THE ORANGE REVOLUTION
2004 was a tumultuous year for Ukraine which almost resulted in civil war. Leonid Kuchma was cleared of impeachment by the Constitutional court and was free to seek a third term as president. Instead he backed the candidacy of his prime minister Viktor Yanukovych, who was a communist pro-Moscow establishment figure strongly supported by Vladimir Putin.
Viktor Yushchenko supported by his long term ally Yulia Tymoshenko emerged as the main opposition to Yanukovych.
Yushchenko brought together reformist and democratic party's in preparation for the 2002 parliamentary elections. His electoral alliance, Our Ukraine (Nasha Ukraina, or NU), was launched in July 2001.
Prior to Yushchenko's formal presidential candidacy he and his party held numerous rallies and demonstrations against President Kuchma’s corrupt manipulation of parliament and the opposition’s lack of access to the mass media. Yushchenko became Ukraine's most popular politician, thus making him a target from Moscow and Kutchma's presidential team. He received death threats to discourage him from running. Yushchenko and his supporters had meetings disrupted and false smear campaigns were instigated to discredit him. Despite the provocation Yushchenko did announce his candidacy for the Presidency on 4 July 2004.
Yuschchenko and his party ran on a platform of job creation, fighting corruption, raising pensions, lowering taxes, introducing meaningful reforms, improving agricultural production, and reducing the term of military service. The presidential campaign was heavily biased against Yuschchenko, media coverage heavily favouring the establishment’s candidate, Viktor Yanukovych and his campaign team were prevented from visiting Yanukovych’s stronghold in Donetsk and other eastern cities. But most dramatic of all was the dioxin poisoning of Yushchenko during a meal on 5 September with Oleksandr Turchynov which took place at the dacha of the SBU’s first deputy, Volodymyr Satsiuk (who later fled to Russia).
Yuschchenko's health declined rapidly and severe illness, facial disfigurement resulting from the poisoning interfered with his campaigning. During September, October and December, Viktor Yuschchenko made three trips to Vienna for treatment. Physicians confirmed Yushchenko’s blood contained one thousand times the normal level of TCDD dioxin, which he had likely ingested with the food he was served. Russia and the Ukrainian authorities denied any wrongdoing and subsequently no-one was ever prosecuted.
In the first round of the presidential election on 31 October 2004, Yushchenko received 39.87% of the vote and was the leading contender. Yanukovych followed closely with 39.26%. A second round was held on 21 November, and in a run-off between the two men the order was reversed. Yanukovych received 49.46% and Yushchenko, 46.61%. On the of November the 21st Yushchenko and his team were in the building of the central Electoral commission. Less than a third of the votes had been counted but Yushchenko was uneasy and distracted. All indications were that he was way ahead in the lead. But something had occurred and had disturbed him. Yulia Tymoshenko the leader of the political block called all Yushchenko's supporters to come to Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence square) in the morning of November 22 to fight for their choice. Yushchenko declared the result a fraud based on the credible exit polls and alleged vote-rigging. Yushchenko took a symbolic oath of office in the Supreme Council of Ukraine on 23 November and demanded a new presidential vote.
When reports came in of voter intimidation and damaged ballots, Ukrainian people were incensed. When they realized officials were in on the fraud, the people had had enough and large crowds took to the streets to protest. The Orange Revolution (Which took its name from Yushchenko’s campaign colours) had started. On the morning of 22nd November the main square in Kyiv was filled with 200,00 - 300,00 people. Over the next 16 days a peaceful protest involving millions of Ukrainians spread across the country. Under pressure from the public protests, on the 3rd December 2004 the Parliament and Supreme Court ruled the election invalid and set a new election of December 26th.
This time it was a different story. Mass - Media channels that had previously been closed to the opposition party were now broadcasting balanced and fair coverage . The result of the December 26th re-run was unequivocal. Yushchenko polled 52% to Yanukovych on 44%. Despite the ridiculous attempts by Russia and Yanukovych to dispute the result the election stood and Yushchenko was officially declared the winner. The peaceful protests of the Orange revolution had prevailed and on January 23rd 2005 Viktor Yushchenko was inaugurated.
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