Chairman of the Ukrainian democratic opposition Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reform Party and former boxing champion Vitali Klitschko, centre right, and his wife Natalia cast their ballots, at a polling station during parliamentary elections in Kiev, Ukraine, Sunday, Oct. 28, 2012. Ukrainians are electing a parliament on Sunday in a crucial vote tainted by the jailing of top opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko and fears of election fraud. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
KIEV, Ukraine (AP) —
Ukraine's opposition parties performed strongly in Sunday's parliamentary vote, according to an exit poll, but President Viktor Yanukovych's party could still retain control of the legislature as its members are likely to sweep individual races across the country.
The West is paying close attention to the conduct of the vote in the strategic ex-Soviet state, which lies between Russia and the European Union, and serves as a key conduit for transit of Russian energy supplies to many EU countries. An election deemed unfair would likely turn Ukraine further away from the West and toward Moscow.
Opposition parties alleged widespread violations on election day, such as vote-buying and a suspiciously high amount of home voting, but a local election monitor said those violations were isolated. Authorities insisted the election was honest and democratic.
The Fatherland party, led by the jailed charismatic former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, the Udar (Punch) of world boxing champion Vitali Klitschko and a nationalist party together received more than 50 percent of the vote on party lists, outnumbering Yanukovych's Party of Regions and its traditional ally, the Communist Party.
Both Yanukovych's and Tymoshenko's parties claimed victory, saying the election showed the voters trust them to lead the country.
However, only half of the parliament's 450 seats are split proportionately between the winning parties. The other half is filled by the winners of single-mandate races, where Yanukovych loyalists are expected to make a strong showing. In the election, each voter had two ballots, one with party names and one with the name of candidates in specific constituencies. No exit poll numbers were available for the individual races.
With Yanukovych under fire over the jailing of his top rival, Tymoshenko; rampant corruption and slow reforms, the opposition made a strong showing.
Tymoshenko's Fatherland party is poised to get about 25 percent of the proportional vote, the Udar (Punch) led by world boxing champion Vitali Klitschko is set to get around 15 percent and the nationalist Svoboda (Freedom) party receives some 12 percent. The Party of Regions polled 28 percent and the Communists nearly 12 percent.
If the three opposition groups unite, they could get 127 parliament seats versus 98 seats gained by the Regions and Communists. The distribution of the remaining 225 seats is expected to be clear Monday.
Opposition forces hope to garner enough parliament seats to weaken Yanukovych's power and undo the damage they say he has done: the jailing of Tymoshenko and her top allies, the concentration of power in the hands of the president, the snubbing of the Ukrainian language in favor of Russian, waning media freedoms, a deteriorating business climate and growing corruption.
The strong showing by the far-right Svoboda (Freedom) party which campaigns for the defense of the Ukrainian language and culture but is also infamous for xenophobic and anti-Semitic rhetoric emerged as a surprise and showed the widespread disappointment and anger with the ruling party.
It remains to be seen whether Tymoshenko's group, Klitschko's party and Svoboda can forge a strong alliance and challenge Yanukovych.
The election tainted by Tymoshenko's jailing on charges of abuse of office has also been compromised by the creation of fake opposition parties, campaigns by politically unskilled celebrities, and the use of state resources and greater access to television by Yanukovych's party.
Yuras Karmanau in Kiev contributed to this report.