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Europe

Voting underway in key Ukraine elections

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2012-10-28

Parliamentary elections got underway in Ukraine on Sunday, while jailed opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko urged voters not to boycott the polls. President Viktor Yanukovich's ruling Party of Regions is expected to claim victory.

Ukrainians are electing a parliament on Sunday in a crucial vote tainted by the jailing of top opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko and fears of election fraud.

Tymoshenko urged voters not to boycott the polls in a message posted on her website, encouraging a high voter turnout that she hoped would keep President Viktor Yanukovych's Regions Party from keeping its dominant position in the chamber.

"Every one of us has to fight this dictatorship the best they can," ex-premier Tymoshenko said, using one of her favourite terms to describe Yanukovych's two-year stay in power.

"That is why I am calling on all Ukrainians to come out and vote. Your mass turnout can help overcome ballot rigging," she said. "This will be your personal contribution to the removal of Yanukovych from power."

With the charismatic former premier serving a seven-year sentence on abuse of office charges and the opposition split into two parties, President Viktor Yanukovych’s Party of Regions is expected to retain its parliamentary majority.

"Fishy atmosphere" at Ukraine polls

The West is paying close attention to the conduct of the vote in the strategic ex-Soviet state, which lies between Russia and the expanding European Union and is responsible for transporting energy supplies to many EU countries.

A strong showing by the Party of Regions will cement Yanukovych’s grip on power and likely turn Ukraine further away from the West. Ukraine’s relations with the U.S. and the European Union have soured over the jailing of Tymoshenko, pushing Brussels to shelve long-awaited partnership deal with Kiev. If the West turns a cold shoulder on Ukraine, Moscow is likely to court Kiev to create a greater economic and political alliance.

The pro-Western opposition groups hope to gain enough parliament seats to challenge Yanukovych’s power and undo what they call his undemocratic and harmful policies, such as the jailing of Tymoshenko and her top allies, the concentration of power in the hands of the president, the upgrading of the status of the Russian language, which some believe poses a threat to the Ukrainian tongue, waning press freedoms, a deteriorating business climate and growing corruption.

But the opposition has been weakened with Tymoshenko, the 51-year-old heroine of the 2004 Orange Revolution that had ousted Yanukovych from power, in jail. Tymoshenko’s Fatherland party is running neck-to-neck with another pro-Western group, the Udar (Punch) party led by world boxing champion Vitali Klitschko. Their failure to form a strong alliance has played into the hands of Yanukovych.

And while Tymoshenko’s and Klitschko’s opposition parties are expected to make a strong showing in elections by party lists, half of the 450 seats in the Verkhovna Rada will be allocated to the winners of individual races where the Party of Regions are stronger.

Also expected to get into parliament is the Communist party, which is expected to side with Yanukovych’s lawmakers. Another party that could pass the 5 percent threshold is the nationalist Svoboda (Freedom), a staunch government critic infamous for xenophobic and anti-Semitic statements.

Besides Tymoshenko’s jailing, which already raises big questions about the fairness of the vote, preliminary reports by international observers have identified numerous other problems during the election campaign. They include the use of state funds, bureaucracy and facilities by the ruling party in support of their candidates, media coverage on television tilted toward the Party of Regions, reports of intimidation of opposition candidates and the opposition’s fears of ballot stuffing and other vote fraud.

(AP)

Date created : 2012-10-28

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