With 10% of the vote counted, President Viktor Yanukovych's Party of Regions looks set to remain in power following the October 28 elections in Ukraine. As of 9:00am, the count thus far has Regions with 39.97% of the vote, according to the country's Central Election Committee (CEC). That's significantly more than the 23% the party was polling last week.
Jailed ex-premier Yulia Tymoshenko's Batkivshchyna party is in second place with 19.56%. The Communists, who are allied with Regions, are running third with 15.79%. The new kids on the block, boxer Vitaly Klitschko's Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reform (UDAR or Punch in English) are in fourth with 11.59%. The last group currently above the 5% threshold to enter parliament is the Svoboda nationalist party with 6.18%.
Over 5,000 candidates are contesting the 450 seats in Ukraine's parliament, the Supreme Rada, with half of the deputies to be elected via a party-list vote and the other half in single-mandate constituencies. The turnout was better than expected at 58%, according to the Central Election Committee.
The election is a test for Ukraine's young democracy - one it will probably fail. The country is trying to get into the EU and the vote has been widely taken as a litmus test for its readiness. The EU has insisted that if Ukraine is serious about moving closer to the EU it must abide by European standards of democracy, among other things. However, with Tymoshenko in jail, Ukraine has failed before it began.
In fact, it's probably made matters worse with this election. An observer from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Neil Simon, told reporters that there were problems at polling stations. The communists' strong showing in the CEC's early numbers, but poor performance in the exit polls has already raised a big question mark over the validity of the vote.
The OSCE is unlikely to declare this election "free and fair". That's a disappointment considering the presidential election in 2010. which installed Yanukovych in his job by a razor thin margin, was considered the fairest election in eastern Europe since the fall of the former Soviet Union.
"As of now I do not want to speak about something positive or negative so that another observer would reject this information later. However, there were not many polling stations [in Ukraine] that did not have problems at all," Simon said in an interview with Voice of Russia radio station.
The OSCE is set to release its overall judgment on the election late on October 29. The Ukrainian Interior Ministry also said that it received a total of 237 calls complaining of violations - most of which concerned illegal campaigning at polling stations, bribing voters, violations of election procedures, acts of hooliganism and others.
The results announced by the CEC are far in advance of the independent exit polls - although these too put Regions in front - suggesting the authorities may be preparing a significant fix. An exit-poll by the Democratic Initiatives Foundation found that Regions was winning with 28.1% of the party-list vote, much closer to the results predicted by the polls in the run up to the vote. The communists didn't feature in the forecast, while Batkivshchyna came in second with 24.7%, and UDAR was third with 15.1%.
Borys Kolesnikov, a deputy prime minister, said he expected Regions to pick up two thirds of the remaining vote in single mandate districts, ensuring it straightforward majority in the 450-seat assembly, reports Reuters. "The exit poll data speaks for itself. It is clear the Party of the Regions has won ... These elections signal confidence in the President's policies," added Prime Minister Mykola Azarov.
Arseny Yatsenyuk, head of the united opposition in the absence of Tymoshenko, claimed the polls show exactly the opposite: "The exit poll results have shown that the people of Ukraine support the opposition and not the government." Although the three opposition parties appeared to have won roughly half of the vote on the party lists, they are not expected to fare as well in the single-mandate constituencies, where the state has wider scope to exercise its administrative resources.
The Ukrainian nationalist Svoboda (Freedom) party is the shock result with exit polls showing it will win 12% of the party list voting, assuring it of representation in parliament for the first time. Based in the Ukrainian-speaking west of the country, the party will have picked up its votes mainly from Tymoshenko's block.
If the gap between the exit polls and the official results remains wide then the chances for renewed social unrest will rise sharply. The population is rife with apathy after the Orange Revolution came to nothing, but discontent at the economic mismanagement and rampant corruption in the country is pushing them towards action once more.
However, analysts say the chances of large-scale popular street protests are low, and speculate that Yanukovych would not baulk at putting soldiers on the streets if they do evolve. According to a recent poll by the Democratic Initiatives Foundation, only 9% of Ukrainians believe the vote will be fair, but 70% said they will not protest if the authorities rig the election.
"People are disillusioned with their politicians, but they are not disillusioned with politics," said Serhiy Taran, director of the Kiev-based International Democracy Institute reports Ria Novosti.
Within the political world, it is most likely that the opposition leaders - new and old -- will launch a war of attrition against the ruling powers with an eye on the 2015 presidential elections, where the stakes will be even higher.
The entry into the Rada of former boxing champion Klitschko is the biggest change wrought by the vote. A new face, untainted by politics - unlike most of the Orange politicians - he will be a focal point to rally the dissatisfaction. Provided he sticks to his guns, he could mount an effective challenge to Yanukovych in the presidential elections (especially if Tymoshenko remains in jail) and clearly plans to play the long game.
That tactic is clearly necessary; despite the dissatisfaction with the ruling elite, it has not automatically translated into support for the opposition. Klitschko says his party will team up with Yatsenyuk and other members of the opposition, including Svoboda, although his refusal to join a pre-election coalition engendered suspicion.
"We do not foresee any joint work with the Party of the Regions and its communist satellite. We are ready to work with those political parties which propose a European path of development," Klitschko told journalists.
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