Kyiv, 31 March 2002 (RFE/RL) -- An exit poll suggested a victory for former Prime Minister Viktor Yushchenko's Our Ukraine bloc in today's parliamentary elections in Ukraine, though no single group will dominate the country's 450-seat parliament. The polling came after a stormy campaign that saw two candidates killed, biased media coverage, and rampant predictions of vote-tampering. Voters chose from more than 30 electoral groupings and 7,000 candidates to the Verkhovna Rada before polls closed at 8 p.m. (1700 GMT).
The exit poll, commissioned by a Western-funded organization called Renaissance, showed Our Ukraine first with 25 percent, the Communist Party second with 20.5 percent, and the pro-presidential bloc, For United Ukraine, third with about 10 percent. Opposition leader Yuliya Tymoshenko's bloc reportedly took 7.9 percent, and tycoon Viktor Medvedchuk's Social Democratic Party Ukraine-united won 7.1 percent, according to the exit-poll results.
Parties must garner 4 percent to make it into the parliament, which has extremely limited powers compared with those of the executive in the form of President Leonid Kuchma.
Analysts said the campaign reflected an increasing polarization of the Ukrainian electorate into two camps -- one of the "Western option" (supporters of Our Ukraine) and the other of the "pro-Russian option" (supporters of For a United Ukraine, the Communist Party, and the Social Democratic Party) -- to a much greater extent than previous election campaigns in the country.
The country's Central Election Commission announced this evening that it was delaying the close of polling stations in the capital, Kyiv, but did not say how long voting would be extended.
Turnout was a lackluster 57.48 percent, well below the 69.6 percent in the last parliamentary elections in 1998, the Election Commission said.
Preliminary election results were expected early on 1 April.
Concerns about vote-tampering ran high, and nearly 1,000 foreign monitors were watching closely for violations. Earlier today, election observers in Ukraine's Kharkov Region said they have noted massive violations.
But Mykhaylo Ryabets, chairman of Ukraine's Central Election Commission, said the vote appears to have gone smoothly.
The independent Ukrainian Voters Committee said about 500 ballots disappeared from a polling station in Sevastopol, and false ballots were found in the town of Kramatorsk. In addition, there was some improper campaigning at polling places and voting booths in one town were built for two people, rather than one, raising concerns about privacy of voting, the group said.
Double voting was reported outside Kyiv, where military buses delivered soldiers to civilian voting sites, although most uniformed personnel are able to vote at special site on military bases, dpa reported. The agency also said a mental hospital in the city of Mykolaev reportedly tripled its normal admittances during the voting day and, as Ukrainian law provides for people undergoing treatment in the public health system to vote there, allowed the new patients to cast ballots.