- The Washington Times - Monday, October 1, 2007

KIEV — A pro-Western democratic coalition appeared headed for victory in parliamentary elections yesterday, dominating a vote that will decide finally whether the country aligns itself with Russia or the West.

But the narrow margin and complex balance of parties suggest a difficult period of coalition-building will be needed before the winners can press ahead with reforms promised during the 2004 Orange Revolution.

“No one can make less of or demean the victory for the country,” said a triumphant opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko after the release of exit polls showing she and her coalition partners would have enough seats to form a government. “Hurray, all is well.”

Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, whose pro-Russian Regions Party won the most votes of any single party, also said he would be able to form a government and invited smaller parties to rally behind him.

“These elections give a carte blanche for the Regions Party to form a new successful government,” he said, though his worried expression betrayed his concern.

A national exit poll showed that the Our Ukraine-Self Defense party, loyal to pro-Western President Victor Yushchenko, and a party led by Mrs. Tymoshenko received a combined 44.9 percent of the vote compared to 35.2 percent for Mr. Yanukovych’s party.

The Communist Party, which is allied with the Regions, won 5.1 percent of the vote. A party led by former parliamentary speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn — who has backed both sides at different times, unexpectedly edged over the 3 percent threshold to get into parliament with 3.7 percent. The remaining votes went to parties that did not pass the threshold.

Analysts said that if the exit poll is borne out by the official results, the so-called “Orange Coalition” will have enough seats in parliament to form a government and move forward with the ambitious reforms promised three years ago.

Those include eventual membership in the European Union and NATO. Mrs. Tymoshenko, who is often cited as the heroine of the Orange Revolution, would also likely resume her post as prime minister.

Ukraine’s Central Election Commission said it expected to announce early returns today.

A total of 20 parties vied for places in the 450-seat legislature. Nearly 58 percent of Ukraine’s 37 million eligible voters cast ballots.

The election marks a stunning comeback for Mrs. Tymoshenko, whom Mr. Yushchenko fired as prime minister amid political infighting eight months after she took office in 2005.

Although the two leaders have often been at loggerheads, they reconciled during this election, paving the way for an Orange victory.

Mrs. Tymoshenko told journalists she and Mr. Yushchenko had signed a political agreement on programs and principles, including a strategic program and a “moral codex.”

She also said that her government would work to speed Ukraine’s entry into the World Trade Organization and to build closer economic ties with Europe.

“We know that we will have to accomplish 10 days’ work in a single day,” Mrs. Tymoshenko said while casting her ballot. She also stressed that under her leadership, Ukraine would continue to maintain good relations with Russia.

Mr. Yanukovych ran on a platform of stability and economic growth. His political opponents, however, accused him of favoritism and allowing the privatization of key state-owned enterprises at depressed prices — a practice Mrs. Tymoshenko promised to reverse.

Mr. Yushchenko called the snap parliamentary election to end a period of political paralysis that has plagued Ukraine since Mr. Yanukovych became prime minister last year. The president has accused Mr. Yanukovych of trying to usurp power through contradictory laws and ill-defined changes to presidential powers.

All the major political parties said they would recognize the result of yesterday’s vote, regardless of the outcome. Most said there would be no repeat of the mass demonstrations over electoral fraud that marked 2004’s Orange Revolution.

About 4,000 Ukrainian and Western observers monitored the vote, which they said was largely free and fair. Some problems did result from incomplete or incorrect voters’ lists, observer groups said.

Mr. Yanukovych’s party had originally threatened to boycott the election, calling it unnecessary. It is uncertain whether the party will challenge the results. If so, that could bode ill for the country, observers said.

“Ukraine’s parliamentary election is both competitive and problematic,” said Judge Abner Mikva, a former White House counsel and the co-leader of the National Democratic Institute’s observer delegation.

“While the atmosphere surrounding the election is calm, the threat by major political forces to take large numbers of electoral challenges to the courts could extend the country’s political crisis.”


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