KIEV: Pro-Western and nationalist parties were on course on Monday for a crushing Ukrainian election win, boosting President Petro Poroshenko’s bid to merge his country with Europe and make peace with pro-Russian rebels.
Early results and exit polls indicated overwhelming support for Poroshenko’s drive to break his war-torn country out of Russia’s orbit despite the painful economic measures the Kremlin has levied on its western neighbor in reprisal.
Many in Kiev and the West blame the six-month uprising in the east of the country, that has claimed 3,700 lives, on Russian President Vladimir Putin’s effort to destabilize Ukraine’s new government and create a “frozen conflict” in its vital rustbelt.
But parties with links to Moscow or the old Viktor Yanukovych regime that was ousted after his abrupt rejection in February of a landmark European Union pact were routed at the ballot boxes on Sunday.
“I want the war to end and for out country to join the European Union, although I doubt this will happen very soon,” pensioner Bogdan Golobutskiy said as he trudged up to a Kiev polling station on a chilly but sunny morning.
Radicals that rejected Poroshenko’s peace deal with the insurgents that offered them limited autonomy also had a poor showing – as did corruption-tainted politicians who had steered Ukraine through two decades of stuttering reforms.
Analysts said it was almost certain that Poroshenko will have to share power with Yatsenyuk as premier.
“Voters did not want a monopoly of power in one pair of hands,” said Vadym Karasyov of Kiev’s Institute of Global Strategies. “They voted for a Poroshenko-Yatsenyuk tandem,” he added.
‘Irreversible’ path to Europe
A buoyant Poroshenko said, in nationally televized comments, said “more than three quarters of voters who took part in the polls gave strong and irreversible backing to Ukraine’s path to Europe.”
The 49-year-old chocolate baron said a majority also supported his search for “political methods” to end the war in the country’s industrial east.
Results with 10 percent of the precincts reporting showed Poroshenko’s group with 21.9 percent of the votes. The People’s Front was a very close second with 21.6 percent.
Exit polls earlier showed the president’s Petro Poroshenko Bloc leading with 23 percent of the vote.
Trailing a few fractions of a percentage point behind him was the People’s Front led by Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk – a more nationalist leader instrumental in Ukraine’s urgent loan negotiations with the West.
The two parties are thus within striking distance of the majority needed to form a moderate government that could pursue similar policies to those both back now.
Yatsenyuk is widely expected to keep his premiership post. Poroshenko did not address his current premier’s job prospects while adding that 10 days would be “more than enough” to form a new cabinet and get back to work.
The vote came eight months after a winter-long popular uprising that killed more than 100 people ousted Yanukovych in February and sparked the worst standoff between Moscow and the West since the Cold War.
The snap general election was called to clear out the last vestiges of the Yanukovych’s regime – a job that Poroshenko appeared to have accomplished with gusto.
The exit polls showed the socially conservative Samopomich (Self-Help) group of the mayor of Lviv – a western Ukrainian bedrock of nationalist passions – in third place with up to 14 percent of the vote.
But the Opposition Bloc of former Yanukovych allies was a distant fourth with less than 8.0 percent.
Another pro-Russian party failed to qualify while the Communist Party was on course to be shut out of a Ukrainian election for the first time since its founding by Lenin nearly a century ago.
The war with pro-Kremlin rebels and Russia’s earlier annexation of the Black Sea peninsula of Crimean cast a long shadow over the polls.
Voters in Crimea and in separatist-controlled areas of the eastern Lugansk and Donetsk regions – about five million of Ukraine’s 36.5 million-strong electorate – were unable to take part.
Twenty-seven seats in the 450-seat parliament will remain empty.
Insurgent leaders intend to hold their own leadership vote that Kiev rejects next Sunday.
“There is nothing good to expect from these elections in Ukraine. War, bombardments, all this horror will continue,” said 42-year-old Natalia amid a rare lull in shelling in the rebels’ main stronghold of Donetsk.
Giving negotiations a chance
A Moscow-backed peace deal signed by Kiev and the separatists on September 5 has calmed the worst fighting but is constantly broken around the disputed Donetsk airport and near the disputed southeastern port of Mariupol.
Poroshenko’s insistence that there can be no military victory and that he is ready to negotiate autonomy for pro-Russian regions – though not independence – chimed with Ukrainians fearful of open-ended war.
Voters came down on the side of moderates rather than more hawkish parties like the Radical Party and Fatherland – a group led by former premier and 2004 pro-democracy Orange Revolution leader Yulia Tymoshenko.
Tymoshenko herself has been hounded by graft charges and only managed to lead her party to sixth place on Sunday with less than six percent of the vote, according to the early results.
Half of the parliament seats are allocated to parties through proportional representation. The other half go to individual candidates and the counting of those races could take several days.