KYIV — Ukrainians are voting in parliamentary elections seen as a test of the democratic credentials of a nation that seesaws between European democracy and Russian authoritarianism.
With temperatures unseasonably warm, Ukrainians are voting to renew all 450 seats in parliament.
The election comes halfway through the five-year presidency of Viktor Yanukovych. Many Ukrainians say the vote will frame the future of democracy in Ukraine, the second-largest country after Russia to emerge from the Soviet Union. They say a strong showing for opposition candidates on Sunday will limit the ability of President Yanukovych to take new authoritarian steps.
International concern is so great that 3,500 foreign observers have come to watch the voting process across this nation of 46-million people.
In Troeschina, a Soviet-era working class suburb on the eastern side of Kyiv, 27-year-old IT-engineer Kiril said he voted for Svoboda, a new nationalist opposition party.
"I choose that party which is the biggest opposition to our government," he said after voting.
Critics say President Yanukovych and his allies have closed major TV channels to opposition leaders and have selectively prosecuted their political opponents. Former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and two of her Cabinet ministers are in jail.
Lyuba, who came to vote with her baby granddaughter, said she voted for the opposition coalition headed by allies of Ms. Tymoshenko. But Vitaly, a retiree, said he voted for the ruling Party of Regions.
“In the last two years, we have had more stability, more jobs, and better pay - that is what is important in life,” he said.
Mr. Yanukovych’s approval rating has fallen in opinion polls to around 13 percent. But political analysts believe Sunday’s voting will enable him to form a parliamentary majority. In addition to maintaining a parliamentary alliance with the Communist Party of Ukraine, Mr. Yanukovych expects to win over many deputies who are elected as independents.
At the Troeschina polling station, the district’s federal deputy Valeri Borisov, a Party of Regions member, dismissed opposition charges that government resources were used to help the ruling party. He says government resources are only used to guarantee the fairness of elections, including web cameras and clear plastic boxes.
But many Ukrainians are skeptical. In a nationwide poll conducted earlier this month, 47 percent of respondents said voting irregularities could be so great Sunday as to affect the overall election outcome.