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Yanukovych's Party Looks To Victory Amid Claims Of Election Fraud

Some opposition parties have complained of irregularities in the elections
The party of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych appears poised for victory in local elections, as the country's dominant opposition party called for a probe into the election amid accusations of vote-rigging.

It will take several days to determine the results of the October 31 vote, seen as the first opportunity for voters to evaluate Yanukovych after a bitter February election.

An exit poll by international market research firm GfK does not reflect a full election survey and are only partial results.

But the poll gives Yanukovych's Party of Regions a comfortable lead -- 36 percent of the vote, nearly three times that of its nearest rival, the Fatherland opposition party of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko.

Yanukovych is expected to defend the election outcome as evidence of broad domestic support. Some analysts, however, say the Ukrainian leader's popularity has been hurt by a recent hike in gasoline prices and other economic initiatives.

Yanukovych's party was expected to do well in Ukraine's Russian-speaking east and south, where support for the president runs high. Voters in the Ukrainian-speaking west and central regions were expected to back opposition parties.

Voters stood in long lines on October 31 to cast their ballots, some of which were over a half-meter long in order to list over 50 parties and candidates vying for power in regional councils and local mayoral positions.

Some -- most vocally, Tymoshenko's camp -- have complained of irregularities in the election.

The Fatherland party of Tymoshenko, who lost a tight presidential race to Yanukovych eight months ago, refuses to accept the vote in three key provinces.

The group has called on the parliamentary investigations commission to probe claims of voter manipulation during the 14-hour-long election.

Voting Complaints

Oksana, a resident of Kyiv's Boyarka region, explains that she and her family were in for a surprise when they visited their local polling station. "Today, for the first time in 50 years, my voting rights were violated. I came with my family to the polling place -- we have lived in the same place for a long time -- and we didn't find ourselves in the lists," she said.

But Oleksandr Chernenko, the chairman of the Committee of Voters of Ukraine, an NGO that monitors elections, attributes election-day confusion to an unusually high number of candidates.

"This election day differed a little from election days in past presidential or local elections, but only because this time there were more ballots. The queues were simply unprecedented, creating a chaotic situation that fuelled a tense atmosphere at the polls," Chernenko said.

International observers from the Commonwealth of Independent States on November 1 said they did not register any election violations.

A total of roughly 2,500 observers were monitoring the election, in which some 36 million Ukrainians were eligible to vote.

Opposition parties earlier accused the Party of Regions of planning to manipulate vote counts, with most of the 33,000 regional voting councils run by Party of Regions staff.

But Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov told reporters that no administrative resources were used: "The elections were absolutely without the use of administrative resources, naturally. Nobody interfered with our citizens."

Yanukovych and Tymoshenko were rivals during the 2004 Orange Revolution, when Yanukovych's official victory in the presidential election prompted accusations of fraud and massive street protests led in part by Tymoshenko.

Yanukovych subsequently lost the repeat ballot to Tymoshenko's then-ally Viktor Yushchenko.

Yanukovych was elected in a tightly contested election earlier this year in a vote widely seen as a referendum on the Orange Revolution leadership.

written by Kristin Deasy in Prague, with reporting by Zenon Frys and correspondents from RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service.
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