Pro-European parties take joint lead in Ukraine election

With more than one-third of the votes counted, two allied pro-European parties in Ukraine are in the lead.

KIEV, Ukraine – With more than one-third of the votes counted, two allied pro-European parties in Ukraine that ran on a platform to enact tough reforms took a joint lead Monday in a parliamentary election.

Partial figures showed Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk’s Popular Front with 21.6 per cent of the vote and President Petro Poroshenko’s party at 21.5 per cent.

Poroshenko said after Sunday’s election that he wanted Western-oriented parties elected to quickly form a broad reformist coalition. Negotiations on forming that coalition are expected to begin Monday and be completed within 10 days.

A recently formed pro-European party based in western Ukraine, Samopomich, was running third with almost 11 per cent of the vote.

The vote has led to an overhaul of a parliament once dominated by loyalists of former President Viktor Yanukovych, who sparked the protests that caused his ouster with a decision to deepen ties with Russia.

Anti-Russian sentiment has spiked in Ukraine as the country battles with separatists in the east many believe are supported by Moscow.

As a result, the election has favoured the chances of parties with staunchly pro-Western or nationalist agendas.

Nonetheless, the Opposition Bloc, which pundits believe largely drew its support from Yanukovych’s once-ruling Party of Regions, has put in a strong showing with a 9.8 per cent, with around 33 per cent of the vote counted.

Poroshenko last month laid out an ambitious agenda envisioning root-and-branch changes to the justice system, police, tax system, defence sector and health care to be completed by 2020.

Corruption has been an intensely discussed issue in Ukraine in recent months and was one of the main seeds of the discontent that precipitated Yanukovych’s downfall.

Among the tougher decisions likely to lie ahead will be allowing costs of basic utilities in the cash-strapped country to float in line with market demands. With the economy in a freefall this year, there is no imminent sense of a surge of prosperity that could temper policies that would prove agonizing to bear for the poor.

International observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe were due to share a preliminary assessment of the election later Monday.

While around 36 million people were registered to vote, no voting was held on the Crimean Peninsula, which was annexed by Russia in March, or in parts of Ukraine’s easternmost regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, where shelling remains a daily constant. The fight against armed separatists on the border with Russia has claimed the lives of more than 3,600 people.

With almost 3 million people in areas near Russia’s border unable to vote, it seems probable pro-Western parties were given an advantage.

Slightly more than half of the incoming members of parliament are being elected by means of party lists, and the remainder are picked in direct local contests. That has opened the door to likelihood of victories by candidates from smaller parties, such as the Right Sector ultranationalist group.

With half the votes counted in his district in the Dnipropetrovsk region, Right Sector leader Dmytro Yarosh was leading comfortably with 30 per cent, almost twice as much as his nearest rival.

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