Ruling party leads in Ukraine exit polls

Early exit polls show that Ukraine’s ruling party, Regions Party of President Viktor Yanukovych, leading in Sunday’s elections for parliament with the largest share of votes – at least 28 percent.

Voter surveys released after the polls closed indicated the opposition alliance of jailed opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko was running in second place with about 24 percent of the votes. It was not immediately clear how the two main parties’ results would translate into seats in the 450-member parliament.

Voters cast ballots to select party lists to fill half of the seats in the unicameral parliament; the other 225 seats are filled by individual races in geographic constituencies.

Mr. Yanukovych’s Regions Party is hoping to retain its parliamentary majority over Ukraine’s divided pro-Western opposition coalition.

The election is seen by the West as a test of democracy in a former Soviet nation, and a signal of Ukraine’s future course in managing its relationships with both Russia and the European Union.

The central election commission in Kyiv says voter turnout on Sunday was 45 percent – about average for Ukraine, according to commission secretary Tetyana Lukash.

“In principle, the overall average voter turnout is 45 percent. It is a usual percentage. Just to compare, in the 2006 elections 41.5 percent of voters came to polling stations by four o’clock.”

Mr. Yanukovych urged voters to choose stability as he cast his ballot earlier in the capital.

“I have voted for the stability and economic development of Ukraine, for our people to live better. This election will promote the unification of Ukraine and the creation of a strong state.”

The Yanukovych government has faced Western criticism for jailing opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko last year for seven years.

The Tymoshenko-allied Fatherland bloc is hoping to win enough seats to promote Ukrainian ties with Europe and limit the president’s ability to carry out what are seen as authoritarian measures. However, the opposition vote could be split by heavyweight boxing champion Vitaly Klitschko and his UDAR (Punch) party, which has support from people disillusioned by political bickering among Tymoshenko’s allies.

As Klitschko voted in Kyiv, he said his reputation was key to his campaign.

“We will do everything possible not to disappoint those who pinned their hopes on us, those who made a choice in our favor. We will do everything possible to make Ukraine a truly European country.”

Klitschko said he was concerned that vote-buying could taint the election. Around 3,500 international observers were deployed across the country to determine whether the vote was free and fair. Their verdict is expected on Monday.




(Photo of Yanukovych: Igor Kruglenko; of Tymoshenko, European People’s Party))