Ukraine's Central Election Commission says pro-reform opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko is the winner of the first round presidential election in Ukraine, edging out Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich. The commission released the final, official first-round results 10 days after the October 31 election and just less than two weeks before the scheduled second round.
Earlier vote counts based on 97 percent of the vote put Prime Minister Yanukovich in the lead, so Wednesday's final word that Mr. Yushchenko took the first round came as a surprise.
After a day-long meeting in the capital, Kiev, Wednesday, Ukraine's electoral commission announced that Mr. Yushchenko was leading the race by less than a percentage point, with 40 percent of the vote. His challenger, Prime Minister Yanukovich, is said to have gained 39.3 percent of the vote.
As outgoing President Leonid Kuchma's hand-picked successor, Mr. Yanukovich was seen as the more likely front-runner, even though Mr. Yuschenko has twice been voted Ukraine's most popular politician in recent years.
Independent political analyst Ivan Lozowy in Kiev says the long-delayed release of the first-round results remain suspect, in his view, and only adds, he says, to the current political tensions in Ukraine. He also says it may well work against Mr. Yushchenko in the second round.
"The drawing out of the vote counting process for the first round has put [Mr.] Yushchenko in more of a bind because he has less time to conduct his campaigning before the second round, whereas serving prime minister, Mr. Yanukovich, is constantly on the television screen," he explained.
Mr. Lozowy says the fact the commission has had to work so long and so hard, in his words, to release the result is a good sign for Ukraine's political opposition. But he says the time is coming when one of these two candidates is going to win the second round and that, he adds, is when the real political struggle in Ukraine could begin.
"The main issue, the main question I think is Mr. Yushchenko's reaction," he added. "Is he going to continue as he has up until now, [to] basically protest these violations as his campaign has done, or will he up the ante, which a lot of people want him to do, in order to put the question boldly, is the government ready to basically confront its own electorate, or people and nation, or are they going to allow a relatively-speaking fair process to continue?"
Mr. Lozowy says some opposition supporters are already calling for mass protests, if Mr. Yuschenko is not declared the overall winner after the second round on November 21.
In recent days, Mr. Yuschenko has picked up key support, winning the endorsement of the leader of Ukraine's Socialist Party, Alexander Moroz, whose party came in third in the first round with roughly six percent of the vote.
Ukraine's Communist party challenger, Petro Simonenko, came in fourth place, with about five percent of the vote. But he and his party have not yet indicated whether they will support Prime Minister Yanukovich or Mr. Yuschenko.