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Ukrainian Election Heading To Tough February 7 Runoff

  • Gregory Feifer

Viktor Yanukovych enters his party's headquarters in Kyiv on election day.

Viktor Yanukovych enters his party's headquarters in Kyiv on election day.

KYIV -- The top two finishers in Ukraine's presidential election appear to be headed for a tough runoff vote on February 7.

With some 90 percent of the ballots counted in preliminary results, pro-Moscow Viktor Yanukovych leads with 35.4 percent of the vote, followed by Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko with nearly 25 percent.

Former central bank chief Serhiy Tihipko is in third with 13 percent.

Outgoing President Viktor Yushchenko, who was swept to power in the 2004 Orange Revolution, received only around 5 percent.

Western election observers called the polls a resounding success, with Joao Soares, president of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, calling it "a very good election" and a positive indicator of Ukraine's democratic future.

Observers said they detected virtually no instances of fraud across the entire country.

Matyas Eorsi, the head of the Council of Europe's observer delegation, said Ukraine deserves "enormous congratulations," although he did note a tendency among the candidates to play "with the rules, not by the rules" in the run-up to the vote.

Tymoshenko had repeatedly accused rival Yanukovych before the vote of organizing "a large-scale falsification" through large numbers of absentee ballots and other methods.

The official results so far differ from the country's most respected exit polls, which gave Tymoshenko a significantly better result, within 4 percentage points of Yanukovych.

At Tymoshenko's campaign headquarters last night, supporters applauded as the Orange Revolution heroine entered a packed press room. Wearing a chic white dress and with her hair impeccably styled in her trademark blond braid crown, Tymoshenko appeared confident of victory.

At the podium, she displayed the kind of decisiveness Ukrainians say they desperately want after five years of political crisis and endless infighting among the Orange Revolution's estranged leaders.

'Path Of Struggle'

Tymoshenko said the results showed a majority of people want Ukraine to be a free, democratic country.

"The chances for Yanukovych -- who represents criminal circles -- [of becoming president] simply don't exist," she said.

Yulia Tymoshenko before a press conference at her campaign headquarters in Kyiv today
Tymoshenko said as president, she would never allow Ukraine to turn from the path it chose during the Orange Revolution.

"It's the path of struggle for the revival of justice, the struggle for our European choice, toward the renewal of democracy," she said.

Tymoshenko appealed to Ukrainians who had voted for other candidates, saying she would carry out what had eluded the country's Orange leaders since they came to power.

"The democratic forces will be united," she said. "We will do everything so that in the future they will act in a single and powerful force to move the country toward European civilization."

Many Ukrainians say they're disillusioned by politics that have been hamstrung by the bickering between Tymoshenko and her former ally, Yushchenko.

The infighting deepened even as corruption ballooned and the economy was devastated by the effects of the global financial crisis.

'Voted For Change'

Speaking in a massive, wood-paneled room at his own hotel headquarters next door to Tymoshenko's, Yanukovych -- the villain of the Orange Revolution, which drove him from power after street demonstrations against his victory in a tainted presidential election five years ago -- said the official results would enable him to win the presidency in the second round.

"Our citizens voted for change. They made it clear their views require transformation for the better -- that's the main result," he said.

Yanukovych's main support is in the industrial, largely Russian-speaking east of the country. He returned to an issue that helped make him popular there when he first rose to prominence, vowing as president he would make sure Ukraine would never join NATO.

"The Ukrainian state will remain outside any bloc. Ukraine will never join any military alliance," he said. "That's the view of the Ukrainian people, it must be respected and taken into account."

Negotiations Under Way

Both Tymoshenko and Yanukovych will have a hard time convincing Ukrainians who voted for the 16 losing candidates to support them.

Backroom negotiations had already begun on election day itself.

Unlike Tymoshenko, Yanukovych has less room to maneuver. Analysts say he can't be certain any besides the small number of communist and socialist voters will join his supporters.

Besides the intense horse-trading, most expect the coming weeks to be fraught with fraud allegations and court cases.

But in cold and snowy Kyiv last night, Tymoshenko's supporters were giddy with the prospect that she appears set to be crowned Ukraine's new leader.

The election included some allegations of voting irregularities, but reports say the voting appears to have gone relatively smoothly. Voter turnout is reported as 67 percent.

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