Exit surveys indicate that Viktor Yanukovych has staged a remarkable political comeback by defeating Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko for the presidency of Ukraine. But Ms. Tymoshenko is alleging fraud in Sunday's election and says it is too early to declare a winner.
Exit surveys made public immediately after voting ended give Mr. Yanukovych about 49 percent of the vote -- nearly four percent more than Ms. Tymoshenko. The surveys, conducted by Ukrainian research centers and independent television networks, show voters cast about five percent of their ballots for "none of the above."
Mr. Yanukovych reached out late in the evening to those who voted for Ms. Tymoshenko or other candidates in the first round election, saying he would pursue policies that will earn their trust. Yanukovych says Ukraine should unite to defeat such enemies as poverty, irresponsibility and corruption, and to build a strong and successful state.
Yanukovych, a native of the eastern Ukrainian industrial and mining city of Donetsk, spent Election Day in Kyiv. About an hour before he voted in the capital, a group of topless women staged a protest a polling station against what they referred to as the "rape of Ukraine" by corrupt politicians. /// END OPT ///
Tymoshenko alleges fraud on the part of the Yanukovych campaign and says it will provide evidence.
Tymoshenko says she will fight for every vote. Tymoshenko says the voter exit surveys are only sociological questionnaires that fluctuate within a three percent margin of error, making it too early to draw any conclusions.
The Tymoshenko campaign says ballot boxes in Eastern Ukraine were stuffed with votes for her opponent, and that it will announce further plans after more evidence is compiled.
The head of the independent Voters Committee of Ukraine, Oleksandr Chernenko, says there were election irregularities - but not enough to change the result.
Chernenko says the biggest problem was massive organized busing of voters to election precincts. He says both campaigns engaged in the practice throughout the country, particularly in the east and south.
If exit poll numbers hold up and Mr. Yanukovych fends off Ms. Tymoshenko challenges, he will replace Viktor Yushchenko -- the man who defeated him in the contested 2004 election. The Ukrainian Supreme Court that year ordered a new election after finding that Yanukovych had engaged in massive fraud, which sparked the popular protest known as the Orange Revolution
But Mr. Yushchenko generally is perceived as an ineffective leader. He received less than six percent support in preliminary elections three weeks ago. After casting a ballot for his successor, Mr. Yushchenko spoke about the meaning of the election, saying that the number one task is for Ukrainians to demonstrate that they know how to transfer power democratically. He also voiced displeasure with the candidates, saying that he thinks Ukrainians will be ashamed of their choice.
Mr. Yushchenko's statement mirrors widespread dissatisfaction across Ukraine with the final round candidates. Before the election, many voters said they disliked both candidates. Critics say Ms. Tymoshenko has an authoritarian streak and that they find Mr. Yanukovych's prison sentences as a youth for assault and robbery unsavory.
About 4,000 international election observers monitored the Ukrainian vote nationwide. They are expected to report their findings on Monday.