Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich’s party was on course yesterday to secure a parliamentary majority after an election, but will face an opposition boosted by resurgent nationalists and a liberal party led by boxing champion Vitaly Klitschko.
Victory for the ruling Party of the Regions in Sunday’s vote will cement the leadership of Yanukovich, who faces re-election in 2015 and whose rule has been marked by an accumulation of presidential powers and antagonism with the West over the imprisonment of his rival, opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko.
“It is clear the Party of the Regions has won ... These elections signal confidence in the president’s policies,” Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov told reporters.
Partial results put the Regions in the lead, with 36.8 percent of the votes in the part of balloting conducted by party lists.
A senior Regions official said he expected the party to secure a simple majority in the former Soviet republic’s 450-seat assembly. It has ruled until now as a coalition.
The biggest surprise came from the Ukrainian nationalist Svoboda (Freedom) party which, according to partial results, took about 7.5 percent of the party list voting, assuring it of winning more than one seat in parliament for the first time.
The partial results published by the central election commission were based on 28 percent of ballots, and the Regions’ margin over the opposition was narrowing as counting continued. Exit polls had given the Regions about 30 percent, with Svoboda on about 12 percent.
The strong showing by Svoboda — which occupies the opposite end of the political spectrum to the Regions — boosted opposition ranks that have been weakened by the jailing of Tymoshenko.
The other new wild card in parliament will be held by Klitschko’s UDAR (Punch) party which was in third place behind the Regions and the united opposition, which includes Tymoshenko’s Batkivschyna (Fatherland), the exit polls showed.
Many voters made it clear they were frustrated with the performance of the established political parties in the past few years. Corruption is a big concern in Ukraine and many Ukrainians face economic hardship.
Even in Donetsk, Yanukovich’s main stronghold in the east of the country, many voters said they were disillusioned by the government’s record.
“I voted for the Regions Party, but simply because it is the lesser of the evils. I can’t say I am a great fan of the Regions, but all the rest are worse,” 58-year-old Viktor Grigoryev said.
The country of 46 million is more isolated politically on the international stage than it has been for years.
Apart from being at odds with the US and the EU over Tymoshenko, Ukraine does not see eye to eye with Russia, which has turned a deaf ear to Kiev’s calls for cheaper gas.
At home, the government is also blamed for failing to stamp out corruption and has backed off from carrying out painful reforms that could secure much-needed IMF lending.
Arseny Yatsenyuk, head of the united opposition in the absence of Tymoshenko, said: “The exit poll results have shown that the people of Ukraine support the opposition and not the government.”
If the exit polls prove accurate, Klitschko, the WBC heavyweight boxing champion, will now enter parliament at the head of his new party. He says his party will team up with Yatsenyuk and other members of the opposition, including Svoboda, though his refusal to join a pre-election coalition engendered suspicion.
However, it was the showing of Svoboda, which pursues a strong Ukrainian nationalist agenda and opposes attempts by the Regions to promote the Russian language over Ukrainian, which caught attention on the night.
Svoboda leader Oleh Tyahnybok, a 43-year-old surgeon, pledged to stick by a pre-election agreement to work with Yatsenyuk and other opposition leaders in the new parliament.
He appealed to Klitschko to formally join the united opposition.
“We can only hope that, having looked at the situation which has emerged, Vitaly Klitschko will unite with us,” he said in televised comments.