UK & World News
Ukraine Election: Leader's Party Claims Victory
Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich's party has claimed victory in a parliamentary vote tainted by the jailing of the country's top opposition leader.
With former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko in jail and widespread fears of election fraud, the West is paying close attention to the vote in the strategic ex-Soviet state.
Ukraine lies between Russia and the European Union, and serves as a key conduit for transit of Russian energy supplies to many EU countries.
An election deemed undemocratic by international observers could freeze Kiev's ties with the West and push Ukraine toward Moscow.
An exit poll conducted by three leading polling agencies showed the Party of Regions ahead with some 28.1% of the vote.
Tymoshenko's Fatherland party is poised to get about 25% of the proportional vote.
Meanwhile, Udar (Punch), led by world boxing champion Vitali Klitschko, is set to get around 15%, according to the survey.
The anti-government nationalist Svoboda (Freedom) party and the Communists, Yanukovich's traditional allies, both look set to get about 12%.
And even though the three opposition parties have more proportional votes than the Regions and the Communists combined, Yanukovich candidates are likely to win enough individual races to form a majority in parliament.
Official results were slow to trickle in.
With the votes at less than 1% of all polling stations counted, Yanukovich's Party got 50%.
Tymoshenko's and Klitschko's parties got about 15% each, Svoboda got 7% and the Communists 5%, according to election officials.
"We believe that this is an undisputable victory of the Party of Regions," Prime Minister Mykola Azarov said shortly after polls closed.
"Above all, it shows the people's trust to the (policy) course that is being pursued."
It remains to be seen whether Tymoshenko's group, Klitschko's party and Svoboda can forge a strong alliance and challenge Yanukovich.
The election has been tainted by Tymoshenko's jailing on charges of abuse of office.
It has also been compromised by the creation of fake opposition parties and campaigns by politically unskilled celebrities.