Almost a week after the presidential election, Ukraine's prime minister and disappointed candidate, Yulia Tymoshenko, has finally broken her silence, and not in a helpful way. Ms Tymoshenko, who might have had a chance of remaining prime minister under a new president, has decided instead to challenge the result in court. If she acts on this intention – and she is not known for graceful retreats – Ms Tymoshenko will be doing herself and her country a big disservice.
This presidential election was the third to be held in Ukraine since independence. Unlike many elections in post-Soviet countries, Russia included, Ukraine can pride itself on the fact that in none of them was the result a foregone conclusion. It was popular anger at what was seen as the rigging of the last election, against the pro-Western candidate, Viktor Yushchenko, that precipitated the Orange Revolution. Then, the election was re-run.
The circumstances this time around are very different. Both the first round and the run-off were closely scrutinised by international observers and found to be free and fair. Although Ms Tymoshenko's camp had warned loudly of fraud before the run-off (when she looked set to lose by a convincing margin), neutral analysts say the pattern of actual results does not support such allegations.
In the event, Ms Tymoshenko lost by less than four per cent to Viktor Yanukovych. But in a democracy – even a relatively young one – a narrow defeat remains a defeat. The conduct of this election, and the creditable turn-out, had fuelled the belief that Ukraine might, after years of turmoil, at last be able to settle down and tackle its ingrained problems. Disillusionment with politics set in within 18 months of the Orange Revolution, and the economy has been in steep decline, in part because of the global recession. The hope was that, whoever won would use the electoral mandate to unify and not to divide.
Ms Tymoshenko – who jointly led the Orange Revolution – has now taken the contrary course. Regrettably, she seems not to have understood that in a democracy, leading a responsible opposition is also a noble, and necesssary, calling.