17th May 2022

Pro-Western parties ahead in Ukraine elections

(Updated 11:15 CET) Pro-western candidate Yulia Tymoshenko is heading for a narrow victory in Ukraine's elections, but Russia-friendly Viktor Yanukovych is behind by only a small margin amid risk of political turmoil that could impact the country's EU and Russia relations.

The West-oriented parties of Yulia Tymoshenko and president Viktor Yushchenko took 33 percent and 15 percent of votes respectively in Sunday's elections, according to preliminary results published by Unian news agency on Monday (1 October).

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Mr Yanukovych's Party of the Regions got 31 percent, the agency said with 58 percent of votes counted.

Mr Yushchenko on TV last week kissed Ms Tymoshenko's hand and suggested they will form a coalition to install her as prime minister, in a throwback to 2004 when the pair ousted the country's post-Soviet regime in the Orange Revolution.

"Tomorrow morning I will call on the president to start the formation of the coalition and government," she said on Sunday night, Ukrainian agency Unian reports.

Mr Yanukovych, the current prime minister, is unlikely to step aside quietly however, with thousands of his supporters due to attend a rally in Kiev on Monday afternoon and a possibility the election result could be challenged on grounds of voting irregularities.

A 710-strong OSCE monitoring mission will say ahead of the rally if the poll was "free and fair" but press reports already indicate there were problems with regional voting lists, which saw ballot papers issued for long-dead citizens and legitimate names missing from registers.

The election result reflects the country's deep divide, with most Ukrainian-speakers in the west sharing the "Orange" vision of EU and NATO integration and with the predominantly Russian speakers in the east seeing their future in restoring close relations with Moscow.

The snap September 30 poll was called after political infighting between the Yushchenko and Yanukovych camps almost ended in violence on the streets this May.

The last time Russia-critical Ms Tymoshenko was in power saw Moscow cut off Ukraine's gas in a price row which also impacted EU energy security - Ukraine transits 80 percent of Russia's gas exports to the European Union.

"The [2008] gas price will be decided in negotiations. Everything will depend on the composition of the government," the Russian ambassador to Ukraine, Viktor Chernomyrdin, told Russian media ahead of Sunday's vote. The diplomat later backtracked, saying Moscow will work with any legitimate government in Kiev.

Meanwhile, EU leaders at a Ukraine summit two weeks' back warned that progress on a new bilateral agreement could stall if the election does not produce a stable government that can push through economic and administrative reforms.

The EU has declined to give Mr Yushchenko any future EU membership pledge but is currently negotiating a new "Enhanced Agreement" with Kiev which could end up remodelling the country's economy along European single market lines.

"There will be emotions, but these will be just episodes. I'm sure that the political community will find mutual understanding," president Yushchenko said after the vote, AP writes.

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