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Ukrainians vote for new parliament

Voters in Ukraine are choosing a new parliament in early elections aimed at ending months of political deadlock. More than 20 parties are contesting the third poll in four years, but the three main parties are likely to win most of the 450 seats being con

No clear winner is expected and talks to form a coalition after the election seem almost certain.

The Eastern half of the country largely supports the pro-Russia Party of Regions led by Prime Minister Yanukovich.

While, the West consists mainly of “orange” voters, backing President Yuschenko's pro-Europe Our Ukraine party, and the Yulia Timoshenko Bloc.

Polls opened at 7am and close at 10pm local time. 

Voters are choosing candidates for Ukraine's 450-member assembly.

Exit polls are expected to be made public as soon as polling stations close, with the first official results available from Monday morning.

Although voting is reported to be going fairly smoothly throughout Ukraine, a number of of election violations were cited once polls opened.  In the city of Kharkov, close to the border with Russia, the names of some voters were not written correctly on the register.  It's believed the problem has been taken care of and voting is going ahead there normally.

A delegation of supervisors from the EU are monitoring the election in several cities across the country. Adrian Severin from the European Parliament says they pay particular attention to mobile voting, the accuracy of the lists, and whether people coming from abroad are allowed to vote. 

Prime Minister Yanukovich speaking to   
             journalists after voting in central Kiev
Prime Minister Yanukovich speaking to journalists after voting in central Kiev

“The most important thing for us to know is whether any inconsistencies of this kind could affect the results of the vote. I do hope that this will not be the case. We’ve already seen that the system is vulnerable and far from being perfect. However, we hope that the final result will not be distorted,” said Mr Severin.

Possible fraud

What the pundits say

The country's President has promised a fair and free ballot. In his address to the nation, Viktor Yushchenko urged every Ukrainian citizen to vote and help decide the future of the country.

The election, the fourth in three years, is designed to end months of political deadlock.

Pundits say the gap between the main parties is narrow, and the election is still up for grabs.

The rival factions have already started accusing each other of manipulation.

Most cities across the country, including the Kiev and the large industrial centre, Donetsk, in the East of the country, have erected stages for concerts. In Kiev the stage of the Party of Regions and the stage of the Timoshenko bloc are just several hundred metress from each other.

Various Russian pop stars have arrived to support the Party of Regions, and may even perform.

Possible fraud

Elections in Ukraine are always tainted by claims of fraud. It's no different this year. More than 1,000 international observers, mostly from the EU, are in Kiev to monitor the vote. They're being helped by several thousand Ukrainians.

Supporters of the main contenders – the Party of Regions and the Timoshenko bloc, say they will take to the streets in mass protests if they suspect the election was rigged.

What the pundits say

Analysts are predicting two possible outcomes. The first is that only three parties will get enough votes to be represented in Parliament. In 2004 five parties won parliamentary seats. Should that be the case, they say, the “Orange” bloc and the Timoshenko bloc will unite and the Party of Regions will not have an overall majority.

That could lead to unrest and mass protests.

Another possible outcome is an alliance between the Party of Regions, led by Viktor Yanukovich, and the “Orange” bloc of President Viktor Yushchenko against the Timoshenko bloc. Commentators say this is the less likely of the two outcomes. But it cannot be ruled out as Yulia Timoshenko is rapidly winning support across Ukraine.

Some say the fight for power to be dirty.

Party of Regions has already erected   
             a stage to celebrate its victory
Party of Regions has already erected a stage to celebrate its victory

Party of Regions has already erected a stage to celebrate its victory.

“They are losing. The orange parties are mad that our ratings have surged – even in Kiev. That’s why they will revert to buying votes. It also seems that someone is always trying to disrupt our camp. Today an ambulance arrived three times on false calls. We know it’s them,” says Igor Gogolev, a supporter of the Party of Regions.

The orange camp has also made allegations of malpractice. The Our Ukraine party found 100,000 non-existent people in voter lists in the city of Kharkov, where support for the Prime Minister is strong.

The security service controlled by President Yushchenko has also launched probes into alleged fraud in the east of Ukraine.

Some of President Yushchenko’s supporters say the Prime Minister’s team is trying to win at any cost.

“I heard that the Party of Regions is paying some people $US 20, some $US 5. And people say that if they accept the money, they can’t vote differently, because they are afraid,” says Ludmila, a Kiev resident.

Some analysts also admit that this election was organised too soon to produce objective results, and that many legal norms were violated.

“The committee of voters in Ukraine counted 10% deviation for this election. This departure will be connected with simple demographical errors, dead people in voter lists etc. Knowing this phenomenal number, the President still says that we will have a democratic election,” explains Andrey Ermolaev from the Sofia sociological centre.

Despite Ukraine’s long-standing reputation as a country of dubious politics, last year’s parliamentary poll was described as the fairest ever. However this does not guarantee transparency this time round.

President Yushchenko and Prime Minister Yanukovich are equally well placed to influence events from their positions of administrative power.