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Ukrainians Elect First Parliament Under President Yushchenko


Polls have closed in Ukraine, where nearly 40 million voters cast ballots for a new parliament that could slow the pace of Ukraine's democratic reform effort. While none of the 45 competing parties or blocs is expected to win an outright majority, according to exit polls opposition Leader Yanukovych may form new coalition government

First official results could come as early as Monday, with Ukraine's Central Election Commission officials working through the night to tabulate millions of ballots.

More than 35 million Ukrainians turned out to vote for a new parliament, regional councils and local mayors. The wait at polling stations for many voters was nearly as long as the ballot, with 45 parties or blocs vying for power.

Aside from the practical aspects of filling out such a lengthy ballot, few problems were reported, unlike Ukraine's 2004 election that resulted in mass street protests sparked by massive vote fraud.

The man who, at that time, saw his win annulled by Ukraine's Supreme Court, Viktor Yanukovych, now appears poised for a political comeback. His pro-Russia Party of Regions, which campaigned on a pledge of stability, is projected to take up to 30 percent of the vote.

Addressing his supporters, after casting his ballot earlier in Kiev, Yanukovych said, under his party's leadership, Ukraine would again have a strong economy.

That is a message that resonates with many voters, like this middle-aged man who works at Ukraine's labor ministry.

The man tells VOA he thinks Ukraine's parliament needs to deal first and foremost with increasing people's basic livelihoods and stimulating job growth.

He also says he does not share the concerns of many supporters of President Viktor Yushchenko that a win for Yanukovych could mean a halt to Ukraine's democratic reform effort. In his view, Ukraine should follow an independent geo-political orientation, focusing on neither Russia, nor the West.

President Yushchenko, who came to power in the so-called Orange Revolution protests of 2004, has said the election boils down to a choice between standing still, or moving forward to the future.

Once enjoying 70-percent approval in public-opinion polls, Mr. Yushchenko's rating has plummeted, amid bitter infighting in his camp last year that led him to fire his closest political ally, Yulia Timoshenko, as prime minister.

Her bloc is running a close third to President Yushchenko's, with many of his former supporters having switched allegiance. Timoshenko has campaigned on a strong pledge to wipe out corruption in Ukraine, and to remain true to the ideals of the Orange Revolution.

Earlier, President Yushchenko said he would start talks with his former Orange Revolution allies on Monday, as the race to form a coalition majority begins. He did not say if he also plans to hold similar talks with his former arch-rival, Yanukovych, as many analysts expect.