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Keep On Keeping On In Ukraine

On Friday, throngs of demonstrators supporting Ukrainian underdog Viktor Yushchenko erupted in jubilation. Their voices had been heard: In a momentous decision showing laudable independence, the Ukrainian supreme court invalidated the Nov. 21 presidential runoff election as fraudulent, setting Dec. 26 as the new election date.

On Saturday, however, protesters were dealt a setback. Pro-government lawmakers in parliament, along with the president, blocked reforms meant to ensure that the new election will be free and fair.

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As cautious Kiev shopkeeper Nina Pikrotenko told the Washington Post during Friday's revelry, "I'm always afraid there will be one more detail to overcome."

Ukrainians and those nations supporting a just election in this pivotal country should note this shopkeeper's "I'll-believe-it-when-I-see-it" attitude.

Yes, the supreme court has ruled, and that in itself is a historic development carrying great political and legal weight. But the autocratic and corrupt team that has governed Ukraine is still in place (this despite parliament's no-confidence vote last week).

The Ukrainian people as well as outsiders need to remain vigilant as they work to make sure that the rerun election is on the up and up. The West must be fully engaged, sending election monitors. Especially useful are regional observers, including from Georgia (which launched its democratic revolution a year ago), Serbia, and Slovakia - people wise to the tricks of authoritarian regimes.

Ukraine's red-robed judges complained that candidates were not allowed equal access to the media, as required by law. Fortunately, the Ukrainian national media has had its own revolution in the ensuing weeks, with journalists refusing to be censored. Still, the local media in eastern Ukraine are heavily biased toward that region's favorite candidate, Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich, an autocrat backed by Moscow. And Russian TV influences viewers there.

The court also criticized Ukraine's government election commission for permitting ballot fraud. One of the reforms blocked in parliament would have provided for political parity in the formation of election commissions at polling places. Without the change, the same people who oversaw the Nov. 21 election will unfortunately still be in charge.

Election reform or no, Ukraine has proven that people power can move mountains. Supporters of democracy in and outside Ukraine must keep up the pressure.


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