KIEV (Reuters) - Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko launched action on Tuesday to call rival Viktor Yanukovich’s election into question, ignoring international endorsement of the poll and threatening a lengthy legal battle.
Her refusal to accept the result of Sunday’s presidential poll kept political tension high and could deny the former Soviet republic, battered by economic crisis, a swift return to stability.
But there was no sign of people taking to the streets in support of the fiery premier, co-architect of the Orange Revolution that overturned Yanukovich’s victory in a rigged election in 2004.
Her supporters in parliament announced organized action to try to prove “cynical” fraud by the Yanukovich camp.
But there was also some unease among her supporters over the challenge, which flew in the face of international monitors. Some Tymoshenko loyalists privately expressed doubts they could prove a case of fraud against the Yanukovich camp.
Observers on Monday hailed the election as an “impressive display” of democracy and urged her to shake hands with Yanukovich.
Russia and the United States added their weight to international recognition of the election. Kremlin chief Dmitry Medvedev sent congratulations to Yanukovich and the U.S. Embassy in Kiev endorsed the vote as a step “in the consolidation of Ukraine’s democracy.”
Tymoshenko lawmaker Andriy Shkil said they would contest the vote count. “Under question is the validity of votes at over 1,000 polling stations,” he said in parliament.
His colleague, Serhiy Sobolev, told parliament: “Voting day displayed a cynical violation of Ukrainian law by the teams of Yanukovich, pressure on the electors and a broad arsenal of falsification by (Yanukovich‘s) Regions Party.”
“Consequently, the Tymoshenko bloc announces that we will defend in the courts your right, our citizens, to honest and transparent elections,” he said.
With 99.99 percent of votes counted, Yanukovich led by 3.48 percentage points or almost 887,000 votes.
Yields on Ukrainian sovereign bonds jumped early on Tuesday, indicating negative sentiment toward Ukraine. The cost of insuring against state default also jumped as a resumption of International Monetary Fund lending seemed likely to be delayed.
The Ukrainska Pravda newspaper said on its website that Tymoshenko had instructed her lawyers to prepare a court challenge.
“I will never recognize the legitimacy of Yanukovich’s victory with such elections,” the paper quoted the charismatic premier as telling a party meeting on Monday.
Tymoshenko herself remained uncharacteristically silent on Tuesday. Announcement of a re-scheduled news conference was removed from her website and she stayed out of the public eye for a second straight day.
Yanukovich said Tymoshenko only risked damaging her own standing.
“If Tymoshenko does not accept the will of the people, does not recognize the election results, and continues leading Ukraine into political chaos, she risks turning from the heroine of the Orange Revolution into its executioner,” his party quoted him as telling CNN.
The official result signaled a remarkable comeback for Yanukovich, a rough-hewn ex-mechanic who tapped widespread disillusionment with the Orange democracy movement that delivered years of infighting instead of prosperity and stability.
His party is an ally of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s United Russia and he is expected to tilt Ukraine more toward Russia, ending a deep chill in relations under the pro-Western Viktor Yushchenko.
Yanukovich’s camp denied there was any legal basis for challenging the result and ruled out any third round as in 2004.
“NO NEW MAIDAN”
The Orange Revolution, in which tens of thousands of people demonstrated on Independence Square -- commonly known as Maidan -- brought current President Yushchenko to power. Now an enemy of Tymoshenko, he crashed to a humiliating defeat in a first round vote on January 17.
The action announced by her parliamentary faction could delay official publication of the final election results and hold up any inauguration of a new president. This normally takes place within 30 days of publication of results.
Some of Tymoshenko’s supporters privately said that, unlike 2004, attempts to prove fraud against the Yanukovich camp might only delay the inevitable.
“One should not overdramatize the situation if we become an opposition -- this will give us a chance to grow popular support for Tymoshenko in local elections on May 30 from today’s almost 12 million people,” said Tymoshenko ally Serhiy Mishchenko.
Ukraine has been battered by economic crisis and badly needs to restart talks with the IMF on a $16.4 billion bail-out package derailed by broken promises of fiscal restraint.
Former economy minister and presidential candidate Sergey Tigipko said the Orange Revolution would not be repeated. “Of course, Yulia Tymoshenko’s team will go to the courts, but there will be no new Maidan,” he was quoted as saying.