Ukraine voters embrace West and peace with rebels

Ukraine voters embrace West and peace with rebels
Members of a local electoral commission empty a ballot box at a polling station after voting day in Kiev.

KIEV - Ukraine's pro-Western and moderately nationalist parties were on course Monday to score a crushing election win that boosted President Petro Poroshenko's bid to merge his ex-Soviet country with Europe and end a pro-Russian revolt.

A partial vote count and exit polls showed overwhelming support for Poroshenko's drive to break his nation of 45 million out of Russia's orbit despite the painful economic measures the Kremlin has levied on its western neighbour in reprisal.

Results with 30 per cent of the precincts reporting had Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk's People's Front leading with 21.7 per cent of the vote. The president's Petro Poroshenko Bloc was a a hair behind with 21.6 per cent.

Many in Kiev and the West blame the six-month uprising that has killed 3,700 on an attempt by Russian President Vladimir Putin to destabilise Ukraine's new government and create a "frozen conflict" in its vital industrial east.

Parties with links to Moscow or the old Viktor Yanukovych regime that was ousted after his abrupt rejection in February of a landmark EU pact were routed at the ballot boxes on Sunday.

"I want the war to end and for our country to join the European Union, although I doubt this will happen very soon," pensioner Bogdan Golobutskiy said as he trudged up to a Kiev polling station on Sunday.

Radicals that rejected Poroshenko's peace deal with the insurgents that gave the separatists limited autonomy also had a poor showing - as did corruption-tainted politicians who had steered Ukraine through two decades of stuttering reforms.

Analysts said it was almost certain that Poroshenko would now have to share power with Yatsenyuk as premier.

"Voters did not want a monopoly of power in one pair of hands," said Vadym Karasyov of Kiev's Institute of Global Strategies. "They voted for a Poroshenko-Yatsenyuk tandem." 

'Irreversible' path to Europe 

A buoyant Poroshenko told the nation that "more than three quarters of voters who took part in the polls gave strong and irreversible backing to Ukraine's path to Europe." The 49-year-old chocolate baron said a majority also supported his search for "political methods" to end the war in the country's industrial east.

Poroshenko and his slightly more hawkish prime minister are within striking distance of the majority needed to form a stable government that could pursue similar policies to those both back now.

Yatsenyuk is widely expected to keep his premiership post and help Ukraine negotiate new loan agreements with the West.

Analysts think he may soon pick a new energy minister who can kickstart stalled negotiations with Russia over its months-long gas cut to Ukraine. But many other cabinet members are expected to stay.

Poroshenko stressed that 10 days would be "more than enough" time to form a new cabinet and get back to work.

Blow for pro-Russian forces

The snap vote came eight months after a winter-long popular uprising that killed more than 100 people ousted Yanukovych in February and sparked the worst standoff between Moscow and the West since the Cold War.

The general election was meant to clear out the last vestiges of the Yanukovych's regime - a job that Poroshenko appeared to have accomplished with gusto.

A series of exit polls showed the socially conservative Samopomich (Self-Help) group of the mayor of Lviv - a western Ukrainian bedrock of nationalist passions - in third place with up to 14 per cent of the vote.

But the Opposition Bloc of former Yanukovych allies was a distant fourth with less than eight per cent.

Another pro-Russian party failed to qualify while the Communist Party was on course to be shut out of a Ukrainian election for the first time since its founding by Lenin nearly a century ago.

The war with pro-Kremlin rebels and Russia's earlier annexation of the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea cast a long shadow over the polls.

Voters in Crimea and in separatist-controlled areas of the eastern Lugansk and Donetsk regions - about five million of Ukraine's 36.5 million-strong electorate - were unable to take part.

Twenty-seven seats in the 450-seat parliament will remain empty.

Insurgent leaders intend to hold their own leadership vote that Kiev rejects next Sunday.

"There is nothing good to expect from these elections in Ukraine. War, bombardments, all this horror will continue," said 42-year-old Natalia amid a rare lull in shelling in the rebels' main stronghold of Donetsk.

Giving peace a chance

A Moscow-backed truce agreement signed by Kiev and the separatists on September 5 has calmed the worst fighting but is constantly broken around the disputed Donetsk airport and near the government-held southeastern port of Mariupol.

Poroshenko's insistence there can be no military victory and that he is ready to negotiate autonomy for the pro-Russian regions - though not independence - chimed with Ukrainians fearful of open-ended war.

Voters took a dim view of staunchly nationalist groups like the Radical Party and Fatherland - a group led by former premier and 2004 pro-democracy Orange Revolution leader Yulia Tymoshenko.

Tymoshenko herself has been hounded by graft charges and was on course to lead her party to sixth place with less than six per cent of the vote.

Half of the parliament seats are allocated to parties through proportional representation. The other half go to individual candidates and the counting of those races could take several days.

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