Kiev (Ukraine): Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych`s party headed for victory in parliamentary elections tainted by the jailing of the country`s top opposition leader, preliminary results showed Monday.
Despite a strong showing of pro-Western opposition parties, Yanukovych`s Party of Regions appeared set to retain its parliamentary majority with its candidates leading in individual races across the country.
With former Premier Yulia Tymoshenko in jail and widespread fears of election fraud, the West is paying close attention to 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.
With votes counted at some 30 per cent of polling stations nationwide this morning, Party or Regions was ahead with 37 percent in the proportional share of the vote. The Regions also were poised to win some 115 seats out of the 225 total seats allocated in individual races, meaning Yanukovych loyalists would likely get a majority of votes in the 450-member parliament.
International observers were to issue their verdict on the fairness of the vote later today. An election deemed undemocratic by the West could freeze Kiev`s ties with the European Union it aspires to join and push Ukraine toward Moscow.
"We believe that this is an indisputable victory of the Party of Regions," Prime Minister Mykola Azarov said last night after polls closed. "Above all, it shows the people`s trust to the (policy) course that is being pursued."
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 party came in with some 20 per cent of the vote, the pro-Western Udar (Punch) party led by boxing champion Vitali Klitschko third with 13 per cent and the far-right Svoboda (Freedom) party had 8 per cent of the vote. The Communists, Yanukovych`s traditional allies, had some 15 per cent of the vote, according to preliminary proportional results.
"This clearly shows that the people of Ukraine support the opposition, not the government," Tymoshenko ally Arseniy Yatsenyuk said.
Opposition parties alleged widespread violations on election day, such as vote-buying and multiple voting, but an independent local election monitor said it remains to be seen whether the violations would significantly affect the overall elections results. Authorities insisted the election was honest and democratic.