Ukraine President's Party On Course For Election Win

Ukrainian President Victor Yanukovich's party was on Monday on course to secure a parliamentary majority after an election, but will face an opposition boosted by resurgent nationalists and a liberal party led by boxing champion Vitaly Klitschko.

* Initial results put Yanukovich party ahead

* Regions party leaders foresee parliament majority

* Nationalists, Klitschko party revitalise opposition

Ukrainian President Victor Yanukovich's party was on Monday on course to secure a parliamentary majority after an election, but will face an opposition boosted by resurgent nationalists and a liberal party led by boxing champion Vitaly Klitschko.

Victory for the ruling Party of the Regions in Sunday's vote will cement the leadership of Yanukovich, who faces re-election in 2015 and whose rule has been marked by an accumulation of presidential powers and antagonism with the West over the imprisonment of his rival, opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko.

"It is clear the Party of the Regions has won ... These elections signal confidence in the President's policies," Prime Minister Mykola Azarov told reporters.

After about one third of votes had been counted, the Regions were ahead with 36.2 percent of the votes in balloting conducted by party lists.

A senior Regions official said he expected it to obtain two thirds of the remaining vote in individual districts, enough to give the party a simple majority in the former Soviet republic's 450-seat assembly. It has ruled until now as a coalition with the communists and other allies.

The biggest surprise came from the nationalist Svoboda (Freedom) party which, according to partial results won about 7.8 percent of the party-list voting. This means it will have significant representation in parliament for the first time.

The unexpectedly strong showing by Svoboda - which is based in the Ukrainian-speaking west, pursues a strong Ukrainian nationalist agenda and opposes attempts by the Regions to promote the Russian language over Ukrainian - boosted opposition ranks that have been weakened by the jailing of Tymoshenko.

The other new opposition wild card in parliament will be held by Klitschko's UDAR (Punch) party which was in fourth place behind the Regions, the communists and the united opposition which includes Tymoshenko's Batkivshchyna (Fatherland).

Many voters made clear they were frustrated with the performance of the established political parties over the past few years. Corruption is a big concern in Ukraine and many Ukrainians face economic hardship.

"We have seen some parties in power and others as well," said Tetyana, 27, referring to Batkivshchyna and the Regions. "We have seen the results."

Even in Donetsk, Yanukovich's main stronghold in the east of the country, many voters said they were disillusioned by the government's record.

"I voted for the Regions Party but simply because it is the lesser of the evils. I can't say I am a great fan of the Regions, but all the rest are worse," said 58-year-old Viktor Grigoryev, a head of section in the construction sector.


Tymoshenko, Ukraine's most vibrant opposition figure, was jailed for seven years last year for abuse of office relating to a 2009 gas deal with Russia which she made when she was prime minister. The Yanukovich government says the agreement saddled Ukraine with an enormous price for gas supplies.

The country of 46 million, a major exporter of steel and grain, is more isolated politically on the international stage than it has been for years.

Apart from being at odds with the United States and the European Union over Tymoshenko, Ukraine does not see eye to eye with Russia, which has turned a deaf ear to Kiev's calls for cheaper gas.

In Ukraine, the government is also blamed for not stamping out corruption and has backed off from painful reforms that could secure much-needed lending from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to shore up its export-driven economy.

The partial results indicated the Regions alone would win more than 200 seats, and dozens of seats are expected to be won by independent candidates who will support the Regions or join them.

Borys Kolesnikov, a deputy prime minister, said he foresaw the Regions picking up two thirds of the individual districts.

With the West seeing the poll as a test of Ukraine's commitment to democracy after Tymoshenko's imprisonment, interest will focus on the judgment by observers from the ONCE European security and human rights body later on Monday.

Arseny Yatsenyuk, head of the united opposition in the absence of Tymoshenko, said: "The exit poll results have shown that the people of Ukraine support the opposition and not the government."


Klitschko, the two-metre-tall WBC heavyweight boxing champion, will now enter parliament at the head of his new party and could be a towering new force in the assembly. He has been critical of corruption and cronyism under Yanukovich's rule.

He says his party will team up with Yatsenyuk and other members of the opposition, including Svoboda, though his refusal to join a pre-election coalition engendered suspicion.

He ruled out any pact with the Regions. "We do not foresee any joint work with the Party of the Regions and its communist satellite. We are ready to work with those political parties which propose a European path of development," he said.

Svoboda leader Oleh Tyahnybok, a 43-year-old surgeon, pledged to stick by a pre-election agreement and work with Yatsenyuk and other opposition leaders in the new parliament.

He pressed Klitschko to formally join the united opposition. "We can only hope that, having looked at the situation which has emerged, Vitaly Klitschko will unite with us," he said in televised comments.

"Svoboda is the biggest sensation," said political analyst Volodymyr Fesenko of the Penta think tank. "The Ukrainian political borsHch (soup) has got a bit more spicy. There will be more pepper but how it is going to taste is another question."

Fesenko said that he saw the vote for Svoboda as reflecting a protest against the political establishment.