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Ukraine Holds Parliamentary Vote


Polls have opened in Ukraine, where voters are casting ballots for a new 450-seat parliament. The race features 45 parties, or blocs, including those of the three main political leaders of Ukraine's so-called orange revolution in 2004.

More than 35 million voters across Ukraine are casting ballots in an election seen as a key test of the country's commitment to democratic reforms.

Those visiting the polls Sunday face a difficult task, having to select not only a party leader, or bloc for parliament, but also a local mayor and regional assemblies.

The elections are unprecedented in that they mark the first time voters will elect a new parliament based on a purely proportional system using party lists. Previously, lawmakers could and often did switch allegiances after they were elected.

Sunday's ballot is also the first election to be held since pro-western reform President Viktor Yushchenko came to power.

Casting his ballot in the Ukrainian capital, Kiev, Mr.Yushchenko acknowledged that the government had not worked well together this past year. He said the time has come to put partisan differences aside and work together for the good of Ukraine's future.

Mr.Yushchenko also told reporters that he would begin talks with representatives of his former orange revolution allies as of this Monday in Kiev.

It is not known whether similar talks will be held with forces belonging to pro-Russia candidate Viktor Yanukovych's Party of Our Regions, as many analysts suspect is likely.

The mere thought of President Yushchenko teaming up with his former arch-rival, Yanukovych, has caused some in his camp to switch allegiance. Others are simply undecided about how to cast their vote - a factor independent analyst Ivan Lozowy
says could help boost several other smaller parties running in Sunday's election.

Certainly Alexander Moroz, the Socialist Party Chairman. He was a former ally to Yushchenko but never formally entered the orange coalition," Lozowy says. "Also, the protest vote and the undecideds will boost small groups like the PORA youth-based coalition, which was a very prominent, active participant in the Orange Revolution, but (also) never a coalition member.

Most election-watchers agree the race will essentially come down to three main parties. They are President Yushchenko's Our Ukraine party, the pro-Russia Party of Regions, headed by Yushchenko's former arch-rival, Viktor Yanukovych, and the bloc
led by Yulia Timoshenko, who was sacked as prime minister last September amid bitter infighting with Yushchenko's team.

Pre-election polls put Yanukovych well in the lead with an expected 30 percent of the vote. Mr. Yushchenko polls second with up to 20 percent, to Timoshenko's 17 percent.

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