Ukraine's ruling party closes in on election win


THE GOVERNING Regions Party of president Viktor Yanukovich has won Ukraine’s parliamentary election, according to exit polls last night.

However, opposition parties fared strongly enough to raise their hopes of forming a majority in parliament if they can forge a coalition.

The exit polls indicated that the Regions Party secured between 28 and 31 per cent of the vote, with the Fatherland bloc of jailed ex-prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko second on about 25 per cent and the new Udar (Punch) Party led by heavyweight boxing champion Vitali Klitschko third on about 15 per cent.

The exit polls covered seats elected according to party lists in the country of 46 million people. They make up half of the 450 seats in the lower house of parliament, with the rest allocated by direct mandate. The polls also indicated that only two other parties would cross the 5 per cent threshold required to enter the 450-seat parliament: the ultra-nationalist Freedom group and the Communist Party, both of which attracted about 12 per cent of votes.

No other party was expected to enter parliament, including the new Forward Ukraine group of former Chelsea football star Andriy Shevchenko which critics derided as a stalking horse for the Regions Party that was intended to take votes from real opposition forces.

The Fatherland bloc’s performance is likely to embolden Ms Tymoshenko, who was jailed last October for seven years for abuse of power over signing a 2009 gas deal with Russia that prosecutors said was extremely costly for Ukraine. She denied those charges, rejects allegations of tax evasion and suggestions that she was involved in the murder of a business rival in the 1990s.

Pre-election polls suggested that the Udar Party would come second and become the most potent opposition force in Ukraine, potentially weakening Ms Tymoshenko’s influence as she tries to rally European Union and United States opinion against Mr Yanukovich and his party.

Ukraine hopes to sign deals on political association and trade integration with the EU after the election, but much depends on how the conduct of the election is viewed by western powers.

Before the vote, US secretary of state Hillary Clinton and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton noted “worrying trends”, including alleged vote-buying and “reports of the use of administrative resources to favour ruling party candidates and the difficulties several media outlets face”. They also expressed “regret that the convictions of opposition leaders during trials that did not meet international standards . . . including the case of former prime minister Yulia V Tymoshenko and other former senior officials.”

Many Ukrainians lost faith with Ms Tymoshenko when she and her pro-western allies ran the country somewhat fractiously after the 2004 Orange Revolution, and back Mr Yanukovich’s party to bring stability to the country.