- - Sunday, October 28, 2012

KIEV — Political allies of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych appeared on track to retaining control over the country’s parliament as polls closed Sunday, although opposition parties charged voting irregularities in an election seen as a test for the government’s commitment to democracy.

Exit polls showed that the ruling Party of Regions would have little trouble holding on to its majority in the  legislature and the party quickly claimed victory after polls closed Sunday, but it was unclear which party would finish second, making that party the main opposition.

“We believe that this is an undisputable victory of the Party of Regions,” Prime Minister Mykola Azarov said.

“Above all, it shows the people’s trust to the [policy] course that is being pursued.”

Many observers also were watching the election results for Svoboda, a far-right anti-Semitic fringe party with prospects of gaining a few seats in parliament and sparking concerns from Israel.

The stakes for a nonpresidential election in Ukraine could hardly be higher. The country’s relationship with the European Union was damaged after the scandal sparked by the imprisonment of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko two years ago on corruption charges widely seen as politically motivated.

If observers deem the election unfair, Ukraine’s ties with the EU would be eroded further and the former Soviet republic could look for deeper relations with Russia.

“We want to have stronger ties with the EU, but the EU has to want to have stronger ties with us,” Ukrainian Foreign Minister Kostyantyn Gryshchenko said in an interview Sunday.

In Kiev, some of the more than 4,000 foreign election observers reported only minor irregularities at voting stations.

Italian observer Alessandro Musolino said, “From what I have seen and from what I have been told by my colleagues, everything appears very regular.”

The Yanukovych government went out of its way to grant access to international monitors in an attempt to improve the country’s democratic credentials and move beyond the Tymoshenko scandal.

Invisible ink, power outages

However, reports from opposition leaders alleging wrongdoing rolled in, according to news reports from the provinces.

Olha Herasimyuk, a candidate for a pro-Western party headed by boxing champion Vitali Klitschko, reportedly was attacked while trying to gather evidence of a vote-buying scheme. Others reported unusual power outages at some voting places in the north. Election officials in Odessa temporarily halted voting after discovering pens with disappearing ink for marking ballots.

Mr. Klitschko’s party, called the Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reform, and Mrs. Tymoshenko’s Fatherland Party are reported to be in a close race for second place.

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