Opposition leader Yanukovich wins 1st round in Ukraine vote
Monday, January 18, 2010
KIEV -- The politician backed by the Kremlin and accused of election fraud in Ukraine's Orange Revolution five years ago scored a first-round win Sunday in presidential voting, but he appeared to fall well short of the majority he needed to assume the office.
Viktor Yanukovich, leader of the opposition Party of Regions, which has long enjoyed Moscow's support, won 31 to 36 percent of the vote, according to exit polls. That set up a runoff in three weeks against Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who finished second with 25 to 27 percent, a much stronger showing than expected.
The candidates have been bitter foes since Ukraine's last presidential election. Tymoshenko helped organize the peaceful, pro-West uprising that blocked Yanukovich from taking power and humiliated his Russian supporters, including then-President Vladimir Putin.
But geopolitical overtones have largely been absent from the race. Tymoshenko has vowed to repair ties with Russia, and the Kremlin has signaled that it can work with her. Yanukovich has reached out to the West and pledged to pursue membership in the European Union. Both have said they will abandon efforts to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
Speaking to reporters as official results were still being tallied, Tymoshenko seized on the findings of the nation's most independent exit poll, which showed her trailing Yanukovich by four percentage points. She predicted that the nation's splintered "democratic forces" would rally around her in the runoff.
"People have voted for Ukraine to become a just and European country," she said. "It means Yanukovich, who represents the criminal circles, has no chance."
But Yanukovich cast the results as a repudiation of the Orange government, which has struggled for five years with infighting and has not delivered much-needed political and economic reforms.
"The mistake of the Orange team is that they thought that between elections, people would forget the promises made and never kept, but this isn't the case," he said.
"Today marks the end of Orange power," he added, referring to the failed reelection bid of President Viktor Yushchenko, the Orange Revolution hero whose face was scarred in a poisoning blamed on Russian secret services.
Yushchenko appeared to finish fifth with 6 percent of the vote, behind millionaire banker Sergei Tigipko and former parliament chief Arseniy Yatsenyuk.
In a final campaign push, Yushchenko had accused Yanukovich and Tymoshenko, a former ally, of being part of "a single Kremlin coalition." But the charge did not resonate in this country of 46 million, which has been battered by the global financial crisis and was forced to accept a tough bailout package from the International Monetary Fund.
Yushchenko made no immediate statement, but a senior aide said he intends to guarantee a fair and transparent runoff.
Tymoshenko, a sharp-tongued former natural-gas tycoon known for wearing her braided hair like a crown, had warned of fraud before the vote, but the Central Election Commission said it had not received reports of serious irregularities. Multiple teams of international observers were positioned across the country and were scheduled to report their findings Monday.
Despite widespread frustration with the political paralysis that Ukraine has endured, more than 66 percent of eligible voters braved frigid weather to go to the polls, authorities said. Among them was retired pediatrician Alla Olyenik, 55, who cast a ballot for Tymoshenko in a central Kiev school.
"In the Orange Revolution, I voted to make this a different, better country," she said. "I still believe it's possible that things will change. Hope is the last thing to die."