, according to Mr Yushchenko and his allies, the outgoing administration has taken the opportunity to push through illegal cut-price sales of state assets to their followers. They have also made ad hoc increases in government spending, for example on military pensions, thus worsening the budget deficit.
Also, Mr Yushchenko's refusal to act in advance of his inauguration has created the impression that he is prevaricating, notably about the appointment of a prime minister.
Mr Yushchenko would probably like to entrust the government to a leading member of his own party, Our Ukraine, such as Petro Poroshenko, head of the parliament budget committee and a close confidante, or Olexander Zinchenko, the election campaign chief. But he faces demands from the leaders of two other parties in his coalition Olexander Moroz, the Socialist chief, and the firebrand Yulia Tymoshenko, who played a big role in galvanising the street protests that helped bring Mr Yushchenko to power.
Jostling for power in the new government has left Mr Yushchenko's coalition looking fractious, although Ms Tymoshenko, in an interview yesterday, denied there was any split within Mr Yushchenko's team. She expected the top cabinet posts to be decided in two days.
The slow process and the bickering have also given rise to concerns
about Mr Yushchenko's political style.
A gentle man who prefers conciliation to conflict, he was sometimes seen as lacking in determination. His courage following the poisoning attempt which disfigured him during the campaign seemed to have put paid to those doubts.
But now the old concerns have resurfaced. Hryhoriy Nemyria, head of the Renaissance Foundation, a liberal think-tank, says: “Yushchenko is a person who sometimes lacks the will to act in a timely way.”
Mr Yushchenko now has a perfect opportunity to regain the momentum and his aides insist he will not waste it. He is expected to name his prime minister very soon and to announce a detailed programme setting out priorities, especially plans for aligning Ukraine closer to the European Union.
Oleh Rybachuk, a long-standing aide to Mr Yushchenko who hopes to secure the EU integration portfolio in the new government, says: “We have made the preparations already. We want to be compatible with the EU in two or three years.
The process is complicated by the need to tackle other issues, including the budget deficit, the disgruntlement of Mr Yanukovich supporters, who form a majority in the industrialised east of the country, and planned investigations into wrongdoing during the Kuchma era, notably alleged illegal privatisations and suspected official involvement in the murder of campaigning journalist Georgy Gongadze.
Mr Yushchenko faces difficulties in relations with Russia, which backedMr
Yanukovich in the election.
However, he wants to mend fences, as does Mr Putin, who yesterday finally congratulated Mr Yushchenko on his victory.
Mr Yushchenko will meet Mr Putin in Moscow on Monday in the first foreign trip of his presidency, followed later in the week by visits to the European Parliament, Poland, and the Davos World Economic Forum.
These trips will have symbolic importance.
But the real work modernising Ukraine will have to be done in Kiev. And Mr Yushchenko will not have much time.
Under the political deal that has brought him to power, he agreed to constitutional changes that will transfer considerable power from the presidency to parliament after parliamentary elections in March 2006. The campaigning will start this autumn.
By then, the crowds which backed Mr Yushchenko will want to see results.