Ukraine's Constitutional Court has begun hearings in the capital, Kyiv, Tuesday on the legality of President Viktor Yushchenko's decree, dissolving parliament and calling new elections. The court is taking up the case one week later than planned, after several judges asked for protection, alleging that political pressure was being exerted against them. VOA's Lisa McAdams in Moscow has more.
Supporters of Ukraine's competing political parties ringed the gates outside the Constitutional Court, as judges got down to the high-stakes business of trying to find a legal way out of the country's latest political crisis.
Prime Minister Yanukovych earlier filed the query with the court, saying he believes the president's decree is unconstitutional. He has ordered parliament to continue working until a legal decision is rendered. His supporters have spent days camped out in the streets in protest.
President Yushchenko, who accuses Yanukovych's Regions party of trying to usurp power, remains firm in his call for new elections. He says they are the only way out of the impasse, barring a last-minute compromise with his prime minister. The two have held several lengthy meetings, during which both parties stuck to their entrenched positions.
All eyes and hopes are now on the court, which could deliver a ruling at any time in the next 30 days.
The question is will a constitutional court decision be able to fix what is essentially a political problem, stemming from a long-standing political rivalry? Kiev-based independent political analyst Ivan Lozowy is doubtful.
"The chances are not very good that either side, if they lose, will fold up shop and quietly go off into the night with this decision. That's the big problem," he said. "Even if the decision goes through - let's say the elections are held, or they are cancelled, the political fight will continue. There's no question."
The way in which that fight materializes could pose Ukraine's next challenge. For example, Lozowy notes that - even though both parties have said they will respect and abide by the court's decision - either party could still change their mind and reject the outcome.
Lozowy adds he is especially unsure whether Yanukovych will keep his word, given his recent comment to a reporter that he was ready to launch impeachment proceedings against the president, if the court decides in his favor.
The court is comprised of six judges chosen by the president, six chosen by parliament, and six by the legal community. However, in the days leading up to the hearings, five judges decided to boycott the process, citing "gross" pressure. Three were Yushchenko appointees, one judge was appointed by parliament and one was from the legal community.