Pro-Western and nationalist parties swept Ukraine\’s parliamentary election Sunday, exit polls showed, in a boost for President Petro Poroshenko\’s anti-corruption reforms and his promise to make peace with pro-Russian rebels.
The results indicated overwhelming consensus on Ukraine\’s bid to steer from Russia\’s orbit to a pro-Western course, eventually targeting European Union membership.
"More than three quarters of voters who took part in the polls gave strong and irreversible backing to Ukraine\’s path to Europe," Poroshenko said in nationally televised comments.
He said a majority also supported his search for "political methods" to end the war in the country\’s industrial east.
Exit polls showed the Petro Poroshenko Bloc led with 23 percent of the vote, meaning the president will have to seek a coalition partner. That was most likely to be the People\’s Front led by Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, a close runner up with more than 21 percent.
Poroshenko said 10 days would be "more than enough" to form a government.
The vote came eight months after a street revolt overthrew Moscow-backed president Viktor Yanukovych, sparking conflict with Russia and a crisis in relations between the Kremlin and Ukraine\’s Western allies.
Snap elections were called to clear out the last vestiges of Yanukovych\’s regime — and to a large extent this was achieved.
For the first time since the Soviet collapse the Communist Party, a former Yanukovych supporter, failed to clear the minimum level of votes for entering parliament under proportional representation.
"For the first time in history, anti-Ukrainian forces… will not be in parliament," said Kiev Mayor Vitaly Klitschko, a former world heavyweight boxing champion and Poroshenko supporter.
But in a sign of persistent divisions, the pro-Russia Opposition Bloc, made up of Yanukovych associates, did get into the legislature with almost eight percent of the vote, according to exit polls. Their heaviest support was in the conflict zone in the east.
The war with pro-Russian rebels in the industrial east, in which 3,700 people have died, and Russia\’s earlier annexation of the southern Crimean region, cast a long shadow over the polls.
Voters in Crimea and in separatist-controlled areas of the eastern Lugansk and Donetsk provinces — about five million of Ukraine\’s 36.5 million-strong electorate — were unable to cast ballots.
Even 25,000 soldiers deployed in the war zone were shut out, Poroshenko said, blaming the outgoing parliament for failing to make provisions.
Twenty-seven seats in the 450-seat parliament will remain empty.
Dressed in camouflage, Poroshenko helicoptered in for a surprise election day visit to Kramatorsk, a government-held town in the heart of the conflict zone. The dramatic gesture was clearly meant to show that the beleaguered region has not been forgotten.
"Today on territory liberated by Ukrainian servicemen they will vote for the European future of our country," Poroshenko said in nationally televised remarks.
However, the disenfranchisement of separatist areas and Crimea risked further cementing the now bloody faultline between Ukraine\’s Russian-speaking east and Ukrainian-speaking west.
A Moscow-backed truce signed by Kiev and the separatists on September 5 has calmed the worst fighting, although there are daily violations around the largest rebel-held city Donetsk.
Insurgent leaders, who did not allow polling stations to open in their areas, have announced their own leadership vote, which Kiev does not recognise, on November 2.
Poroshenko insisted on the eve of elections that there can be "no military solution" to the conflict and renewed his pledge to seek a political compromise– although he insists Ukraine will not give up its claim to the contested territories.
That message appeared to chime with Ukrainians alarmed at the prospect of open-ended war against shadowy armed forces that most people here believe are backed by Russia, although Moscow denies this.
Many of those running for parliament included members of hardline nationalist groups and soldiers-turned-politicians who were suspicious of Poroshenko\’s peace overtures.
But voters came down on the side of moderates, rather than more hawkish parties like the Radical Party and Fatherland, analysts said.
"These two political forces were the face of the so-called party of war — war until a victorious conclusion. Society answered that it wants peace," political analyst Taras Berezovets told AFP.
Poroshenko said that "a majority of voters came out in favour of those political forces that support the president\’s peace plan."
Four other parties entered parliament under the proportional representation voting, all of them either nationalist or supporting Western-style reforms, two exit polls showed.
Half of the parliament seats are allocated to parties through proportional representation. The other half go to individual candidates and because the counting of those races takes longer, it could still be some time before the final make-up of the legislature becomes clear.
What\’s already sure, analysts say, is that Poroshenko will have to share power with Yatsenyuk as premier.
The new parliament will have broad new powers that include the right to name the prime minister and most of his cabinet.
"Voters did not want a monopoly of power in one pair of hands," Vadym Karasyov, director of the Institute of Global Strategies in Kiev, told AFP. "They voted for a Poroshenko-Yatsenyuk tandem."
The election "was a vote of confidence in the current leadership," said Volodymyr Fesenko, director of the Penta centre for political studies. "But voters want to see their cooperation, not conflicts."