The latest figures provided by Ukraine's Central Election Commission show that with almost 97 percent of the votes in the September 30 parliamentary polls counted, the Party of Regions, headed by Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, leads overall with just over 34 percent.
The pro-Western opposition Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc trails Yanukovych with nearly 31 percent. The Our Ukraine-People's Self-Defense bloc, supported by President Viktor Yushchenko, is in third with 14 percent.
The two leading parties have each claimed victory and have accused the other of trying to disrupt the ballot.
Tymoshenko declared victory on the evening of the vote after exit polls gave her bloc and the pro-presidential bloc -- former allies in the 2004 Orange Revolution -- enough combined seats to form a governing majority. But as vote counting moved to Yanukovych's strongholds -- Ukraine's south and east -- the former Orange Revolution allies saw their combined tally shrink rapidly.
Coalition With Socialists, Communists?
Addressing a rally of supporters in Kyiv on October 1, Yanukovych said it was his party that would preside over the formation of a new government. "Yet again we will be forming a government of people's trust and national unity," he said. "And this government will be formed by a coalition led by the Party of Regions."
"Those who commit fraud will be punished. Do not challenge the law and your own fate. No one will be able to alter the real will of the voters. I firmly believe in the victory and unification of Ukrainian democracy." -- Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko
Yanukovych's ability to form a ruling coalition depends largely on whether the Socialist Party, which has so far collected 2.9 percent of the vote, will clear the 3 percent barrier necessary to win seats in parliament. Such a coalition would also include the Communist Party. The centrist bloc of former parliament speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn will also play a determining role. That bloc, which has gained an unexpected 4 percent in preliminary vote counts, said it might join either camp.
Changes To Electoral Law
RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service reports that the Committee of Voters in Ukraine (KVU), an NGO that monitors Ukrainian elections, has charged that vote results may be skewed as a result of changes to the electoral law in June.
Those changes, which were argued would reduce voter fraud, limited the use of home voting and eliminated absentee ballots. The KVU has said that hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians who recently returned from abroad, who are living outside their native city, or who are simply too ill or old to travel to the voting booth may have been unable to vote.
Monitors from the European Network of Election Monitoring Organizations (ENEMO) noted in a preliminary report that short-term observers witnessed problems with voter lists in nearly one-third of the polling stations they visited. It is unclear, however, whether such irregularities will be to the disadvantage of any one party or bloc, or will simply represent missed votes across the spectrum.
Still, Tymoshenko's bloc said it may contest the prime minister's showings in eastern Ukraine, while Yushchenko called on October 1 for a swift investigation into possible ballot fraud over vote-counting delays in the region.
"I order law-enforcement authorities to start an immediate investigation into the causes and circumstances of delayed vote-count reports from polling stations," he said. "I'm saying clearly and unambiguously to those trying to get into parliament by committing fraud: My actions and words will not be at variance. Those who commit fraud will be punished. Do not challenge the law and your own fate. No one will be able to alter the real will of the voters. I firmly believe in the victory and unification of Ukrainian democracy."
In response, Yanukovych warned against attempts to "rewrite" election results.
"Ukraine is a democratic country," he said. "We held democratic elections, and we must declare firmly today that we are determined to defend our choice and that we will not allow anybody to rewrite the election results."
The formation of a coalition between forces loyal to Yushchenko and Tymoshenko would mark a striking return of the team that came to power during the 2004 Orange Revolution. But despite a televised embrace last week, doubts persist about the ability of Yushchenko and Tymoshenko to put their differences behind them.
Yushchenko fired Tymoshenko as prime minister in 2005 amid mutual accusations of corruption and incompetence, allowing their arch-rival Yanukovych to take up her post.