Ukraine ruling party claims election win

AFP , Monday 29 Oct 2012

Regions Party claims victory in weekend parliamentary elections, winning almost 35.6 per cent of vote against 21.5 percent for ex-PM Yulia Tymoshenko's opposition party

Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich holds his ballot as he visits a polling station during the parliamentary elections in Kiev, October 28, 2012 (Photo: Reuters)

Ukraine's ruling party on Monday claimed victory in weekend elections as early results showed it withstanding the challenge by allies of ex-premier Yulia Tymoshenko whose jailing last year sparked global concern.

Prime Minister Mykola Azarov expressed confidence the ruling Regions Party would win the majority of seats in the new parliament after Sunday's vote that the West saw as a huge test for Ukraine's democracy amid the furore caused by the imprisonment of Tymoshenko.

While the vote for Tymoshenko's opposition alliance held up, the party of boxing champion Vitali Klitschko fell short of its high expectations while the political baptism of footballer Andriy Shevchenko was set to end in disaster.

President Viktor Yanukovych's Regions Party has 35.6 percent of the vote against 21.5 percent for Tymoshenko's opposition party, the central election commission said in a statement based on a 40 percent vote count in the proportional system that will determine half the seats in the new parliament.

The ruling party was also on course to win at least 110 seats out of the 225 that are being determined by first-past-the-post single mandate constituencies, an early analysis of the results showed.

"We are expecting that the Regions Party will take the majority in the new parliament," Azarov said. The final turnout was robust at 58 percent, the central election commission said.

The Communists were polling strongly in third place with 15.1 percent. Klitschko's new UDAR (Punch) party was on 12.8 percent, something of a disappointment given some pre-election opinion polls had placed it in second.

The ultra-nationalist Svoboda (Freedom) party was also due to break the five percent threshold needed to make parliament and was polling 8.0 percent, the partial results released by the election commission said.

Exit polls had shown a much narrow margin between the Regions Party and Tymoshenko but much of the vote count in more anti-Yanukovych regions still remains to be completed.

Interpreting the make-up of the new parliament is difficult as dozens of independents are set to win single mandate seats and their affiliation will not become clear until parliament actually meets for its first session.

The Tymoshenko, Klitschko and Svoboda parties are expected to form an alliance in parliament but it is still unclear if this can stop the Regions Party taking an overall majority.

Klitschko admitted on national television that he had hoped his party would have picked up more votes. He blamed the disappointing result on dirty politics, saying that the "number of violations in the final week had exceeded even what we had expected".

Respected political analyst Volodymyr Fesenko said that while the Regions Party would fall short of an overall majority alone it should be able to form one with the help of independent but loyal candidates from the single-mandate constituencies.

"Thus it seems the question of the majority is almost decided," the director of the Penta Research Institute said on Channel One television.

The elections were the first big vote in Ukraine -- wedged between the European Union and Russia -- since 2004 Orange Revolution co-leader Tymoshenko lost a close presidential ballot to Yanukovych in early 2010.

Russia is keenly watching the vote for any hint Ukraine wants to leave its sphere of influence while the European Union wants to see democratic standards strictly obeyed, with Kiev still expressing interest in joining the bloc.

Observers from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) are due to give their verdict on the election at 1230 GMT, an announcement being closely watched for any hint of foul play which will be seized upon by the opposition.

Tymoshenko, 51, was arrested in August 2011 and handed a seven year jail term for abuse of power in October that year, in a verdict her supporters and the West see as a political vendetta pursued by Yanukovych.

The former premier, who is currently outside of prison receiving treatment in hospital, voted while lying in bed in the presence of two international observers.

Concerns that two years of Yanukovych in power have sidelined Ukraine from its democratic course prompted US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton to issue a rare joint appeal to the ruling elite to ensure democratic polls.

A big loser appears to be the recently-retired Shevchenko who had astonished his fans by becoming a leading figure in the Ukraine Forward! party of former Tymoshenko ally Natalya Korolevska.

According to the initial results, it was set to win only 1.7 percent of the vote and a handful of single mandate seats, leaving the former AC Milan star's political future uncertain.

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