RULING PARTY CLAIMS WIN IN UKRAINE

Wall Street Journal on October 28, 2012, reported that President Viktor Yanukovych’s party claimed victory in contentious parliamentary elections amid disputes over the fairness of the vote from an opposition whose jailed leader wasn’t on the ballot. Excerpts below:

The West is closely watching the poll for signs that Mr. Yanukovych is responding to criticism that he is rolling back democracy—which has left the former Soviet republic isolated—by ensuring a fair and transparent election.

An exit poll gave his Party of Regions 28.1% of the vote, and analysts expect it to assemble a majority with support from the Communist Party and candidates running in single-mandate districts who will make up half the 450-seat chamber.

Opposition forces had hoped to loosen the president’s hold on power, but were hampered by divisions, the jailing of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and voters’ disillusionment with politicians of all stripes. Her Fatherland party won 24.7% of ballots cast, according to the exit poll by the Democratic Initiatives Foundation.

It will be bolstered by two new opposition parties in the chamber: heavyweight boxing champion Vitali Klitschko’s “Punch” party and the nationalist Freedom party. The poll gave them 15.1% and 12.3%, respectively.

Arseniy Yatsenyuk, a Fatherland leader, said opposition forces had scored a victory over the ruling party, but analysts say they are unlikely to secure enough support from independents to form a majority.

The outcome of the election will shape the second half of the president’s term to 2015 as he wrestles with a stagnant economy and increased isolation from the U.S. and Europe following the conviction and jailing last year of Ms. Tymoshenko on abuse-of-office charges.

Officials in the West and Russia are closely watching which way Mr. Yanukovych will turn for support after the election—whether he raises household gas prices to unlock lending from the International Monetary Fund, or seeks closer ties with Moscow to secure a lower price for critical natural-gas supplies.

Preliminary results are expected on October 31.

Before the vote, Western officials raised concerns over the use of administrative resources in support of ruling-party candidates and pressure on the media. Opposition parties claimed that the authorities inflated the number of voters in order to boost their tally, and called on monitors to observe the count carefully.

There appears little hope for closer ties with the West, even if the elections are deemed free and fair. Western leaders have indicated Mr. Yanukovych needs to free Ms. Tymoshenko, relax the ruling party’s grip on the media and push through legal and other overhauls if the European Union is to revive a political-association and free-trade deal it shelved last year.

The Party of Regions will likely partner with the Communists, and hopes to attract support from around two-thirds of the 225 candidates from single-mandate constituencies.

The rising force of the campaign was Mr. Klitschko, whose “Punch” party leapt in popularity as voters looked for a new face not tainted by political failures or corruption allegations.

The nationalist Freedom party surprised, apparently doubling the share of the vote that pollsters had predicted. Both are likely to join with Ms. Tymoshenko’s supporters to form an opposition minority.

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